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24 Hour Play Fest

  • 1.  24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-20-2018 07:26

    ​Has anyone had any experience with a 24 hour play festival?  I mentioned this to my troupe, and now we are all in to plan one for next year.  I'd appreciate any tips or advice or materials or really anything!

    Thanks, everyone!

    Amber Hugus
    Harmony PA

  • 2.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-20-2018 07:43
    I was in one several years ago with grad students, and it was a blast! I've thought about trying it with my kids, but I haven't had the energy yet. But if you have the interest, go for it!

    With ours, the coordinators made up a set of "rules" for the playwrights -- silly stuff like that the script had to contain the word "marmot" and that it had to end in a rhyming couplet. Maybe about 7-10 guidelines like that. I think it helped the playwrights by giving them someplace to start. The plays were all pretty goofy, but lots of fun.

    Cassy Maxton-Whitacre
    Theatre Department Coordinator
    Fishersville VA

  • 3.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-20-2018 09:20
    I did a few of these living as an actor/playwright in New York, and they are great fun. 

    The coordinators put all the playwrights' names into one hat, actors' names in another hat, and directors' names in a third. Writers, directors, and casts were assigned by random drawing.

    Each participant wrote two separate, random lines of dialogue, and put each into a separate hat. The first line drawn was the required opening line for all the scripts being written, and the second line had to be included in the some play at some point.

    Lastly, the coordinators brought in a unique prop - once it was a ten-inch-tall Santa Claus tree topper, once a huge conch shell painted to resemble a face, and so forth - which had to be prominently included in all the plays.

    These are just some examples. There are plenty of other ideas you could throw in, either as unifiers for the event or randomizers. They serve to create a sense of community among all the people participating.

    Have fun!

    Josh Kauffman
    Winfield AL

  • 4.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-20-2018 14:40
    We used to do this at my college, and it was one of my favorite things. I introduced it to one of the high schools I work with a couple years ago, and it was a great success! Here are a few notes about what we did:

    • I worked with the writers and directors throughout the week prior to the festival to get them prepared with what they'd need going into the 24 hours of craziness.
    • We bent the "24 hour" part slightly and held auditions right after school on Friday. Directors & writers attended. Actors were told to bring some sort of prop or costume piece. Writers were told to take inspiration either from the items brought or the monologues themselves. The show was done in December, so all plays had to have some sort of a holiday theme to them.
    •  We had 9 writers, 9 directors, 9 stage managers, 27 actors. Each show could have exactly three actors. There were significantly more female actors than males, so to make sure there were no hiccups with casting, we used red and blue poker chips to denote gender for the writers. Each started with one male and one female actor, and they drew their third chip from a bag. Writers could trade chips with other writers to get the breakdown they wanted, but when they turned in their scripts the characters' genders had to exactly match the poker chips they turned in with the script. Characters could be gender neutral, but they would have to be cast according to the assigned chips. This prevented any issues where a director HAD to have 2 males and 1 female, but there were no males left by the time they picked their third actor.
    • The writers met at a student's house at 7pm, where we had parents who volunteered to stay up with us while we worked. The last of the writers finished around 3am. All scripts were uploaded to Google Drive as they were completed. Directors were told to wake up in plenty of time the next morning to check the folder and read the plays before coming in.
    • Directors & stage managers came in at 9am. For play selection, I had directors rank their play choices, and from that I went through them to try and make sure everyone got a play as high up their list as possible (and to make sure nobody got one they weren't interested in.)
    • We had all the actors' names on a whiteboard, broken down by gender. Directors could only pick the number of male/female actors as listed in the script (gender neutral characters were previously determined by the writers' poker chips.) Directors drew numbers out of a hat to determine the order they would select actors. It went in a zigzag, so whoever picked first in round one would pick last in round two; whoever picked last in round one would pick first in round two (so they had two picks back-to-back.)
    • Directors and stage managers began preparations until the actors arrived at 11am. Each group was assigned to a space in the school, and we had a schedule set up so each group would get two blocks of time to work on the stage.
    • At 7:30pm, the doors opened and the shows went up.

    It was a great experience and the students absolutely loved it. Let me know if you have any other questions!

    Brian Work
    Lilburn GA

  • 5.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-21-2018 08:54
    My school does one every year. I do it with my playwriting/ directing classes. They serve as the writers/ directors and then the general population can sign up for Acting or Tech. I pull stage managers from my advanced tech classes. The students who stay overnight are the students who write & direct and the stage managers. Everyone else shows up in the morning. Part of why I do this is liability- the students in my classes get a grade for the festival and therefor can be better trusted to be in our school building overnight. 

    It's morphed and changed over the years based off of feedback but this is our current iteration:

    I pair 2 students together to write/ direct a play together. They write a play overnight and then in the morning they receive another writer/ director pairs play to direct. That way they have to write a play but also wrap their mind around directing someone else's story. Originally they wrote and directed the same show.

    Stage Managers are assigned to a pair and they follow the show. So they are on hand during the writing process- they frequently serve as a sounding board and editor through the process. They can answer questions like "can we achieve this effect on stage?" or "can I get a life size cow?" etc. That way in many ways they are the best expert on the show in the morning when it gets handed to someone else. They help maintain the artistic intent of the writers once another pairing is directing it.

    On a Friday the writers/ directors/ stage managers gather. The stage managers set up zones (boy's sleeping zone, girl's sleeping zone, sponsor teaching zone, writing zones, and what we call the "crash room"- the room a sponsor is always posted in for if they are crashing and burning and want some help/ guidance). There are rules for each of these spaces in order to increase productivity and reduce exhaustion/ stress.

    The writers draw prompts/ stimuli. These have changed over the years but these are our current rules:
    They must draw a setting, a cast, and time related parameter. They have to draw one of either a character condition or an environmental condition. Afterwards they can choose to pick a wildcard. The rule with the wildcard is that they MUST keep it if they draw one BUT they can put one of the other parameters back (except cast, I'll get into that in a minute). If they draw a wild card and don't put anything back they are allowed to trade up to 2 parameters with another group (except the wild card).

    A word on cast: students sign up to be performers and I categorize them according to given experience: green for totally new, silver for some experience and gold for very experienced. Each performer brings in a prop that must be included in the play they end up in. I divide them into the number of plays we have. When the writers draw their cast they get them like this: 2 Female Gold, 1 Male Green, and 1 Male Silver. Then they get a box/ bag with their props in them. That way they don't necessarily know which student performers they have so they don't end up writing for their friends. I do allow them to ask me questions about them like "can this person lift this person?" and "has this person ever had to be romantic on stage?" so they know what they can safely expect them to do.

    Throughout the night they have times when we come together to share and talk to make sure they're headed in the right direction. I always try to get an English and History teacher to volunteer to help on Friday night. I feed them dinner and the kids usually organize a thank-you gift. They're a great asset for them to be able to bounce ideas off of in terms of plot and historical accuracy.

    Their scripts are due around 5AM so we have enough time to print and copy them for when actors arrive at 7AM. It also gives them a little window of time to talk to their writers once they get the show they are directing. 

    During the day they are assigned to a specific rehearsal space and then we run tech and dress rehearsals on stage starting at about 4:30. Our shows go  up at 7:30PM.

    SO- it's usually a little more than 24 hours that they work on these plays in total, it's more like 27-28 hours. If you any other questions please let me know.


    Victoria Kesling Councill
    Chapter Director - VA Educational Theatre Association/ Virginia Thespians
    Artistic Director- NKHS Trojan Theatre, Kent England Exchange Partnership Production
    VCU BFA Theatre Education, BFA Art Education '08, University of Houston - MA Theatre '16

    "Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art." - Konstantin Stanislavski

  • 6.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-20-2018 15:32

    I would search this topic, as I believe it's come up a few other times over the years.

    I did a 24-hour play festival when I was teaching in the MFA playwriting program at Hollins University. As a working playwright, a 24-hour playwriting festival is a mixed bag, because when I write, I need something that will have legs beyond this one use. But for students, I think it would be great fun and a good way to build enthusiasm.

    The general M.O. with these types of festivals is to have certain required elements that are determined by chance. For example: a prop, opening or closing line, a word that must be mentioned, a setting, theme, etc.

    In terms of timing, the prompts are typically given the after/evening before, the writers write, and rehearsals start first thing the next morning, with performances that night.

    My main contribution to this new discussion would be to suggest that you draw/assign the actors to the playwright BEFORE the playwright writes. It's enormously helpful in the writing process to be able to write for specific people, whether that means writing to their strengths or capabilities, or simply being able to visualize them in the play. Often we'll do it even if those aren't the people who will ultimately be performing the play--it just helps to make the work feel more tangible. There are enough random curveballs you can throw at your writers in terms of the required elements--I'd recommend that the casting not be one of them.


    Jonathan Dorf
    Playwright/ Co-founder of YouthPLAYS/ Co-chair of The Alliance Of Los Angeles Playwrights
    Los Angeles CA

  • 7.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-20-2018 17:49
    I've done two in my life.  They are very fun but draining.  We are scheduling one with out troupe as well but we are inviting other nearby troupes to come participate and make it a lock-in style with rotating groups and chaperones.  We will see how it works.

    Joel King
    Atlanta GA

  • 8.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-21-2018 09:47
    I love 24-hour play festivals. There is a great energy that happens when everyone has to just "go for it" and audiences respond well to them. They make great fundraisers.
         That being said, I think the stay-awake-and-write-all-night-long format is playwright abuse.     There are other models. I don't think the plays written over a whole night are better because the writers have more time.
         One model: New Dramatists, a playwrights' service organization and center for new play development (go visit them if you ever take students to NYC) does a yearly benefit and the writers have twenty minutes to write a "commissioned" play with parameters set by a two minute discussion with the donor. The pieces are cast from a pool of actors, regardless of age, race or gender, rehearsed while the patrons are having dinner and then presented as readings.
         Another model: For several years I was part of The ATrain Plays in NYC, where playwrights write a play while riding public transportation. Each play had to take place on a subway train with characters entering and exiting. Around 6pm on a Friday or Saturday night, playwrights would meet at the 206th St station and pull a number our of a hat: 1,2,3 or 4. That would be the number of characters in each play. We then put the same number of headshots from the facilitator's bag those would be the actors we were writing for. We then got on the train and rode for two hours (hoping for once that the train would be delayed!) writing our plays as we rode. At the end of the line we would get off; directors would be waiting for us at the McDonalds at Far Rockaway and we would draw their names from a hat. We would then ride halfway back, to Columbus Circle, discussing the play with the directors and making adjustments to the script. At Columbus Circle the actors would greet us as we exited through the turnstile -- great excitement: "you're in my play!" Upstairs was a copy shop and we would photocopy the scripts. Then head to the Neighborhood Playhouse. We would sit in a circle, groups together, and read the first page or two and the last page so the producers could decide the running order. After that each team of playwright/director/actors would go into a classroom for a couple of quick readthroughs, discussion of the play and figuring out any special costume/prop requirements. After that we would all go home - around midnight. At ten or eleven the next morning we would show up for rehearsals. Afternoon would be tech, running lines if you weren't the show teching, and then the presentation in the evening on a set that looked like a subway car, with a live band playing preshow and between each scene.
         I've seen many different 24-hour play productions and I like this format the best because everyone gets a good night's sleep. The actors are better able to remember their lines because they rehearsed, slept and then rehearsed again. The playwrights can enjoy the experience because they aren't sleep deprived.
         Something you might add, besides selecting random lines or specific props, is to have the playwrights write A-Z plays. Each line begins with the next letter of the alphabet. It's fun to see how different writers deal with the hard letters, especially X & Z at the end. The writers have a structure to follow and the plays will stay short.
         In short, I think two hours is plenty of time to write and less stressful. The A-Z plays can be written in twenty minutes even. Forcing playwrights to write all night means that they are too tired the next day to have much fun. Giving actors the chance to read through the plays and then sleep helps with memorization.
         Have fun and thanks for giving opportunities for writing!

    Arlene Hutton
    "Letters To Sala"
    "Kissed the Girls and Made Them Cry"
    "I Dream Before I Take the Stand"

  • 9.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-21-2018 18:22
    This is one model that works well:

               The writer picks out of a hat a piece of paper that states the item donated for the writer to write about. 
                (a hat, telephone etc...) These items are donated by local businesses that support the event. 
              Then the writer picks a director out of the hat. 
              Then the director picks the cast out of the hat.  (2 to 3 each.)
              All the writer, director, actor groups meet for an hour to talk and take a picture with the item.
              They suggest ideas.  But the writer, of course, writes whatever the writer wants.
              The writer goes home to write.      
              At 8 am the writer emails the script to the director who meets with the actors and begins rehearsal.
              The writer, having been up all night writing, sleeps.
              At eight pm, the next evening, 24 hours later, the plays are performed.
              It's lots of fun!    Break a leg!  

    Luigi Jannuzzi Educator & Playwright
    All The King's Women
    Exhibit This! The Museum Comedies

  • 10.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-23-2018 09:30
    Your (May/June) issue of Teaching Theatre features a first-person play-by-play by member teacher Kandace Arens McGowan on her experiences running a 24-hour play festival with her students. You can find her thoughts and advice in the "Promptbook" column on page 38. Should be in your mailbox this week!

    Hope you enjoy!


    Anita Martin Manderfield
    Managing Editor of Publications
    Educational Theatre Association
    Cincinnati, OH

  • 11.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-24-2018 11:04
    We do one every year and every year I am shocked by how strong the pieces are. Last year one group wrote a musical!

    Since we are not allowed to lock in we start on Friday evening for three hours and then break for the night when the playwright has time to type and finish up. Some groups have been known to continue meeting together off site, but they aren't required to, just the playwright has to keep working and they have the lesser job on Saturday so it works.

    We also do this towards the end of the year (testing season means we can't have a show in the late spring) and invite all local 8th-12th graders to participate, which builds connections between schools and gives the 8th graders a chance to get to know the local theatre programs and their students. My school always hosts and organizes it, but many schools participate.

    Here is a breakdown of what we do:

    Kathleen McNulty Mann

    Arnold High School Theatre
    Panama City Beach, FL
    Program Director and Thespian Sponsor

    Florida State Junior Thespians
    District 10 Chair

    Florida Association for Theatre Education
    Board Member
    Membership Committee Chair

  • 12.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-25-2018 07:51


    I appreciate the documents!

    Amber Hugus
    Harmony PA

  • 13.  RE: 24 Hour Play Fest

    Posted 04-27-2018 08:21
      |   view attached
    Our 24-Hour Play Festival is a great event! We run it as a sleep-over where ALL students involved stay the ENTIRE time! We use our media center as the 'quiet' room (sleeping), our foods teachers allow us to use their rooms to feed the's great.
    I'm attaching what I use as a schedule for ours.
    Follow up with questions if you have them.

    Andrea Rassler
    Concord NC