What happens when you put 10 playwrights, over 30 actors, 10 directors, and eight techs in a room together and tell them to create 10 plays in 24 hours?
You might get the 10/24 Play Festival of the Orphan Girl Children's Theatre.
The annual festival, now in its third year, challenged playwrights to create and complete plays from 7 p.m. Friday night to 7 a.m. Saturday morning last week. Those plays were later produced and performed by Orphan Girl students and adult volunteers Saturday night.
In other words, works of art were created from start to finish in just one day.
If you’re still working on your Great American Novel, you might want to take note.
Artistic Director Jackie Freeman said time wasn’t the playwrights’ only constraint. Organizers gave writers just 10 props and six set pieces to work with and randomly assigned each writer a set of actors and a director.
For inspiration, they gave each writer a location and a quote to work with, but the writers didn’t have to include the quote in the play.
Freeman said this year’s theme was “Beautiful Butte” and the assigned locations were Mining City backdrops, places like the Columbia Gardens and Our Lady of the Rockies.
“All of these plays are about Butte in some fashion, which we are really excited about,” Freeman said.
Freeman said the idea for the festival came out of her and Orphan Girl Educational Director Elizabeth Crase’s experience producing plays. Both had been part of similar 24-hour festivals in the past, so they decided to bring the concept to the Orphan Girl, giving the festival the slogan “creative genius under pressure.”
The theatre received a $4,500 grant from the Superfund Advisory Redevelopment Trust Authority for the festival, which Freeman said helped organizers market the festival and host a series of playwriting workshops for writers, which featured theater professionals from Helena, Missoula, and Butte.
Actors Stella Callaghan, 9; Kera Moreno, 14; and Michael Peck, 12, and director Marley Drew Hamblin, 13, were assigned a play by KLXF TV reporter John Emeigh.
“It’s stressful because you have to learn lines in one day,” said Moreno.
Nonetheless, she and her group said participating in the festival is a lot of fun and they were super excited to get Emeigh as their playwright.
The group’s play tells the story of three siblings down on their luck living in Butte’s infamous Cabbage Patch neighborhood. To solve their money problems, they come up with a plan to hold a rich man’s wife for ransom.
“I’m the smart one,” said Callaghan, describing her character, one of the three siblings.
Writing the plays over the weekend were creatives young and old, ranging from middle schoolers to middle-aged adults.
Seventeen-year-old homeschool student Ashley Rae McGee was one of the 10 playwrights. The weekend was her second time writing for the festival.
McGee said she learned a lot from her first year, such as to avoid giving actors long monologues to memorize.
McGee said nine of the writers stayed overnight at the Orphan Girl, located in the basement of the Mother Lode Theatre, where writers bounced ideas off of each other.
Some fell asleep. Others stayed up all night.
“Around 3 a.m. we were all losing it,” said McGee.
In the end, all had complete works, which actors spend the day memorizing Saturday and performed that night.
McGee has been acting with the children’s theater for 10 years, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that she’s delved into writing.
It all started after McGree took a playwriting workshop with Crase and got hooked on the craft. Since then, she’s gone on to write everything from short stories and songs to dramatic works.
“I was never a writer before, but for the last three years, I’ve been writing nonstop,” said McGree. “I just like creating stories. I have all these stories in my head, and they bounce around until I put them on paper.”