Play in a Day: The 24 Hour Theater Project

24-Hour Theater Project unites artists to benefit Northampton Arts Trust and New Century Theater

“Too much information” is not a lot of information--if you’re using the phrase as the sole basis for a play. Six playwrights took on that prompt Friday night, with one added challenge: the scripts must be completed in twelve hours. In the Northampton 24-Hour Theater Project, writing through the night kick-starts an assembly line of directing, acting, costuming and crewing. The end product: Saturday’s show, 7 p.m.

In its tenth year, the Project brings together approximately 50 local theater-makers for a unique experience, oft-described as a “pressure-cooked brand” of art. The results of the frenetic process have become known throughout the Pioneer Valley, and the event routinely sells out small venues. This year, the Project had the opportunity to move to its largest space yet, Theater 14 at Smith College, with proceeds from the ticket sales going to Northampton Arts Trust and New Century Theater.

Director Toby Bercovici was handed playwright Phil O’Donoghue’s play about speed-dating, Men, at 8 a.m. “A little late” she added.

Bercovici and O’Donoghue had a 15-minute meeting before she launched into production. With tech rehearsal at 1, an all-cast dinner and rehearsal at 4 and costuming squeezed in whenever possible, Bercovici had to make all decisions on her feet. “There was no time to find personal connection with the material,” Bercovici said. “It was different than anything I’d ever done before.”

Although Bercovici was new to the Project, she is no stranger to the Valley theater scene, serving as a director for local troupe Real Live Theatre.  “Part of the reason I was interested in doing the Project is because it’s a fun way to network and see who the other theater-makers are out here [in the Valley]... this process in itself is a lot like speed-dating!”

Bercovici was matched with newcomer Julie Rosier as her leading lady. A recent Valley transplant, Rosier was “happy to connect with people like Toby, and take this opportunity to be reminded how present I have to be with my emotions on stage.” In Men, Rosier played a newly-single woman in her mid-30s, sticking her neck out at speed-dating night. Unlike Bercovici, “I was easily able to find a personal connection to the project,” Rosier said with a laugh.

Often tending towards humor, the plays touched on and explored religion, fidelity, death and existentialism--poignant moments were not in short supply. Although rough around the edges (a few actors were still surreptitiously on-book in the final performances), it’s no surprise that plays from past productions have gone on to the Boston Playwright’s Festival, the Five College Word! Theatre Festival and the F.A.C.T. Theatre Company in New York.

24-hr theater jesus

Michael Charland-Tait and Richard Skoler in Stephen Wangh's "Jesus Wept"

At 4:30 the entire company-- six directors, six stage managers, 24 actors and various crew-- moved to the theater to touch base. After reviewing the technical aspects of the show, it was time to rehearse curtain call. “Oh good,” director Mark Gaudet said, looking at his watch. “It’s 5:30! We’ve got time!” Now the question was: what music to choose? It had to be something that was already on the cue. “I’m voting for Irish stepdance music from the last play if we can’t find anything else. At least it’s upbeat,” Gaudet said. Gaudet polled the other directors: “That’s three votes for Irish step... we’ll do it!”

As Gaudet set about directing the various casts on where to stand, the other directors were in the audience, cheering: “They love you, they love you, you’re their favorite, yes!” Laughter abounded. A few actors gave a little jig as they clasped hands for the final bow.

Before the group scattered for final costume fittings and rehearsals-- there was still an hour left, after all-- Gaudet stopped them.

“It’s been a long, beautiful day,” he said. “Since we’re all split up we don’t get to see each other often, but this, this is the big team. Thank you everyone.” At the end of the day, it’s all about collaboration.