Write, cast, rehearse, build, focus and perform—all in 24 hours. That was the goal of passionate theatre students at Winona State University the night of Feb. 26.
Gathering at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center’s Dorothy B. Magnus Open Stage Theatre, murmurings of “I’m so pumped right now!” and “24 hours—let’s do this!” came from all sides while Ethan Jensen, a 21-year-old theater major at WSU, climbed onto a catwalk platform and announced the beginning of the event.
First, the participants involved in scene building would have to clear the space, which was being used for a scene painting class. They would then have to clean the area, which included sweeping and mopping. After that, lights would have to be taken up, secured, connected to a dimmer system and focused.
Script writers were given until 11 p.m. to write a script from scratch. The authors— Ryan Overturf, Kristen Payette, both WSU students, and Mitch DeDeyn, who drove from Mankato, Minn. at Jensen’s request to be a guest writer for the event—set up camp in a conference room with soda, snacks baked by volunteers and their laptops.
“I feel pretty relaxed; just playing some tune-skies,” said Overturf, at around 8 p.m., while Payette took sips from an energy drink.
As the writers continued their work, the directors, Ethan Jensen, Eileen Moeller and Sarah Anderson, were holding auditions for scripts that didn’t even exist yet. According to Jensen, they would listen to the actors deliver a section from another play and keep a mental note of their style.
When the writers finished their scripts, they handed them out to the set designers and the directors, who would normally have days to complete what they needed to accomplish in a couple hours, said Amanda Gehrke, a 21-year-old theater major and set creation volunteer.
“Usually, we would first read the script two or three times, just to get to know it,” said Gehrke. She said set designers could also add another reading simply to place windows and doors on the stage and at least one more reading to understand the overall tone and meaning of the play.
The directors designated parts around 1 a.m. and took their actors off to different locations to rehearse, while the set crew began constructing the stage and writing light cues.
The next few hours were spent on costuming, rehearsal and getting the stage and props set up.
“We have a set, we have lights, we have cues,” said Alex Jung, a theater major and set design volunteer. “By 9 a.m., we have gone from no technical setup at all to being completely set up.”
A normal, full-length production has nearly six weeks for auditions, technical set up and rehearsal, said Jung.
By noon on Feb. 27, dress rehearsal was over, the set was prepared and everyone was exhausted.
Overturf and Jensen had slept 45 minutes, while those who did find a couple hours of rest, found relief on the couches and chairs of the PAC or returned to their homes for restless four-hour naps.
Despite little sleep, optimism and pride pervaded the group.
“My actors are so on-point and they have rolled with everything,” said Anderson,
Jensen gathered the group to give some encouraging news.
“We’re so far ahead of schedule it’s unbelievable,” said Jensen, “And you know why? We haven’t yet had a production meeting!”
After being ahead of schedule all night, working through the early morning hours and pulling together three short plays in 24 hours, the group was not disappointed—at 6:30 p.m., the house opened and 20 minutes later, the doors closed with standing room only seating availability.
The three plays: “Somebody to Talk To,” “Half Lived Dreams,” and “Private Lives,” were each a different genre, including comedy, drama and something in between, according to DeDeyn, who said they split up genres before they started writing to showcase variety.
“We’re promising something,” Isaac Sawle, one of the set designers, had said earlier in the night. “We’re not promising greatness. It’s going to be good, but how good—we’ll see.”
In the silence before “Somebody to Talk To” began, Jensen stood in the middle of the stage, staring at his watch for a full minute, then looked up at the audience with one thing to say: “It’s been a long day.”
The long day paid off, however, as the crowed laughed and hushed throughout the plays, clapping and hooting between sets and standing to applaud the overall production at the end.
“It made me feel so good, there was so much laughter,” said DeDeyn after the show, “and it wasn’t just us—the writers are just the sketchers. Everybody in the production brought something to it, made it what it is.”