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The 24 Hour Plays will wait for no one

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

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I imagine it will be like the first day of high school. Timidly approaching the looming steps of an indomitable new edifice, you try to think positively. There will be new friends to make, and new boyfriends to make out with. You are terrified, nervous, and excited. (Mostly, just terrified.)

Yes, I'm quite sure that on the evening of July 31, at around 9 p.m., as I sit in the South of Broadway Theater in North Charleston, notepad in hand, listening to the 24 or so actors introducing themselves, I will feel something akin to high school angst.

After all, Andrea Studley, one of the producers of The 24 Hour Plays, said herself that of the six writers, six directors, and roughly 24 actors collaborating to throw together a show in — duh — 24 hours, the writers probably have the toughest role. We must be creative and spontaneous and compete with each other for the rights to actors we have met only moments before.

Or perhaps I am biased.

Each position has its own challenge. At a Friday night production meeting, there will be a brief meet and greet followed by a collection of props and costumes from all participants. These introductions and props are meant to spark the writers' imaginations while giving them a solid idea of any unique talents the actors may have. The writers may make notes of how to incorporate these talents into future characters (I'm praying for a juggler, a breakdancer, and someone with advanced harmonica skills).

Polaroids of the entire cast are then taken and randomly assigned to writers. Negotiations follow. Polaroids are traded like Pokemon cards.

By 10 p.m., nobody is left in the theater save six writers and their laptops. By this time, I assume I will have worked myself into a mild panic over scripting a 10-minute, one-act play between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Perhaps some writers will compose their masterpieces in two hours (I will hate them), but surely others (present party included) will be scribbling/typing furiously into the wee hours of the morning. Pain is art. Sleep will be a luxury.

By 6 a.m., all scripts will have been saved to a flash drive and submitted for printing. Directors will return at 7 a.m. and choose their top three scripts (authors' names omitted). More negotiations will ensue. Scripts will be voted on. I have nightmares about being in the bottom three. Maybe I watch too much So You Think You Can Dance. Nah.

At 8 a.m. the actors will return and manic rehearsals will last until the house opens at 7 p.m. that night. Monologues are not encouraged. No scripts are held during the performance. The actors must memorize all their lines and blocking, while also humanizing their characters, in one day.

According to Studley, who shares producing and artistic directing duties at Deuce Theatre with her husband Michael Catangay, the best part of this time-sensitive theater experiment is that Friday night is a clean slate. Everybody will be on the same level. She expects her participants to realize that they cannot go into this collaborative effort with any preconceived notions. "I think the cool thing is that everybody is going to be nervous ... that makes it a little bit more forgiving," Studley says. "It's in the spirit of fun!"

So far the event features both well-known and unknown talent. I'm proudly one of the later — but hopefully not for long.

The first 24 Hour Plays were created by New Yorker Tina Fallon in 1995 and took place on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Since then, there have been productions in New York, London, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

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