Monday, January 16, 2012

What a difference a day makes

Various dubious Internet sources attribute a quotation to Mark Twain opining that it takes three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. While he likely never said it, it's a good sentiment that might well be applied to writing one-act plays as well.

14/48, the World's Quickest Theater Festival, blatantly ignores Twain's advice, giving its playwrights 12 hours—the overnight ones, no less!—to take a play from broad theme to completion. Then it gives everyone else involved about 12 hours to direct, memorize, rehearse, costume, score, tech, and stage the play before its world premiere performance before a packed house. Then they do it again the next day, creating 14 new plays in the space of 48 hours.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Yet 14/48 is our most anticipated theatre event every winter and summer because this insane premise almost always delivers remarkable results. None of the plays are perfect, because they can't be; if Shakespeare were alive today he'd probably still be tinkering with Hamlet. But many of the scripts tell compelling stories, and even those that don't are often bailed out by inspired performances or clever staging.

Except for this weekend. The last two days of the winter festival were especially interesting because Friday night was a complete goose-egg. Oh-for-seven. All of the plays were total bombs. A couple of them had a few laughs and some interesting performances, but on the whole the evening was disappointing. Even the band, comprised of mostly familiar players whose talent we admire, seemed off beat and lacking energy.

Then an amazing thing happened. The same suspects returned on Saturday, even more sleep deprived, and gave us seven pretty good plays, despite a theme—special teams—that organizers felt compelled to explain to the audience because it has its root in sports, certainly foreign to most who partake in theatre, especially if its spelled with an re instead of an er.

I especially enjoyed For Love and Love Alone, a spy thriller by Josef Krebs and directed by Nik Perleros, featuring Trick Danneker as the spy, Amanda Lee Williams as the mad evildoer bent on world domination, Zoey Belyea as the chain-smoking French ninja (every play has to have some sort of standard character), and Mark Fullerton as both the chief of the operation and Trick's love interest.

Our faith in 14/48 and in the insanely talented pool of theatre artists in Seattle is restored.

Kudos to the super talented José Amador, who was given the Mazen Award in recognition of his contributions to the spirit of risk taking and camaraderie embodied in the 14/48 process. Amador is a regular on the 14/48 blog and did some marvelous writing about theatre for Seattlest until it was boarded up. He is now writing for the new Seattle Star. Check out his insider report about the Jan. 6-7 weekend of 14/48.

Lessons from the weekend: Keep putting yourselves on the line. And don't schedule 14/48 for Friday the 13th!

Thanks for taking the risks and for putting on great theatre!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A triple witching hour of theatre

Wall Street, occupied or not, has its triple witching hour four times a year, when three different types of securities expire all at once, creating a volatile market. I'm not aware of any similar jargon in theatre, but Friday night's calendar in Seattle had me wishing I could be in three audiences at once.

Up at the Erickson off Broadway, Balagan Theatre opened its much-anticipated production of Spring Awakening, a 2007 Tony-winning musical about teen angst and sexuality. Balagan's executive director Jake Groshong calls it "the best thing we've ever done," and that's saying a lot for Balagan, which first caught my interest with Othello in 2008 and has had numerous wonderful productions since. Spring Awakening is directed by Eric Ankrim, who directed and starred as Dr. Horrible at Balagan in 2010 and will grace the 5th Avenue Theatre stage as Curly in Oklahoma! later this year.

Down at Seattle Center the Seattle Shakespeare Company opened its production of Coriolanus, under the direction of David Quicksall. Coriolanus doesn't get staged often, though we saw a good performance of it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2008 and Intiman produced it early in the Bart Sher years. We're looking forward to seeing what Seattle Shakes does with it.

John Thomas (Ryan Higgins) gives the Little Man in the
Boat (Bobby Temple) the popsicle treatment during The 
Descent Friday evening at 14/48, the World's quickest
theatre festival. Photo: 14/48.
Our Friday pick to attend, however, was day one of 14/48, the World's Quickest Theatre Festival. It has become a favorite event, a must-see each summer and winter. The premise is diabolical. Thursday evening the company throws themes into a giant ice cream cone. They pick one out at random. Seven playwrights go away and create a one-act play on the topic. Friday morning the directors pick plays and cast at random from the assembled company. Rehearsal commences, and the shows go on at 8 p.m. Friday. Then on Friday night a new topic is chosen, the process is repeated. By the time the lights come up early Sunday morning, you've seen 14 new world-premiere plays in 48 hours.

Friday night's theme was "Goin' Down South", which had many audience observers expecting seven plays about oral sex. Several of the plays went down there, none more hilariously than The Descent, written by Eric Lane Barnes and directed by Kate Jaeger. Special props to Ryan Higgins (John Thomas) and Bobby Temple ("The Little Man in the Boat.") Temple had the best line of the night, in offering some guidance to John Thomas: "I am not a popsicle!"

The 14/48 blog is super active; go check it out. Seven new plays on the topic of "delicious indescretion" will run at 8 and 10:30 this evening, and they'll do it next weekend, too. Spring Awakening runs at Balagan through Jan. 15, and it will likely be back for another couple of weeks in April. Coriolanus will be at Seattle Shakes through Jan. 29. Don't miss any of these shows. Support live theatre!