Photo by Lucy Wimmer
By David Provost
Spontaneity and urgency frequently occupy the same space when it comes to making a play come to life. Actors and technicians in the industry both become familiar with various forms of improvisation, in order to ensure that if something on stage goes unplanned, lightning-fast recovery is always an option. However, when the construction of a show itself is a lightning-fast endeavor, it will resemble something very similar to Sewanee Theater’s “New Plays in 2 Days” event.
Sewanee professors and professional playwrights Elyzabeth Wilder and Edith Freni have both had experiences with playwriting challenges and competitions that give writers a strict time table and a list of required story elements with which to create a show. The Sewanee Student Theater Board and Theater Department decided to work in conjunction to invent a modified version of these familiar playwriting challenge that include actors, technicians, and directors as well.
The students were divided into teams of four, with one writer, one director, and two actors. They were all brought together randomly on the seventh and eighth of the month. From Thursday afternoon onward, the two-day timer began and sent theater students at the University into a frenzy.
The 48-hour event was an artistic challenge from every angle. A student production can take two months or more to get off the ground, so the idea of embarking on the same creative process in only two days initially seems almost impossible from a logistic standpoint.
The largest element that had to be sacrificed in order for the plays to reach performance-ready quality by Saturday night were any concrete planning procedures. Acting Professor Jim Crawford believed that the absence of planning can often be precisely what creative minds need to produce a complete work. By throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the internal editor that keeps theater participants up at night, the freedom you gain is both frighteningly helpful and artistically exhilarating.
The end-result was one of the most inspiring and fun events to grace the studio theater. Student artists, technicians, and a few black boxes led to an evening of compelling stage craftsmanship and vivacious storytelling. Overflow seating was necessary to accommodate the large turnout at the Tennessee Williams Center the night of September 9.
The five entertaining short plays were about a romance in a restroom, tension amongst co-workers in a stalled elevator, an unexpected friendship in a Waffle House, a brother and sister surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, and an underdog tale about an off-off Broadway production.
Each play had a distinguished voice, fully committed performances, and unexpected costumes and props. Although the pre-decided theme for each of the plays was “natural disasters,” the evening of student theater was a roaring success and hopefully the beginning of a new Sewanee Theater tradition.