Onstage: A diary of MF24H
Popular culture would have us believe that creativity strikes unexpectedly, a tidal wave of inspiration that must be recorded instantly, lest it recede. While this can happen (though rarely do ideas come fully formed), the more likely—and certainly less dramatic—scenario is that of the artist diligently practicing the craft every day, ideas coming in fits and starts, just as many being thrown away as kept. And while, in fact, ideas for plays have come to me both ways, one way they have never come is on demand—until MF24H.
The concept of MF24H is both unique and simple (in concept, if not execution): Four groups comprising writers/composers/directors/actors work for twenty-fours to create mini-musicals, which are then presented to the public. When MusicalFare Artistic/Executive Director Randall Kramer invited me to participate, I was excited; I’d never worked on a musical, the temporal challenge was intriguing, and spending a day with a bunch of creative people sounded like an exhilarating microvacation.
Friday, June 22, 7 p.m.: Participating artists and VIP guests gather at 710 Main Street (formerly Studio Arena) for a reception at which the latter will vote on photos, prompts that we all hope will ignite Tony-worthy inspiration. I’m not there because I’m headed to the opening of BUA Takes 10, a project I cocurated with Matthew Crehan Higgins. My proxies and partners—writer/composer Jason Bravo and director Scott Behrend—will keep me apprised.
9 p.m.: BUA Intermission. A phone pic message shows the Larry Griffis sculpture on Bidwell. There is snow on the ground, but the sky is a mix of blue and clouds.
9:05 p.m.: On the phone, Scott says the birds and the photo’s background bring to mind heaven, death, letting go, release …
10:09 p.m.: BUA Takes 10 is over. Phone message reads: Bravo/Hoke—Dawn Woollcott, Matt Witten, Katy Miner, Jenn Mysliwy, Ben Puglisi. Great performers all—but five? In fifteen minutes?
10:30 p.m.: Drive to MusicalFare, thinking about release, heaven, letting go …
11 p.m.: Meet Jason, and start talking about the picture … Who are the people in the sculpture? Do they know each other? Online, we learn that the sculpture is called “Birds Excited Into Flight,” but don’t find anything helpful. We spend an hour spitting out clichés of bad sorority movies and Breakfast Club dynamics, rejecting them just as quickly.
12:15 a.m.: I’ve migrated to the lobby to think. Jason finds me and we sit by the window and discuss being more abstract, just working with the idea of loss and letting go. But where’s the conflict? We decide that parents receive a box of their late daughter’s things from her boyfriend; the box contains a journal that maybe should not be read.
12:30 a.m.: Jason goes off to write a song for the boyfriend to sing as he packs up the box. I can hear him singing “If I have to live without her …” and I suddenly feel that music can save any play from disaster. As I work the draft, I decide that two actors (and that makes five!) will play Fantasy Sonya and Fear Sonya, representing the mother’s conscience as she considers what might be in the journal.
2 a.m.: Jason asks me to explain the story and where the songs need to go. He plays me “If I Have to Live Without Her,” and it’s perfect. We talk about the remaining songs, and I explain Fear and Fantasy Sonya, and suggest that in this dark play, we can have fun when Sonya’s yin and yang sing about what might be in that unread journal.
3:09 a.m.: Jason is still hard at work. I check email and continue messing with the draft, then head home to get ninety minutes of sleep and a shower.
7:10 a.m.: Get the rest of Jason’s lyrics via email, add them to script, and send it all to Scott.
9 a.m.: Back at MusicalFare, we receive instructions (and a very nice cast gift) from Randy, then begin rehearsal. The cast does a cold read, Scott makes a few astute suggestions, and James Campese—our stage manager—reads the script for props, sound cues, etc.
9:45 a.m.: Jason works with actors on their music, while others start memorizing lines. I’m impressed with both the rest of the songs, and the cast’s ability to pick up new music.
10:02 a.m.: We hear a really well-rehearsed song coming from the lobby, and are wondering who got their act together so quickly—and then we realize it’s the cast of Hair, who will be performing between acts tonight.
10:37 a.m.: Music is done! While they learned their songs, Scott went through the script and figured out cues, and we’re ready to do a first run with rough blocking (where actors will stand, move, etc.) As an aside, I’m pretty tired …
11:52 a.m.: Second run begins. An incredible amount of creative work happens in the first read-through. I don’t drink coffee, but maybe I should start?
12:16 p.m.: Third run. Looks like we’ll definitely fit the twenty-minute timeframe.
1 p.m.: Lunch break! Ordered my first coffee ever. Large.
2:10 p.m.: We’ve moved to 710 Main, where we’re the first group to tech, which means we are also the first show going up tonight. Nodded off once they started lighting cues and, over at his keyboard, Jason did the same.
4 p.m.: On break until 5:30. Twenty-minute nap.
5:30 p.m.: Realize that remaining rehearsal must focus on nailing lyrics and music. Jason does speed run-throughs on all the songs before everybody walks out the door. None of us can believe how quickly time has run out. We want more!
7:30 p.m.: Chilling before the show in the 710 lobby, and thinking how cool it is that this building has reopened for this event. Terrified for the actors.
8 p.m.: Show time! Not only do we pull it off, but three more groups after us do as well—a testament to the creative juice that runs through this city. Impressive and inspiring!
Donna Hoke’s full-length play, SEEDS, took far longer than twenty-four hours to write. It has its world premiere at Road Less Traveled Theatre in March 2013.