Tales of an Almost Professional, Twenty-Something Year Old Playwright – Volume III

Anthony J. Piccione

24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park 2015

In 2013, my first one-act play to ever be produced – The Good, the Bad and the Stupid – was written, rehearsed and performed all within 24 hours as part of the 24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT. I still remember that experience like it was yesterday. Seeing the first production of a play written by me was both one of the most thrilling and exciting experiences I’ve ever had in all the years that I’ve been doing theatre. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in 2014 due to my involvement in a local production of My Fair Lady that same weekend. However, I was very happy that this year, I was able to be writing another new play for Playhouse on Park, and once again, it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences that I’ve had in theatre.

When I arrived at the theater on Friday night, I already had some general ideas as far as what I wanted this play to be about. I was hoping to return to the kind of writing found in my 2013 one-act entitled The Good, the Bad and the Stupid, which blended over-the-top comedy with some darker themes. I had thought about the idea of maybe poking fun at weird suicide cults, and how they lure in people who are most vulnerable. However, I couldn’t go too far with that idea until I had met my cast and director that I would be working with, so I was very eager to meet them when I got there.

At 8pm, all the actors, directors and playwrights participating in the event this year had a chance to introduce themselves, as well as the one prop that we were all required to bring for the play…and at least one of which playwrights would be required to use for the play. Then – after taking a large group photo – we were randomly split into our groups by picking out names on pieces of paper. I was the first playwright to be called on, which meant I was put into the first of four groups from A to D, or as we called ourselves: “The A-Team” ;)

Actors, directors and playwrights in the 24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park in 2015 (Photo credit: Dawn Loveland)

Actors, directors and playwrights in the 24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park in 2015 (Photo credit: Dawn Loveland)

After that, the four groups of artists had a chance to go off and meet with each other. I had the chance to meet the four actors that would be in my play – Jasmine Mcleish, Kathy Palma,  Barbara Harvey and John Droney – and the director of my play, Tasya Abbot. We all had a chance to do brief introductions, talk about our prior experiences in theatre, and finally, I had a chance to share some of my ideas for the playthat I would be writing with the people who would be bringing it to life. We continued talking for the next 30 minutes or so, and by the end of our meeting, we had already started talking about who would be playing which characters and what costumes they might be wearing. By 9pm, the actors and directors were all sent home, while I – along with the other three playwrights – remained at the theater to begin work on our scripts, which were due by 7am.

With the actors I had been given, I was able to create four characters that I thought would be excellent for each of them: the lonely and misunderstood teenage girl, her narcissistic mother, the evil leader of the cult she is lured into, and the dim-witted servant of the cult leader. The play I wrote – entitled You Really Shouldn’t Drink That – ended up being 14 pages and 5 scenes total, making it one of the longer one-acts I’ve written that have been produced. After a few hours spent writing a solid draft, I went back and spent time making a few revisions that, looking back on it, proved to help strengthen the play, at least from my point of view, as the person who wrote the play. I then emailed the play to the director and producer of the event for them to have, and I was able to go home and actually get a bit of sleep before returning to the theater in the afternoon. 

At 12:30pm on Saturday, after having a chance to catch up a bit on sleep and waking myself up with a ton of caffeine, Iarrived back at Playhouse on Park to discuss the script itself a bit for the first time with my director and actors. After that, I went with a few others to Playhouse on Park’s prop and costume shop that was also in West Hartford, and managed to help pick up a few things that would be used for the production: a few black robes, a rainbow robe and a typewriter. (This was in addition to the African drum and Haitian bowl that was already being used for the play, and was brought in by me and one of the actors in the show.) After that, I went back to the theater and got to relax and watch as rehearsals proceeded in the lead-up to the show.

First meeting of the cast, director and playwright of YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T DRINK THAT as part of Playhouse on Park's 24 Hour Play Festival (Photo credit: Dawn Loveland)

First meeting of the cast, director and playwright of YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T DRINK THAT as part of Playhouse on Park's 24 Hour Play Festival (Photo credit: Dawn Loveland)

One of my favorite things about doing a 24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park is that – during this event – I actually get to sit back and watch as the actors and director rehearse the play in the lead-up to the performance. While I love doing these events anywhere, I especially like getting to see what they do with my play BEFORE the production actually opens. As I watched the rehearsals, I was very impressed with the level of talent that had been involved in my play, yet I was also reminded of how hard and challenging it can be to quickly memorize an entire play when you have so many lines, let alone do it all 12 hours before the show begins. Ultimately, they all did a great job at doing this, and I couldn’t be more pleased. (I personally couldn’t imagine doing what they’ve done, as an actor. But then again, I suppose that’s why I’m doing more writing than acting, nowadays.)

In the lead-up to the performance itself, as always, I wondered how it would go. I went into this event with the hopes of possibly topping the play I wrote two years ago for Playhouse on Park, and I was wondering how the audience would react to You Really Shouldn’t Drink That, and how the reaction might compare to that of The Good, the Bad and the Stupid. I hoped the audience would like it and find it funny. This time, there was also even a bit of a moral to the story of what is otherwise a dark comedy – that high school is a terrible indicator of future success in life – that I hoped would get through to the people watching it. 

Program for the 24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park in August 2015

Program for the 24 Hour Play Festival at Playhouse on Park in August 2015

My play would be the first of four to be performed that night, as it was put in the alphabetical order of the groups that we were all first put into on Friday night. As I watched it, I felt very pleased, as the audience seemed to appreciate it, and laughed at various points during the play. All the actors did an excellent job portraying their roles, and visually the show was everything that I could have hoped for. After the four plays were all over, all of us – the actors, directors and playwrights – went back on stage to take a final bow. I thanked those involved in my play for helping to bring it to life, and after going backstage and grabbing the prop I had brought for the play, I went home feeling – once again – very happy to have been involved in a 24-hour playwriting event such as this. 

The end of this performance also marked the end of the last of three 24-hour play events I had planned on doing for the summer. While I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future for me as a young playwright in the coming months, this was still a bittersweet moment for me, as I always have believed that summer is the best time of year for playwriting – or theatre in general – and this was a sign that the summer was almost over. Nonetheless, I’m glad that I had this opportunity, and I look forward to whatever future opportunities I get as a playwright. Plus, I still have to finish the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge that I’m taking right now before the summer officially ends…but that’s another volume for another day.

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Interview with Hugo Medina and Sofia Yepes, Stars of LA Theatre Center’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea