Each year the UT Department of Theatre and Film programs a spot for Alpha Psi Omega’s annual “24-Hour Plays.”
Students of all majors gather together to write, direct, rehearse and perform a short play at the Center for Performing Arts under the brief restriction of 24 hours.
The result is a challenging activity, grounded more in teamwork than pride in the result.
It is a welcome addition to a semester usually occupied by two larger productions. I think of it as a bonus round of theatre — an opportunity to admire the talent of creative students.
This year is slightly different, however. Due to budget cuts, UT only has one larger production planned for this semester, “Arcadia.”
They even had to cancel the much-anticipated musical in the spring, "Evil Dead: The Musical." This means that the “24-Hour Plays” is all we have for a while.
No one is to blame for this. University budgets fluctuate and departments sometimes have to kill their darling productions in order to keep afloat.
When I saw that the annual “24-Hour Plays” were effectively replacing a spot in the normal production schedule, I figured all creative efforts would move towards Alpha Psi Omega’s festival. It would become the priority and perhaps perform better than ever before.
Yet, when I walked into the theatre, I was greeted by a half-painted stage floor and Top 40 radio. Not exactly a sign of tremendous professionalism at an open house.
The program consisted of five short skits created by teams of five students. Each team selected a random genre, prop and set of lines from a hat. The rest was up to them.
I must admit, stitching together a “musical comedy” involving a pink telephone and a string of curse words, within the confines of 24 hours, is no easy task.
I was immensely impressed by the students’ ability to not only memorize long stretches of dialogue (and sometimes even a song or two), but to have the gusto to perform their sketches in front of a crowd in perfect confidence.
I never once suspected embarrassment or hesitation from a single actor on stage. I applaud their bravery.
The primary issue with this year’s “24-Hour Plays” had nothing to do with the confident effort put into the final performance. The issue is within the rules of the festival itself.
There are other festivals like this one, such as the “48-Hour Film Festival.” I myself have participated in this exhausting activity (I passed out and woke up drooling on my laptop, editing a scene at 4 a.m.).
When the mind is slap-happy, it becomes painfully easy to rely on the crutches of expletives for easy comedy. This might seem funny to the mind of an exhausted writer, but the next day, sober-minded audiences see only gratuity.
I want to see a work that respects its audience, where easy crutches like frequent cursing, are against the goals of the festival.
If a genre reads “horror,” I want to see something thematically scary, not another attempt at comedy. This can be hard to do when the required line assigned to the "horror" team involves quirky, Tarantino-esque obscenity.
Please note: I'm not against "cursing," but it can be an easy out, especially to young writers. So why should a festival like this one require a roadblock to true narrative problem-solving?
These festivals exist to create, inspire and challenge teamwork. They remind creative people that anything of quality requires tremendous labor and an earnest process.