On Sunday evening, March 4, eight playwrights, eight directors and 32 actors will converge at Theatre Lab at FAU. By the same time the following night, they’ll have combined their talents to produce eight short plays that did not exist 24 hours earlier, performed in front of a live audience, without the aid of scripts.
That theatrical magic act, known for nearly a decade as the 24-Hour Theatre Project, served as a beloved annual fundraiser for former Miami theatre company Naked Stage. That organization’s founders moved to another state last year, but Theatre Lab, under the auspices of actor/director Matt Stabile, is keeping the fundraiser alive under a new moniker: the Overnight Theatre Project, with the $24 ticket fee benefiting the company’s internship program.
“We felt it was such an integral thing to the community,” he says. “It’s one of the few times in the South Florida community that we all get together and break down the walls and do something fun. We didn’t want that to go away.”
The process begins with the eight playwrights—this year it’s Andie Arthur, Jessica Farr, Rachel Finley, Vanessa Garcia, Robert Goodrich, Carmen Pelaez, Arianna Rose and Juan C. Sanchez—who will each draw the names of one director and four actors at random on Sunday night. They’ll have an hour to brainstorm with their new cast, then spend the rest of the night penning a world-premiere short play. As Stabile knows from experience, it’s best to enter the process without any preconceptions.
“You can’t really bring an idea into the room, because if you end up with a cast that doesn’t reflect that idea, you can spend a lot of time fighting yourself,” Stabile says, adding, “Because of the time crunch, you don’t have the ability to say, ‘that might not work’—you just go with it.”
Once the play is written, the actors, director and playwright have an hour the next morning for a table read, cutting the play if necessary to accommodate an eight-minute deadline. By 8 a.m. Monday morning, the bleary-eyed playwrights can finally shuffle off to bed, leaving the director and his quartet of actors with just one day’s rehearsal.
Actors love the process for a couple of reasons. One, Stabile says, is the ability to network among their peers from the tri-county area, which might potentially lead to larger roles in the future. Another is the opportunity, for one night, to let their proverbial hair down and experiment with different genres and textures.
“Actors tend to get pigeonholed—this person does this kind of character, or this person is always good at comedy,” Stabile says. “In this process, because there’s only four actors in the group, actors get a chance to play roles they would not typically be offered. They get to showcase that for a room full of directors, producers and playwrights. So I think it’s a really freeing experience for an actor. There are certain actors who keep coming back every year, and I’m like, I can’t believe I roped you into this again.
“Generally it’s just a really good time,” he adds. “It sounds crazy, and at the end of the day, everybody looks like they’ve run a marathon, but everybody has giant smiles on their faces—in the same way a marathon runner looks kind of deranged when they cross the finish line.”
Admission to the live performance of the Overnight Theatre Project is $24, and it begins at 7 p.m. Monday, March 5. Call the FAU box office at 561/297-6124 or visit fauevents.com.