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24 hours in the Write Lane

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By Birdie Jaworski

This weekend, the Kluge Auditorium at the United World College will swell with frustration, laughter, and time-driven panic as 60 students and members of the Las Vegas community stare at blank sheets of paper, willing words to coalesce from the high altitude, from a few props and sheer hope. Theatre Arts Instructor Tim Crofton maniacally grins as he explains the 24-Hour Playwriting Project.

“This is our fifth annual program. We gather at 8 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium with nothing but a few props,” said Crofton, “and by 8 p.m. Sunday, we present the world premiere of ten brand-spanking new plays. We always have a riotously good time, guaranteed.”

Overnight playwriting projects have been produced in major cities across the world, often to both critical ridicule and acclaim. Typically, attendees are given a short list of props, situations, and lines that must be included in the play. For example, at a recent 24-hour event in Toronto, writers had to include an unusual phobia, an ice cream truck, a guilt trip, and the line “What do you intend to do with my shoes?” in their finished play.

Crofton refuses to hand over the eclectic short list for this weekend’s event with the exception of one item — a fortune cookie.

“The point of the project is to stretch the limits of your imagination and will. We can’t be giving out the list ahead of time.” Crofton paused for dramatic effect. “What I can tell you is that the list of required props and lines will make you laugh and nervously sweat at the same time.”

Participants will begin writing at the stroke of 8 p.m. Saturday, and have exactly 12 nerve-wracking hours in which to write their ten-minute scripts.

“There are no limitations as to what the play can be about,” explains Crofton. “It can be in any format or genre. You can write a comedy if you like, or a monologue, a drama. I’m always surprised at the incredible creative gems that come out of this event.”

At 8 a.m. Sunday, the plays are handed to waiting directors, who quickly read and cast the scripts, moving straight into a chaotic twelve-hour rehearsal. Actors, directors, and stage hands must rehearse, learn lines by heart, collect props and costumes, and organize sound and lighting in time for the world premiere of their play, exactly 24-hours after the first meeting.

“It’s a huge challenge for all involved,” Crofton says. “The process forces focus from the playwright to the director to the actor to the stage manager. Some folks take on multiple roles throughout the evening. It’s almost terrifying. There will be no procrastination luxury.”

The public is welcome to attend the performance at 8 p.m. Sunday.

“Expect the unexpected” is Crofton’s advice. “You never know what the writers are going to cook up.”

The fifth annual 24-hour playwriting project commences 8 p.m. Saturday Jan. 12, at Kluge Auditorium, UWC, with a performance in the auditorium at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13. Call Tim Crofton for more information at 454-4229.