All in a Day's Work

Old Pueblo Playwrights stages a frantic festival.

Most plays you see are the result of months, even years of authorial toil, followed by weeks of careful rehearsal. Well, forget all that at the finale of the Old Pueblo Playwrights New Play Festival next week. That night's offerings will be proudly slapdash.

"Play in a Day" is a project that culminates in a performance of short plays that will go from conception to production in a mere 24 hours.

"In the tradition of all great ideas, we're stealing it," says Old Pueblo Playwrights member and spokesman Rich Amada. The concept seems to have originated at a couple of theaters in Atlanta. "I don't know of any playwright groups doing it, but this is right up our alley," he says. "Creating new plays is what we do."

The group's 12th festival will begin conventionally enough Thursday, January 31 and Friday, February 1 with staged readings of works written under normal circumstances by OPP members. The first night opens with Hal Melfi's Variations on America, a musical but wordless five minutes spying on an American family. Next comes Joan Van Dyke's Heart. According to the official synopsis, "A family must come to grips with a destructive force as it struggles through a lifetime of secrets, illusions and mystical garden gnomes."

"Neo-realism, right?" quips Amada.

The Friday offerings begin with Van Dyke's Greek Potato Trilogy, three short comedies featuring a bad-boy hero. "It's a combination of Greek mythology and Idaho produce," explains Amada not very helpfully. "It is weird and very big and bold, almost like commedia dell'arte."

Sharing the bill is Guy Castonguay's Take Another Take, which Amada describes as "a very short piece about a teenager who's trying to hold up a convenience store, dealing with a clerk who is more than he counted on." The evening closes with Bret Primack's Desert Rats, which Amada says is "about a couple of boys, da Family kinda boys, from back east, who have to dispose of a body in the desert. It's a very dark comedy."

These may be new plays, but they aren't quite world premieres. "Everything we do are things that have gone through the OPP process: at least two readings before our group, with our critique afterwards," Amada says. "The writers make changes as a result of our feedback and after hearing actors in the readings. Then in the festival they're staged readings, with some blocking and props, but the actors are carrying the script in hand."

So much for normality.

On February 1, immediately after the performances and ensuing discussion, OPP will pair up playwrights by lot for "Play in a Day." Diving into the writing pool are Adrienne Perry, Hal Melfi, Bret Primack, Guy Castonguay, Joan Van Dyke, Berenda Crellin, Chris Stern, Rhoda Tagliacozzo, Howard Allen, Halsy-Taylor, Patrick Baliani, Mary Rogers, Elaine Romero, Stuart Bousel, Anne Heintz and Sam Smiley.

Each duo will pull an all-nighter, having until 8 the next morning to create a 10-minute play. The scripts will be distributed randomly to a group of directors, and the directors will then cast over the phone from a roster of actors on standby. They'll go into immediate rehearsal for performances that night.

"No revisions will be allowed," Amada states sternly. "The writers won't be there for the rehearsals. There'll be no time for a workshop at that point; the show has to go on that evening."

It's possible that a writer who specializes in light comedy will be paired with, say, someone who favors magic-realism drama, but Amada expects this group of writers to come to terms without any fistfights breaking out.

"I've done some collaborating in the past and it means being willing to throw ideas out and compromise and accept a different direction, and work all that into what you're thinking about," Amada says.

That could be challenge enough, but OPP is throwing yet one more lump of complication into the inkwell. "For each team, we are going to allow the audience on Friday night to select up to three hand-held props from a group we'll have ready for the playwrights to incorporate into their plays, and the audience will also select for each team a line of dialogue from a list we'll solicit," Amada says. "And after all the plays are performed on Saturday, we'll ask the audience to vote for the best overall production, and we'll give the winners a small cash award.

"We always say every year at the festival that we let our audience be there for the birth of new plays. Well, this year they get to be there for the conception."

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