For this competition, time is of the essence. With only a first and last line to work with, three student playwrights will have 24 hours to come up with a short gem of a play. Once the play is written, it won’t get any easier – participants will have another 24 hours to rehearse with a handful of volunteer actors. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? The results proved quite the opposite, promise Courtney Mitchell and Joseph Burley, ARTifact coordinators for McGill’s Tuesday Night Cafe. In fact, audiences should be prepared for a hectic but highly entertaining theatrical blitz when the resulting three plays are presented.
“It’s an eclectic representation of the playwrights at McGill,” explained Mitchell, “people who are now just getting into it. That’s what we love about TNC, that it’s very intimate for a lot of people who have their first [experience] directing, acting, and stage managing.” For this kind of initial dabbling in the world of drama, 24 hours gives someone an ideal opportunity for free creative expression within the framework of an established theatre collective.
Given this creative freedom, TNC bases its choice of playwrights on enthusiasm and open mindedness, while trying to ensure a stylistic variety. “We’ve received a broad spectrum of stuff so far,” said Burley. “Some absurd plays, some lovely poems.” Some applicants are newcomers while others are reapplying “because they love it,” said Burley. A lot of applicants do come from the Drama program simply because they’re more likely to be part of McGill’s student-run theatre community, but TNC draws in playwrights from a variety of educational backgrounds – one of this year’s applicants, for instance, studies Biology.
The rules are simple: each selected playwright gets a first and last line for their script, dreamed up by the ARTifact coordinators with the help of McGill Drama professor Myrna Wyatt Selkirk. Every play will feature six to eight characters and be about ten pages long – which roughly adds up to 15 minutes – with only one lighting cue and one sound cue. Other than that, playwrights’ creativity is encouraged to run wild.
The 24 Hour Playwriting Competition is also a good way for actors to get their foot in the door. TNC will include any aspiring actors who volunteer, no audition required, whether they have experience or not. The whole process is centred on the playwrights’ personal vision. Playwrights also direct their own work, drawing on their actors’ input. For many participants, explained Mitchell, this is “their first time writing a play, the first time they experience what it’s like to [interact] with other people who are in it as well, [to see how] the actors and the audience respond to it.”
The 24 Hour Playwriting Competition has been going on for longer than Burley and Mitchell can remember. For a lot of students, especially those who aren’t in the Drama department, this is a pretty unique opportunity to try their hand at playwriting. “After [the competition] finished last year,” said Mitchell, “everyone was immediately so close. It’s unique to have something like this. A lot of [theatre] at McGill is very audition-based, very classroom-based. Outside of class, [this is] one of the bigger opportunities.”
The ARTifact coordinators would know a thing or two about this. The regular event they organize, the ARTifact evenings, are all about giving young artists a place to share their work. The ARTifacts usually happen the Tuesday after a show ends – the next one, Heartifact, is coming up in February (yes, it’s named for Valentine’s Day). “You can look at it like an open mic night,” explained Mitchell. “There are no rules at all. We have improv, we always have art showing, artists usually give an artist statement, lots of musicians, some comedy, really anything you’d like to share with other students.”
ARTifacts usually draw in people from all over McGill. “We had one girl who came to our first ARTifact with some of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen and I ended up actually purchasing one because they were so nice,” said Mitchell. “She says she’s now considering applying to an art school because she thinks maybe science isn’t for her – [all this after] being able to share it with people [who were] so happy and enthusiastic.”
The competition component of the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition will continue on the night of the show. Each member of the audience will be able to use their ticket as a ballot to vote for their favourite play. “There might be a little treat for the winner,” hinted Burley. “You’ll have to come and see!” Mitchell teased.
The ARTifact coordinators emphasize the thrill of the competition’s last minute aspect. “It’s going to be stressful, obviously,” said Burley, “but so, so fun. Everyone always wants to see these plays because they’re touching and hilarious. There’s so much interpretation that can happen.”
“We’re going to be really silly about it,” added Mitchell. “We always are.”
TNC is accepting submissions for playwrights at firstname.lastname@example.org until January 14. Actors can email the coordinators to volunteer until January 16. The plays resulting from the 24 Hour Playwright Competition will be presented in Morrice Hall in the Islamic Studies building (3485 McTavish) on January 18 at 7 p.m., but people are advised to show up at 6 p.m. because the tickets, which are free, will disappear quickly.