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24 Hours, A Radio Play Challenge: The Writer

February 26, 2013

I’m getting a little too old for pulling all-nighters. Back in college I thought nothing of staying up all night to cram for finals, taking the test, then going out to party! But now (many years graduated) I’m still recovering, days later, from the Radio COTE 24-Hour Newsroom… a radio play challenge.

Was it worth the dark circles, dull skin, confused brain and extra coffee budget? Heck yes! What a ride. Here’s the scoop:

Organized by Co-Op Theatre East a theatre company founded, in part, by the awesome The Political Theatre Maker, the 24-Hour Newsroom is a challenge for writers, directors and actors to create and perform a new 10-minute play in just 24 hours. I applied to take part as a writer, as regular readers will know, I’m a radio drama fan from my time living in the UK, and have written several radio plays over the past year. It was hard to not check the “actor” box when applying as I desperately want to perform radio drama too. But I thought the challenge of writing a play in a short time was more exciting to me, and I wanted to test my radio writing skills that I’ve been honing at the BBC for the past decade.

On Friday, January 25th, all the participants gathered at 8PM to learn more about our fate… At that point we had no idea what would happen except that 24 hours later, there had to be six new plays ready for an audience.

Teams of one writer, one director and three actors were picked, at random, from slips of paper in an envelope. We were all given two prompts that needed to be in the play: A sound cue (an iPhone marimba ring) and a copy of the New York Times. All plays needed to be inspired by a story within, with a twist. The theme of the festival was “revisionist current events.” So we were to look at the paper, pick a story and imagine it in a different light.

With that in mind, I quickly started scanning the paper as the director and actors in my team set a rehearsal schedule. The deal was that I would email the new play by 8 AM the next morning. Re-writes after that hour, were not allowed.

Immediately, a tiny story in the back pages of the Arts Section caught my eye. It was only 18 lines long and noted that the Poetry Foundation in New York City was naming a new director. Meanwhile, the front page of the business section carried a huge spread about a story at the investment firm, Goldman Sachs. I imagined what it would be like if we lived in a world where those two stories were reversed… if news from the Poetry Foundation was front page, while Goldman Sachs was fringe. I threw the story idea to my director and actors and they loved it. We quickly brainstormed a few ideas: maybe words would be as valuable as stocks? maybe poets were the elite of the world? maybe a boy loved a girl…

At about 9:25 PM, the director and I looked at each other and nodded in unison…that was it… we had a story. I packed up and rushed home to write…and got totally lost.

Most life coaches and psychologists will agree: when you lose track of time because you are immersed in a project, it says something about your purpose in life. I don’t know what will happen next in my radio drama writing career, but I can tell you that while writing that play, overnight, I never even realized it was later than I had been up in years… that it was well past Jimmy Fallon… that it was already happy hour in Australia…I just wrote and re-wrote until 6:30 AM when I hit “send” and crashed, exhilarated.

An hour and a half later…my alarm rang! I wanted to hear the first read through by the actors at 10 AM to answer any questions they had and to cut any extraneous words (again, no re-writes allowed, but minor cuts were fine.)

What a thrill to hear the words read by others for the first time! And what an even more exciting experience to have a director who completely understood what kind of world I wanted to create in the play and for her to take my vision and make it even better by combining it with her own.

I left my team at noon, and met them again at 7:30 at the theatre. Starting at 8 PM each team took turns on the stage. The radio plays were performed for the studio audience, but also recorded for the radio audience. Sound effects were all added live… some were pre-recorded and others were made by the actors (can you tell which?) In the end I was very happy with the result and more importantly, honored to have collaborated with a team of creatives who also want to take risks to make new theatre.

A huge hug to my team. I’m so proud:
Illana Stein: Director (Hire this woman she is amazing.)
Actors, also highly recommended!
Paul Notice
Turquoise Olezene
Katie Lawson

My play is called “The Offering” and you can hear it now:

Thanks for listening. And for not commenting on my dark circles if you saw me on the street this week!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    March 2, 2013 8:37 pm

    What a huge but thrilling challenge! Congrats!

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