Cal Poly Humboldt Theatre presents the return of the 24 hour play festival

Scripts were written overnight, and given to directors at 7 a.m. the next morning. The actors were cast less than twelve hours before they had to be off-book and ready to present the scene.
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by Sophia Escudero

Putting on a play is traditionally no quick process. It takes months to take a script, design the set, costumes, and lights, cast actors, direct it, and have something polished enough to perform. The 24 hour play festival, however, turns that notion on its head. From 7 p.m. Friday night to the same time Saturday, a group of theater students wrote scripts and presented them as a series of short plays before an audience.

The event was entirely student run and organized, and was produced by Cal Poly Humboldt students Austin Maisler and David Fisher.

Maisler served as a producer, director, light designer, and stage manager. He had heard about the 24 hour play festival in his first year at Cal Poly Humboldt, but nothing came of it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When campus reopened, the idea for the festival returned.

“Spring came along and our department chair, Dr. Troy [Lescher] brought it up, like, ‘hey, does anybody want to run this?’” Maisler said. “I didn’t want to run it, I wanted to act in it, but nobody came forward so I talked to David. David and I decided to step forward and run this thing.”

The process of organizing the festival was, by its nature, chaotic. Scripts were written overnight, and given to directors at 7 a.m. the next morning. The actors were cast less than twelve hours before they had to be off-book and ready to present the scene, and rehearsals were intermittently interrupted by costume fittings and discussions of the script. Lighting was finalized shortly before the house opened, and many people found themselves taking on roles that they had not previously had experience in.

“This is the first show I’ve ever designed lights for,” Maisler said. “I’m actually in the lighting class this semester, so I just stepped forward, like, I kind of know how to do this, so I’ll just do it.”

The four scenes, each about ten minutes long, took on themes of college-aged ennui, failing romance, finding meaning in absurdity, and impending doom. Of the four playwrights, two also participated as actors, and one as a director.

Actor and writer Ben Wimer had not been involved in a 24 hour play festival before in either capacity. He found writing for a 24 hour play festival to pose a unique challenge. As the script is to be presented less than a day after its completion, certain factors had to be considered.

“I wanted to write something that was simple, but had an authenticity to it, and had dialogue that was easy for the actors to memorize⁠— hopefully, it was easy to memorize⁠— but still gave them a lot to play around with,” Wimer said.

Mollie Donaldson had participated in a previous 24 hour play festival at Cal Poly Humboldt in early 2020 as an actor, a role she repeated two years later. She considers the festival to be intense, but rewarding.

“It’s definitely stressful,” Donaldson said. “You’re handed a script at 8 a.m. and told at 7 p.m. that you’re supposed to perform it and block it and have everything memorized. It’s a stressful thing, but one of my favorite things is kind of shocking myself with how quickly I can memorize things.”

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