High-Speed Drama at Contemporary Theater

Thee Contemporary Theater Company stages plays in less than 24 hours this month


Creative types savor the suffering of art. Something about enduring discomfort instills a sense of adventure, growth, transformation- the idea of having lived through something, and thus having at least lived. The key, though, is to properly channel this energy into a healthy, creative product.

And that’s exactly what Contemporary Theater Company has done with their upcoming 9th annual 24-Hour Play Festival. Here, six teams of writers and actors meld into an indiscernible 20- hour moshpit of creative madness, and at the end of it all, each team puts on a 15-minute play for the public. Without a doubt, these plays are wild and ripe with unexpected surprises, but that’s exactly the point.

“The writers arrive at midnight,” says Maggie Cady, communications director of CTC. “They get props and a couple lines they have to use in the play. Then they start writing. Around 6am they stop and print out what they created. At 8pm the plays are performed. Everyone usually gets out of the building around midnight [the following day], so it does take just about the whole 24 hours.”

Producing worthwhile creative work in even the best of circumstances can cause individuals to go a tad insane. In the time-constrained 24-Hour Play Festival, however, it’s liberating, as no one expects perfection from a purposefully restricted creative process. Instead, the lack of sleep, lack of eating, lack of silence, lack of solitude - all of this lacking - creates an abundance of energy, imagination and most importantly experimentation.

“Basically, I oversee all of the tech for the festival,” says Cady. “Which means I go around in the morning to all of the plays as they’re being created, and each director lets me know the props and costumes they need. Last year someone said, ‘Oh, I need a giant mouse costume and a giant teddy bear with a camera in it.’ Ooookay, I’ll do that. But later, they don’t need it. Now they need a giant TV filled with foam cubes. You never know what’s going to happen all day.”

Watching the plays develop is like witnessing a tangible form of the creative process. Ideas split, get replaced, erased, become bastardized versions of themselves and then finally settle far from their original mustard seed. And all the while, Cady follows the creative trail to ensure the final products can actually be performed: “Last year, I was walking down the hallway, trying to find someone to play a sea turtle. I finally found someone and shoved them in [a team’s] room. Without any announcement, everyone shouted, ‘It’s our sea turtle!’ That was encompassing of the spirit of the day.”

But costumes are only the tip of this theatrical iceberg. In fact, according to Cady, it’s not uncommon for the audience to witness such oddities as someone eating “a whole rotisserie chicken on stage” or “a whole watermelon” while also reciting memorized lines between bites.

“When you’re writing at 3am, the idea that sounds crazy and weird at the time is the idea you have to go with because it’s 3am and you only have three more hours to write. So you end up with sea turtles and giant teddy bears. You go for things that you wouldn’t go for if you had to spend two months looking at the product. And the audience definitely goes there with you. They accept the weirdness and the strange things.”

Better than merely accepting, though, the audience gets to vote for their favorite play and favorite actors, making it as much about the onlooker as those on stage. With this kind of spectacle happening only once a year, it’s definitely worth seeing, if only to witness what local creatives can concoct from a day spent wallowing in their own creative suffering.