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!

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