So-called “play-in-a-day” festivals or “playfests” have popped up here and there in the San Francisco theater scene, enjoying brief vogues, fading into unfashionableness, enjoying brief vogues again. The premise couldn’t be simpler: write, produce, and perform an entire play within one 24-hour period.
JOEY: I’m sorry, I take it back, I–was–wrong. Especially to Netty–Antoinette. Especially her. The thing is, um, Ernst, is, you know, with all due respect, you weren’t there. The thing is, I learned from her, too. Not just how to pronounce “Meursault” without the “L” sound just like the hoity-toity types up on Nob Hill, I learned about San Francisco and its literature, I mean, seriously, do I sound like the kinda guy who can quote a big shot poet like Lawrence Ferlinghetti?!
Naturally, the playwrights do not write three-hour epics. The producers will impose a ten, fifteen or twenty page limit. In order to prevent the playwrights from cheating and writing the play ahead of time, producers force them to write a play to a set theme that they don’t reveal until the night before. I have always played the role of the playwright, the vanguard if you will, staying up all night, foraying, foraging, forcing my way into the thick unexplored undergrowth of the theater to try and write something comprehensible to normal human beings 10-12 hours later who will perform said script in front of an audience of other normal human beings 14-12 hours after that.
The Playwrights Center of San Francisco, of which I am a member, will host a fundraising event tonight featuring seven of its playwrights members, all of whom are scribbling away at this very moment (this very moment being 12:09:58 a.m., Pacific Time, on September 15, 2012). The producer of the show increased our challenge with multiple draws from a hat: first, how many cast members must be in our plays; second, the director; third, the names of the actors, and finally, the theme of our show.
The theme for tonight’s show? “That’s Not True!”
Naturally, most Americans’ first thought will be, “How appropriate for an election year!” Actually, the first theme drawn from the hat was “Election Year,” but everyone–actors, directors, and playwrights–booed the selection, and, led by a rebellious Libertarian actor, waged a successful revolt.
So I met with the actors and asked them to toss out situations from their lives where they or someone said “That’s not true!” Then I collected personal data: one actor is a native of France, one is a banjo player, one speaks fluent German. Hey, I almost called for the banjo, but changed my mind, but I will use both French and German in the script.
Here is the first bit of dialogue I wrote:
ERNST: I have won the girl, but I feel like, feel like, what is that American word? I feel like–what is it?–ah, yes! I feel like a dummkopf.
The rest has flowed pretty naturally. The key to my success in these 24-hour projects–and all of them have proven great successes–lies in three areas. First, the actors; I have enjoyed phenomenal good fortune in having very good-to-excellent casts. Second, I have enjoyed equally phenomenal good fortune in having directors who could understand even my most wildly avant-garde works and interpret them well.
Third, when writing the plays I have allowed myself to allow the plays to surprise me. I had no idea this comedy I have chosen to call Le Bistro de la Verite (I hope it’s a comedy) about a chance meeting between a woman, her current boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend would turn into a meditation upon language barriers, what becoming an American means, mastering the San Francisco Burrito, and learning the Infield Fly Rule. And all of this will take place in only ten pages!
ANTOINETTE: No, I meant that I cannot believe that this is happening. Zut alors. Smile, Ernst, act normal. Joey, what a surprise!
It is now 1:16:33 a.m., and I have taken a break whilst dealing with the only serious challenge to arise during the writing of this play. I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking that the rest of the script is a masterpiece; I only want to state that only one part has given me any trouble. The very middle of the script. Need a connection, a transition, something plausible to explain why Antoinette changes from snotty toward Joey, her ex, to suddenly missing him and the good times they had when he taught her to love baseball and the San Francisco Giants (not necessarily in that order).
1:49:02 a.m. I might have solved the transition problem; no, I might have had the intelligence to allow the transition problem to solve itself. The transition should be abrupt. I still need to polish the language. I have written a ten-page play and one of my longest blog posts in less than six hours. 1:53:11 a.m. Someone in my apartment building (a three-story Edwardian, almost 100 years old) has started a shower. I wonder if it is the restaurant owner on the first floor.
2:06:05: printing what is now the second draft of the play. Must proofread, because the director and actors need all the help I can give. Time to play some music to keep me awake. Something mentally stimulating, with a beat. Oh, yeah: Over-Nite Sensation, an evergreen immortal by Frank Zappa (with the Mothers of Invention), the only musician to have a gene of a bacterium that causes urinary tract infections named in his honor. Yes, I believe that everything in Wikipedia is the absolute truth. “Camarillo Brillo:” will I ever write something that freaking freakishly fracking brilliant?! Why have I suddenly remembered that I have run out of garbage bags and liquid hand soap?
3:54:02 a.m. Done. Finito. Time to email Le Bistro de la Verite to the producer over 3 hours ahead of the deadline (7:00). Time to apologize to you, my patient reader, for all the typos that must exist within the brambles of this rambling bramble of ramble. Time for me to go to bed and sleep until Sunday.
Except I can’t. I have to meet the director and the actors because I have the props. And the spare copies of the script. And they will have questions probably caused by some typos I inflicted upon them.
Sleep? What sleep?
It’s another 24-hour play-in-a-day.
Vonn Scott Bair