News Column

'World's newest plays' come to life in just 10 hours

August 10, 2014

By Dawn Decwikiel-Kane, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

Aug. 10--GREENSBORO -- It sounds like "Mission: Impossible."

Twenty local actors and directors gather on a Saturday morning at the City Arts Studio Theatre.

They bring nothing but creativity, experience, a few costume pieces and a pile of odd props -- a variety of hats, an inflatable plastic guitar, a tambourine, a Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver among them.

Their charge: to create three new short plays. In one day.

There are no written scripts, no fancy scenery.

They will rehearse, but it's all improvisation.

They will be ready at 8:05 p.m. to show an audience "the world's newest plays."

"All we guarantee is that we will be onstage, and we will have a show for you," Dave Burr says. "We don't know what it will be."

The playground

This is the 16th annual Dramatists' Playground.

The Greensboro Playwrights' Forum, part of the City Arts Drama Center, hosts this workshop on the first Saturday in August.

Stephen Hyers, the center's managing director, started it in 1999. Professional and amateur actors enjoy the high-speed, creative, collaborative atmosphere so much that they plan their summer schedules around it.

"I have done this for six or seven years, and this is the best day all year," says Burr, an executive recruiter by profession. "It is so much fun."

The daylong workshop resembles the 48-Hour Film Project, in which crews produce a film in 48 hours.

The first two years, the entire group developed one play. Since then, Hyers divided them into three casts, each responsible for one play.

"Then everyone gets to shine," Hyers says. "Everyone goes away a little happier, and we come up with tighter stories, too."

Some actors come with ideas. But they have to be ready to abandon them as each director and cast reach consensus.

"At some point, you rehearse what works and throw away what doesn't," Hyers says. "We don't know what we are going to do until about two hours before we do it. And it can change on a dime."

This year's actors range in age from 21 to 80.

Tori Galloway, 21, has acted with Drama Center troupes for 12 years. She joined the Dramatists' Playground last year. This year, she brought her sister, Katherine.

"Last year was so fun that I was like, 'I must do this again,' " Tori Galloway says.

JackiAnn Wilson, a longtime professional actor at 80, came to participate for the second year.

"I liked the whole concept of putting together a play in one day," Wilson says. "At my age, I don't have a lot of time to be spending on stuff," she adds, laughing. "I have to get it done."

Charlie Rauscher, Bonny McClain and Phillip Gilfus have joined for the first time. So have Gabrielle Sinclair and Ben Compton, who recently moved from New York and formed a new theater company, Story Hound.

Others -- including Randy Morris, Andy Ralston-Asumendi, Margot Robinson and Amber Marlowe -- have participated for years, Marlowe in its first year.

Hyers loosens them up with improv games.

Laughter and applause ensue as each selects a prop to deliver a line as the world's worst veterinarian, disc jockey, attorney and undertaker.

Ralston-Asumendi wears a metal lampshade. "Today we're talking with Devo in the studio," he says.

Iris Carter plays an undertaker as she picks up a straw hula skirt. "Dorothy, I'm afraid that this was all that was left," she says.

Only nine hours remain until showtime. Time to get down to the business of show business.

How they do it

Director Randy Morris holds a small stuffed animal prop, a gray shark.

"One thing about sharks is that they have to keep moving," Morris tells his six actors. "If they stop swimming, if they stop moving, they die."

"A play is like a shark," he adds. "If a play stops moving, it dies. So whatever we come up with, we have to make sure it keeps moving. My goal is to create something that's about 10 minutes long, that is a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end."

Pick up a prop that speaks to you, he tells actors. "We'll see if we can start building some characters that we can then build a story around."

Angela Aguigui-Walton picks up a drum; Robinson, the inflatable plastic guitar and tambourine.

Ralston-Asumendi finds an empty BB gun; Kristen Kicklighter, a wine glass with spider design; Chauncey Miller, a portable CD player; Gilfus, a golf club.

They hash out ideas.

"We have got something going on that I really like with the music," Morris says.

Robinson offers a suggestion. "I like the idea of a band that has issues, and the public really wants them to get out and play, but we have to work out the issues," she says.

Kicklighter builds on the plot. "It would be fun to have a crazed fan who wants to get them all together and has locked them in his basement, and then they have to deal with the issues," she says.

Ralston-Asumendi will even write a song for the band, Sacred Kool-Aid, to perform.

In a nearby studio, director Zora Medor and five actors improvise what will become "Red Tape and Rattles," a play about a couple trying to conceive.

Marlowe and Rauscher will play the couple; Terry Power, the doctor; McClain, a nurse; and Compton, a computer tech nicknamed "Doc" that the couple mistakes for a doctor.

A bathrobe becomes Power's white coat. And that Sonic Screwdriver? It's now a speculum.

Down the hall, director Hyers and his group create "Doomed."

They draw inspiration from Wilson's story about her prediction that a friend's marriage wouldn't make it. The couple lasted 43 years before divorcing.

They combine it with another actor's story about a couple married for 10 years, until the wife discovers that her husband is gay.

"You need to have some closing, a way to button up the whole thing," Burr says.

They come up with a surprise ending.

Showtime

Actors' families, friends and other theatergoers fill 85 theater seats.

"I feel really confident about our play, and excited, and nervous of course, too," says Aguigui-Walton, an English teacher.

"I feel excited to see the other two plays as well, knowing that they were coming up with stuff as spontaneously as we were," she says. "And I'm nervous because most of it is improv. There's the fear that you might forget something important. And it's not like we are going to get to perform it again tomorrow. This is our one time to do it really well."

Hyers welcomes the audience.

"Every year, I call you guys the bravest audience in the world," he says. "We promise you nothing other than a show. We are all exhausted, so who knows what will happen tonight."

For the next hour, the audience laughs and applauds.

They come away impressed.

"They all came up with something unique," says Cari Hopson, herself a new member of the Greensboro Playwrights' Forum. "To stage something with just 10 hours to put it together, you have to have a certain skill set."

John Dorsey, a retired attorney, particularly enjoyed Miller's and Gilfus' portrayal of crazed fans who reunite the band in "Sacred Kool-Aid."

"These were parts that needed to be over-acted, and they did it with energy and verve which belied how tired they and their fellow actors must have been," Dorsey says.

Mission: Accomplished.

___

(c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com

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Source: News & Record (Greensboro, NC)


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