Operation 24: How Staying Up All Night Made Me Less Stressed

I could say my theatre journey started back in sixth grade when I played the Blue Bird in The Tortoise and the Hare Ride Again. But I consider that little brush with the stage and odd bit of confidence as an outlier. No, I trace my drama beginnings to the 24 Hour Plays as staged at the Young Writer’s Workshop summer camp, second session of 2006. It’s through that first stage management/techie/jack-of-all-trades gig that I decided to come back the next year, how I decided to apply for the scriptwriting workshop, and how I eventually realized that I have a natural voice and feel for playwriting. And then I brought the event back to The Rice Players; before I even produced a full stage show as managing coordinator, I oversaw the first incarnation in at least 4-5 years in 2009. It’s now an annual event and when I got ill and couldn’t stay up the entire night and day for the last year’s event, I cried more than during my farewell toast at the seniors’ last cast party. I never thought I’d get the chance to do it again. Out of the blue, a friend messages me very very early in the morning last Wednesday: “Hey, do you want to write for a 24 hr play thingy?”

YES OF COURSE.

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After an exhausting week of final paper-writing, early-morning conference volunteering, and emotional semester endings, I thought that I would be zapped and barely able to stay up all night to write a play . . . I underestimated the power of being in the same room with passionate, creative people united under the same insane aim: to write, rehearse, produce, and perform 5 10-minute plays in just 24 hours.

I felt welcome at Unit 102 as soon as I entered, though I knew no one present. It just felt good to be in a theater again–and to think that I would be developing a play from start to finish within its walls (granted, in just a few hours). The group of actors and director randomly selected to work with whatever play I wrote were ready and willing to do almost anything and I couldn’t wait to create something that would challenge them, something that wouldn’t necessarily be simple, something that would give them plenty of room to play. They managed to teach me a little bit more about Canadian culture as they showed off their diverse personalities (Canadian tuxedo FYI means denim jacket, denim jeans–preferably matching).

As they asked me what I liked to write, I felt like a bit of a cliche, just listing back most of the qualities that the organizers told us would work best in these short plays: no long monologues, ping-pong back and forth, tell an entire story from beginning to middle to end instead of simply writing a funny scene or sketch. It seemed like I was just mirroring these qualities back, trying to play the straight A, brown-nosing student once again–but I think it’s more the other way around: I was shaped as an artist by these 24 hour play events and, therefore, they are the core of my view of what theatre should be. I write theatre that’s meant to be performed live, to challenge the cast and crew to interpret and add to its vision, to work collaboratively without me as the final arbiter of “what it means,” and finally, to ensure a touch of mystery and magic remains at the center of the process. Nothing ends up one way or the other, comedy or tragedy. I just can’t seem to make things clean across those genre lines.

I was still exhausted after writing all night. I thought at midnight and again at 1 pm that I was drawing to a close, but new twists and attempts to re-write the introductory scenes pushed my final print-off to 4 am. The best part: I wrote my play about twisted games between a guy, a girl, and a rogue transit cop when they miss the streetcar and end up waiting on the sidewalk for an hour–and then the last four writers walked outside to miss the last Queen streetcar and stand around for an hour waiting for the next one . . .

By the time I got home at 6 am, with the sun just beginning to peek in my window, I had no thoughts but bed–and yet I found myself awake at noon bursting with nervous energy. Why? I had no idea what I had written. Sure, I had tweaked it and rewritten something. I had used some mysterious plot based on the three actors to craft a 10 minute script, but the details were hazy. I had an odd feeling that any pride and confidence I had in those pages was part of some 3 am hallucination, one that the other three writers and I shared. I returned to the theatre that night more anxious to see my work performed than ever before. The first three plays swept away my attention, but only because I wanted to laugh along with their success in hopes that it would somehow spread to my play.

I had nothing to worry about. The cast and director had made changes, but very slight ones that made the mystery of my script read through with even more eeriness and humor. They played up an odd sexual chemistry between the cop and the girl, even though I had cut their lesbian kiss from the script (it just didn’t make sense plot-wise, but I guess the sexual tension was still there?) and overall, made the characters come to life in ways both expected and unexpected. By the time the first set of performances ended, I was grinning and laughing, no longer from nerves but genuine joy. I stayed to watch the second set of performances, excited to see how a different audience would fuel and react to the performers and vice versa. I wasn’t disappointed. Their performance and the possibilities for my script blossomed.

It was enough to propel me into the last big writing push for the winter semester. To sit down in a few cafes on Monday and finish out the revisions on my short story to theatre adaptation. I’m not sure what I’m going to take from my actual Operation 24 script: the mean-spirited girl character, the interesting gender power dynamics, the realistic and high-stakes setting at a deserted TTC bus shelter, but I am sure I’ll be volunteering to write again for the next round.

 

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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One Response to Operation 24: How Staying Up All Night Made Me Less Stressed

  1. Pingback: Beyond a Book/Film Review: Robert McKee’s Story, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The English Teacher | gladlybeyondaustinausten

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