In real life, it might take months or even years for a playwright to create a dramatic work and weeks or months to rehearse one; Unless everyone is under unusual pressure.
That “pressure” exists in “Play In A Day,” in which area theater companies come together to write, direct, rehearse and perform original 10-minute plays within 24 hours.
The event, sponsored by Bethesda Urban Partnership and Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, is now in its 15th year, said Brenna O’Malley, marketing and communications manager of BUP.
“It used to be part of our annual Literary Festival, but was so successful it became a standalone event,” she said.
This year, six theaters are participating, of which four are based in Montgomery County: Adventure Theatre, Flying V, Happenstance Theater and Imagination Stage.
“Play In A Day” kicks off Friday evening, Feb. 22, when playwrights and directors receive their assigned themes and props and work through the night to create their plays,” said O’Malley. “As the sun comes up, rehearsals begin, to make the 8 p.m. deadline for the public performance.”
Despite the pressure, it’s “a lot of fun,” said Patrick Flynn, a playwright who works often with Adventure Theatre. “It’s a wonderful chance to see the talent of other theaters and showcase our [own] people. It’s excellent publicity. But it’s also a good chance to get together with other theaters, even though the getting together is competitive.”
Through the need to work quickly, “You learn that a good idea today is better than a great one tomorrow,” he added.
For Jason Schlaftstein, artistic director of Flying V Theatre, another positive of “Play In A Day” is that it “allows artists just to get paid for a day’s work. They even take care of our meals,” he said.
Plus, the participating theaters receive rehearsal space – and cash prizes. These are awarded for Best Writing, Best Direction, Best Acting/Ensemble and Best Use of Prop.
In 2018, Adventure Theatre won for Best Acting/Ensemble and Best Writing.
Schlafstein concurred that the required speed has its challenges.
“You have to make choices quickly with no ego,” he said. And you have to commit to making choices wholeheartedly. “But the process allows people to get lost in their heads, to meander. It’s a different way of exercising your mind and your craft.”
Schlafstein admitted that the process holds a bit of a risk, in that what theaters create under these circumstances may be “all over the place.” At the same time, he said, audiences can “potentially see magic happen, which happens only for one night.”
This year Imagination Stage is hosting “Play In A Day” as well as participating.
“It’s a good marketing opportunity, to show people where we are and what we are,” said Joanne Seelig Lamparter, the theater’s director of education and community programs.
But the event also gives audiences a “great sampling of a lot of different theaters,” she added.
Because the “Play In A Day” performance will take place on the set of whichever show Imagination Stage happens to be mounting at the time, “Audiences get a little feel for the quality of what we do,” Seelig Lamparter said, pertaining to production values as well as acting and directing.
Post-performance there’s a Q&A, giving participating theaters the opportunity to speak about their work and “Play In A Day” experience.
Is there a downside to it all?
“No one gets a lot of sleep,” laughed Flynn.
The public performance takes place Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m., at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda. General admission tickets are $15 and can be obtained online at www.bethesda.org. Remaining tickets will be sold at the door beginning at 7 p.m.