“Write On!”: The 24-hour playwriting challenge

a student showing play
David Kook / The Watchdog

Bellevue College’s drama department held a “Write On!” event on May 13 to challenge student playwrights, actors and directors to prepare and perform an original play in a span of 24 hours. Plays were written Friday with supervision from Elena Hartwell, BC’s playwriting professor and author of the Eddie Shoes Mystery series. Six playwrights worked individually with six directors on Friday to perform a fully produced play on Saturday night.

Drew Brady’s play explores suicide and coping with loss.
David Kook / The Watchdog

This was the third year “Write On!” has been held by the drama department. “The chair of the department, Tammi Doyle made the decision to do this event two years ago,” explained Hartwell. “A number of theaters around the country have similar projects, where writers get a prompt, write a play overnight, the directors get them early in the morning, along with a cast, then rehearse all day and perform that night.”

David Kook / The Watchdog

Unlike previous years, Doyle did not supervise the event because she is on a sabbatical. Hartwell is filling in for Doyle and has previous experience with playwriting. She has been published with Indie Theatre Now and New York Theatre Experience. Hartwell also has been a director, producer and designer technician, working with theatres and festivals around the world.

David Kook / The Watchdog

The six playwrights have previous theater experience, two of them being former playwright students in Hartwell’s class. “Write On!” challenges students to write and produce their original work within a day. “It’s a nod to guerrilla theater, where performances are fast and gritty,” said Hartwell, “It’s a way to include a number of students as writers, directors, and actors without them having to commit to several weeks of rehearsals or writing and rewriting.”

David Kook / The Watchdog

The fast-paced procedure posed a test for all students working in each play. “In this situation, artists have to go with gut instincts. It’s also challenging for the designers, especially lights and sound, who have to put together a comprehensive series of looks and sounds for the plays and the transitions to make the total show feel harmonious,” added Hartwell.

David Kook / The Watchdog

In addition to the limited preparation time, students had to write plays using the same image as inspiration. Besides those elements, the playwrights were allowed to choose their own theme and setting of the play as long as it was under 10 minutes.

David Kook / The Watchdog

As a playwright professor, Hartwell discussed a few obstacles the students encountered. “I think it can be hard to have a clear beginning, middle, and end in such a short time. It’s much easier to write a short scene than a short play,” noted Hartwell.

David Kook / The Watchdog

“As a writer and writing teacher, I hope it also shows playwrights how much they can do in a short time, but also why having rewriting time is important, because they will most likely leave realizing they would like to change, expand, or polish the script they finish for the event,” said Hartwell. Students who were directors also had to make quick creative decisions without “second guessing themselves or their actors,” according to Hartwell. Actors had to learn their lines in less than 24 hours.

Hartwell believed this challenge was beneficial for the students, helping them realize the amount of work they can complete in a short timeframe.

Much of what Hartwell described of this challenge was emulated through the student directors and playwrights. As a playwright, Drew Brady feared that his play might not be what he imagined. “There are very specific ideas that I have that might seem subtle to another person reading it and the fear of something being missed or something being interpreted incorrectly, that’s definitely the hardest part of it,” discussed Brady.

Student director Olivia Verrill reflected similar ideas as Hartwell. “It’s kind of fun to have such little time and pressure to get it done, so you don’t have time to ponder on things that don’t really matter in the long run,” explained Verrill.

Following the production, both Verrill and Brady found that they enjoyed the “Write On!” challenge. “Overall, I think that was interpreted exactly as I envisioned it. I knew going into it that a few things would go by the wayside,” said Brady.

“I feel pretty comfortable with all the decisions I made. I like to run off of impulse and this sort of project is perfect for that,” expressed Verrill.

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