Monday, January 16, 2012

Two crazy nights

I just finished the most exhilarating, liberating experience of my life. And it didn't involve hang gliding, alcohol or drugs of any kind. Unless of course you consider caffeine a drug.

I'm talking about 24SEVEN, a wild, wacky and wonderfully exhausting 24-hour theatrical event.

Yeah, I know. No big deal. Lots of cities do those.

But not here. Not in Colorado Springs. Out cultural community is notoriously conservative, so it came as something of a relief (miracle?) when the highly regarded Springs Ensemble Theatre announced they were going to give it a shot.

Here's how it went down for myself and the six other writers who committed to this project (and should be committed, period).

The event began at 7 p.m. on Friday at a non-descript office that's used by one of the writers in his day job. The rules were explained and we picked the seven prompts out of a hat (actually, a shoebox).

Location: New York City subway

Character name: Lola

Prop: Rat

Sound cue: Ringing phone

Line of dialogue: ""The more coffee I drink, the more it throbs."

We were given until 4 a.m. to complete a play that included all of these prompts. The only requirement was that the play be at least 10 minutes long. Coherency was merely an option.

Faced with this task, I felt nothing but bone-gnawing fear. Why? Because I'm the world's slowest writer. It takes me weeks to write a 10-minute play, six months for a full-length. But here I had just 7 1/2 hours.

I knew I couldn't overthink it. I had to just open my mind and turn on the faucet.

So that's what I did. Starting with that line of dialogue and working forwards and backwards from it to figure out who said that it and who were they with and what, oh what, were they fighting about.

It was glorious, the words coming so fast I felt like I was flying. Much different than the nitpicky slog my writing sessions usually consist of.

I sent off my "masterpiece" at 3 a.m.--a full hour before the deadline. At 5 a.m., the producers read, reformatted and printed out the scripts. At 6 a.m., the directors got to read the scripts and they were given only an hour to cast their plays from an array of head shots taped to the wall.

At 8:30 a.m., the actors "finally" rolled in and rehearsals began--grinding, mind-numbing rehearsals that lasted the entire day, not ending until the first showtime at 7:30 p.m. The plays were well-written, well-performed and well-received, surprisingly so, considering the headlong rush to production involved.

In fact, the whole event was so successful that the producers intend to repeat the madness in six months.

There's just one problem. Yesterday, when I returned to my regular writing--the full-length play I've been working for the last three months--I hit the wall. My writing returned to that painful slog.

I don't know what it'll take to recapture that sense of urgency again. Establishing lots of mini-deadlines? Chugging gallons of coffee? Strangling my internal editor? I don't know.

All I know is that I need to do something. I miss flying.