An unusual and entertaining overnight exercise in local theater is returns to Pensacola this weekend.
“24 Hour Theater is exactly what it sounds like” said Kathy Holsworth, the Artistic Director of Pensacola Little Theater, which will be hosting another performance of 24-Hour Theater this Saturday evening. Folks show up at 7:30 on a Friday night and they audition. There are six directors and six writers and they have been pre-grouped into teams. They select people who show up at the auditions, turn them into their cast, write a play overnight based on the people that showed up, and then 24 hours later at 7:30 on Saturday night we put on a show with those six little plays."
The Pensacola Little Theater has been hosting 24-Hour Theater on and off for about 12 years. Holsworth says they try to do it once in the Spring and once in the Fall, but there have been years where they could either not fit it into their schedule, or there wasn’t anyone able to take the project on. "It's a great testing ground for us. We have both seasoned as well as brand new, green writers and directors. If you have a brand new writer, you want to give them a seasoned director. You have a brand new director, you give them a seasoned writer. We are community theater, so if people want to get into the director's loop this is a perfect first step for them. It's a bit manic, but it is a perfect first step for them to see if they want to lead people to create stories like this."
The actors are invited to come in to the auditions and read for the writers and directors. "You are handed a script. You've never read it before. you just have to read it [and] act it out right there" said Benjamin Vath, who has been an actor and a director in 24 Hour Theater at The Pensacola Little Theater and at the Imogen Theater in Milton. "One of the cool parts of 24 Hour Theater is that everybody who auditions is [given a part], no matter what. And the directors and writers basically fight over who they want. Fight over who, sometimes, they don't want. But usually everybody is wanted for something. Because between six teams of writers and directors there will be somebody who has an idea [for each actor]."
Not every play has the same number of actors, but once each production team chooses its actors, they go home and sleep until 7:00 the next morning. The writers, they are up all night writing a play that fits the cast they picked. Sometimes the writers already have an idea of the play they want to write. And sometimes that doesn’t quite work out. Vath says when he was a director his writer had a specific idea of the play he wanted to write, but was not able to get the cast he wanted. "He envisioned a cute little 'what if' slice of life kind of story about two dating couples. [We ended up casting] a father and his son, a much younger girl and a middle aged man. So none of those really worked out [for the idea he wanted to write]". Vath says his writer ended up writing a totally different story that was a take off on the Indiana Jones series called "Iowa Jane and the Fandango Forest".
At the Pensacola Little Theater, once the auditions begin on Friday night the entire building is involved up until show time on Saturday. Once Saturday night comes the performances are held in the PLT's small studio space in the M. C. Blanchard Courtroom. That room can hold an audience of about 120 people. "Everyone performs in the same space, so it's a night of one-acts" said Kathy Holsworth, "But during the day, since every body's rehearsing at the same time and digging in the closets for costumes and props, they are all over the place. So each group picks a corner of the building, in the rehearsal hall, in the board room, in the court room, in the mezzanine and somebody's on the big stage and somebody's in the courtroom itself, and they use the gallery as their dressing room and meeting space. We have lots of sugary snacks and plenty of coffee all day long. So everybody's just [running] around, trying to put a show together."
24 Hour Theater returns to the Pensacola Little Theater this weekend. Auditions for actors begin Friday evening at 7:30. Showtime is 24 hours later, 7:30pm on Saturday.