by Jillian Holch
Two weeks ago, I organized the Schwartz Center for Performing and Media Arts’ annual 24-Hour Playfest. Although I had shadowed the head coordinator the year before, this was my first time running the event all by myself. It was exciting, terrifying, but probably one of the best and most humbling experiences of my college life thus far. For those who have no idea what a 24-Hour Playfest is, writers create plays (based on a theme and a twist) that are acted and directed by students and then put on for an audience all in 24 Hours. As the head coordinator, or “Lord of the ‘Fest” as I was called, I was in charge of everything. I chose the writers, directors, stage managers, and actors, and made sure the day stayed on schedule. The performance was a huge success (We had a completely filled audience), and everyone (60+ participants) had a lot of fun! I thought for this blog post I would include a breakdown of the day, from start to finish.
5:45pm: The actors, directors, writers, stage managers, technical support have all been chosen and are aware of their parts. I meet with Brian (Titleless Associate) and Laura (Technical Director) to set up for our informational meeting at the Schwartz Center.
6:00pm: All participants file into the theatre and the informational meeting begins. I go over the schedule for Saturday, as well as the responsibilities for each position. Everyone introduces themselves. We have participants across all grades and several colleges!
6:40pm: The meeting ends a little early, and I announce the THEME AND THE TWIST!!! The theme is “Re-Start” and the twist is “Magic.” Everyone is dismissed to get some rest, and I quickly meet with the writers to offer some last minute advice, as well as let them know how many people they will be writing for. The stage managers and I set up the Flexible Theatre, our performance space.
12:45am: I have already answered some questions from writers, and they all seem to be making great progress. One writer, Ariella, sends me her finished play, and I quickly read it before I go to sleep for a few hours.
5:00am: Time to wake up! As my coffee is brewing, I skim through the plays that have been sent to me throughout the night. I am still waiting on several plays, but the writers assure me they are almost done. The plays look hilarious and I am so excited for the day ahead.
6:00am: I meet with the writers, directors, and stage managers in the lobby of the Schwartz Center. I assign each director a play, and the writers and directors briefly conference to talk about casting. The stage managers and Laura start making more copies of the scripts to distribute.
6:15am: I meet with the directors and we quickly and diplomatically (similar to a professional sports draft) cast over 40 roles in 20 minutes. Each stage manager is assigned to a director to follow for the entire day and offer assistance.
6:45am: Actors arrive, and after a few minutes, we announce the casts. Each director meets with their actors and get ready to go off to their first rehearsal space. From 7am-11am, each play will be in the rehearsal spaces on 1 hour rotations. Bagels also arrive at 7am, and each director lets their actors take a bagel break at some point. Brian takes photos with his camera of the participants of each play, and Laura begins to call the actors that are late. The writers go home and get some much deserved rest.
8:00am: I begin to make half-hour visits to each of the 6 plays. At these visits, I watch what each play has already worked on, and offer creative and logistical advice to work on moving forward. Laura gets to work in the Flexible Theater, going through each script and programming sound cues. Brian starts working on the designs for the program for each play.
11:00am: Tech begins! Each play gets 50 minutes in the performance space to work out blocking as well as coordinating sound cues. The stage managers meet to gather props and costumes needed for each play.
3:45pm: Brian has finished the program and has started printing copies. Every play is at a good place. Actors have learned all their lines and everyone is still calm and collected.
4:00pm: We break for dinner. I finish spiking the set pieces for each play, and make last minute adjustments. Everyone goes home to grab last minute prop and costume pieces.
5:00pm: Everyone comes back from break, in costume and ready to begin dress rehearsal. We have an hour and a half to coordinate scene changes from play to play, as well as incorporate lights for the first time. Brian starts to set up the lobby, preparing for the audience to arrive. I fold programs off to the side.
6:45pm: The audience arrives! We have to turn people away, because there is such a high turn-out.
The entire time I was in the audience, I was so nervous, hoping everything would go right, and thankfully, it did. At the end of the performance, people were saying that it was the best playfest they had ever seen. It could not have gone better, and while I felt pride at the end of the night, what I felt most was gratitude. In big events like 24-Hour Playfest, it takes more than one person to see the event though. It takes so much teamwork. I am so grateful for all the help I received, from the Performing and Media Arts Department, my friends, and the writers, director, actors, and stage managers who for some reason decided to take this crazy journey with me.
When you are at Cornell, hopefully you will have at least one opportunity to take a leadership role in the community. When you do, remember to be thankful for those who offer to help you along the way. Also, think about not what you did for your event, but what your event did for the community. For many participants, 24-Hour Playfest was the first interaction they had with theatre at Cornell. In the coming weeks they went onto be cast in several productions on campus.
To finish up, a few days after 24-Hour Playfest, I got a Facebook message from two people I didn’t know. It turns out they were the ones that started 24-Hour Playfest in the Spring of 2008, and were so happy to hear that the tradition had continued, and a part of them lived on at Cornell. I am honored to have helped carry on the tradition, and hope that it will be able to continue for years after I have left Cornell as well.