Artistic Director Stacey Poirier says that Theatre Unbound has been doing the project since 2001, in what was originally a fundraiser for the company. Now, they've split the fundraiser from the event, and set the tickets at a lower price.
For this year's Smackdown, 12 playwrights will be given several "ingredients" the day before the performance from which to include in their plays. The elements were chosen by write-in nominations, such as a line of dialog, an emotion, a prop, or a stage direction. The writers have all night to write their 10-minute scripts, which they do in rooms at Theatre Unbound's rehearsal space.
"They have all night, or until they are done writing," Poirier says.
Once the playwrights are finished with their new opuses, Poirier reads the scripts and casts them, emailing the pieces to the six directors and approximately 24 actors. The next day teams meet for three hours, either in the morning or afternoon. "The afternoon groups have an advantage in that they get to memorize their lines before they're in the rehearsal space," she says, "but the morning groups get to block the scenes first." The morning groups also can get together on their own to cram lines before the evening performance.
One of the reasons that the event has been so popular, Poirier says, is because artists really like the challenge of making a play in such a short amount of time. Also, it gives the theater a opportunity to work with a lot of artists that can't devote the time to a full production. "It's a nice chance to just come in one day and do a project."
Playwrights also like it because the plays they write can lead to further projects. For example, a few years ago, Matthew Everett and Anne Bertram wrote a play for the festival about a purse that came to life, and later on they added a companion piece.
To spice things up a bit this year, Theatre Unbound has not only changed the name, but made the whole event more participatory and competitive. "There's a little more fun in between shows," says Poirier. In addition to the plays created in less than 24 hours, the Smackdown includes audience participation, and extreme sports-type showdowns between the different artists. Playwrights will battle it out at a thumb wrestling competition, for instance. There will also be a performance applause-o-meter, and audience participation wars.
Theatre Unbound's 24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown
One-night-only on January 14 at 8 p.m.
Hamline University, Anne Simley Theatre
1536 Hewitt Ave., St. Paul
Call 612.721.1186 for reservations, or visit Theatre Unbound's website