How to Write a Play in a Night

This past weekend I had the privilege of working as part of a very exciting community theater project: StageNorth’s inaugural Ready, Set, Play event, a mini festival of eight plays produced in the span of 24 hours. Each play had a different writer, director and cast make-up that would each feature a “who,” “what,” and “where” prompt drawn from a list of community suggestions.

I volunteered myself as a writer immediately pretty soon after the events initial call for talent. I’d like to think I have a talent for it, and I knew this would be a great stretch of my skill. I arrived at StageNorth as required by the event on Friday night. My prompts drawn were as follows:

Who? A podiatrist.

What? The world’s tiniest cuckoo clock.

Where? The old neighborhood.

I had a cast of three actors to work with. Immediately after having drawn the prompts I met with them to discuss what kind of play they would like to be a part of, and what sort of talents they could bring to the project.

I was fortunate enough to have one actress who, in addition to putting on a killer Australian accent, knew how to juggle and perform cartwheels (I found out later that she once worked in a circus), so I knew I had to include these in the script. She also was keen that there be a lesbian subplot.

What the Hell. Why not.

Another of my actors was a young man who came off as fairly shy, but had adorably presented me with a typed up resume of his assets. Among other things he liked to draw, knew how to snap his fingers, and was comfortable performing slapstick comedy.

Given his introversion I was wary to give him too many lines, but knew it was my moral imperative to have him feel as included as possible. Theater is for everyone, after all. So, I made sure to include the aforementioned “louder” of his talents.

I cannot take sole credit for the premise of my piece, nor could I attribute its genesis to anyone of my actors during the brainstorm. It was a true collaborative free-for-all.

After a quick look at what costumes would be available to us, I left StageNorth and my cast for the night, with the intent of returning the next morning at 8 am with a full script, as required by the outline of the event. I made a brief prop run to Wal-Mart for those things that were already taking shape in my mind, and at about 9 pm I settled in for the night and got to typing.

I would close my computer, after having shared a PDF to the tech director for printing, about 5 minutes before 2 am.

It was decided early on in the process that the play would take place in a podiatrist’s office, newly opened in the old neighborhood. Examining rooms are fairly static environments, so it was necessary to me that there be enough zany energy motivating the characters to get them moving.

Another challenge was one typical of any fiction writing: how will the plot complement the story and vice-versa? In other words: how was I going to tie this all up in a neat little bow?

In the end, I decided my play was a love story. It is about a hopeless romantic who, through honest efforts and negligent mishaps, comes to learn something about the nature of heartache.

After about five hours of sleep, I returned to Stage North Saturday morning and handed off That Pain Down Under to my cast and the newly drawn director. I left in their hands. They performed the piece about 24 hours after I first came to the playhouse the night previous. It was the final play of the night, a scheduling choice that the event producer told me was “for good reason.” I was humbled beyond belief.

For those of you that couldn’t make it, here is my original script, unedited and in full. Thanks.

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