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Friday, November 14, 2008

And All The Coffee Payed Off: Duncan Pflaster shares his experience in the 21 Hour Play Festival (Phare Play Productions)

The Fab Marquee featured earlier the 21 Hour Play Festival that Phare Play Productions bravely took upon themselves last weekend. Duncan Pflaster, one of the playwrights selected for the Festival, shares his experience with The Fab Marquee.
My 21 Hours – Under Pressure
by Duncan Pflaster for The Fab Marquee.

A little backstory- I was invited to be a part of Phare Play’s 4th Annual 21-Hour Play Festival. 7 writers, 7 directors, 28 actors. I would get 12 hours in which to write a play, which would then go up the next day. I was a little nervous.

10:30pm, Friday the 8th. I show up along with my fellow playwrights at Roy Arias studios, where Phare Play is currently doing The Importance of Being Earnest and Pants on Fire in rep. Met Christine and Blake, who were running things.

First, we randomly pulled the names of 4 actors from a Tupperware container, and were given their headshots. Completely randomly, I happened to pick the one actor in the lineup that I knew personally, Jared, who I’d met during the Midtown International Theatre Festival this past Summer, as well as another guy and two girls, Brett, Cara, and Holly; a nice symmetry of the sexes.

Then it was announced that the theme for this year was Movies, and we all randomly chose a slip of paper with a movie genre on it out of the Tupperware. I got science fiction. SCORE, I love science fiction.

Then also, since there were seven of us- Christine asked, "what do we think of when we think of 7?" Two of us shouted "Dwarfs!" But no, it was Deadly Sins. We all chose one randomly out of the Tupperware again. I picked Sleepy. I mean Sloth. (Wait, do the Seven Dwarfs each equal a Deadly Sin? Wrath = Grumpy, Sloth = Sleepy, Pride = Bashful (?), Lust... Dopey? Okay, maybe not).

Then finally, we were all given a sentence that we had to use somehow in our play, "On a day like this, I want _____, ______, and ______; a spanking would be nice, too". The play could have no sound effects (unless made by the actors themselves) or internal light cues, and should be under 12 pages.

By now it was 11pm, and we were sent off to write. I went to my friend Tony's apartment- my computer crashed last week, and both Best Buy and Staples have been ineffective in restoring my old files to my new hard drive, which currently has no writing software on it aside from notepad, which is good for nothing. Tony also lives just a few blocks from Roy Arias Studios (I currently live in Inwood, 164 blocks from Roy Arias Studios.) On my walk there, ideas began to bubble up in my head- the theater space gets very warm- maybe something outdoorsy and so-hot-it’s-sloth. I briefly considered going all Goonies with the Sloth reference, but dropped that idea. Something slow- a Southern drawl… Science Fiction- Aliens often pick out-of-the-way places to visit… Wait, if I’m going to put in aliens, the poor directors will have to find alien costumes…

Arrived at Tony’s place, and he let me in, set me up on his computer (a Mac!), and went out for a drink with another friend.

Approximately 11:30 I sat down to write- I’d brought a lot of music with me (I like to write with a background of classical or punk rock), but forgot to put any of it on, I was so eager to get to work. I’ve discovered, in my years as a playwright, that if I just start writing, my characters will quickly point out what it is THEY want to talk about- and here it was Billy-Bob and Haydee, a brother and sister in Georgia, whose air conditioner is broken, arguing over which of them will go inside the very hot house and get some Coca-Cola. Soon they are interrupted by Zip and Zap, two Aliens who were attempting to take over Earth, but due to Sloth, had landed in Georgia, instead of Los Angeles (which they also, due to skimping on their research, thought was the United States’ political center). Jared texted me at 12:30 to offer encouragement- I wasn’t allowed to tell him he was actually IN my piece. I fit in the line with one of the aliens saying “…I usually use an herbal douche made from vinegar, marshmallow, and lavender before sex. But on a day like this, I want peyote, coconut oil, and root beer. A spanking would be nice, too.” It was a cute script, and I finished up my first draft around 2:30, around the time Tony came home and drunkenly read the draft. He thought it was funny, and went to bed. I stayed up for another hour, tightening and snipping and clipping, then went to sleep on the couch. Woke up around 9, gave it a title (“Summer People”, in homage to my friend Kathleen Warnock’s play “Some Are People”, which began life in a festival much like this), did some more tightening, added some footnotes to explain some of the more obscure bits of the script (My writing can be rather verbose and recondite), then after getting coffee with Tony, headed back to the theater at 10:30am.

There the playwrights met the directors- all the directors picked a writer’s name out of the Tupperware, Chris Bell got mine. All the directors got the same prop- “spaghetti”, a stretchy rubber toy like a Koosh ball, which they had to employ somehow in the show. We got to meet with our directors for half an hour, and then we were out.

Most of the writers then went home to sleep- I got a brief downtime for lunch, then went to perform in my friend Mickey’s industry reading of his Apathy: The Gen X Musical, then back to Roy Arias for the shows. My mother, her partner, and their kids were there to see the 7pm show, as was my friend Jim, a piano player from Marie’s Crisis.

The show was very entertaining. We were first on the ticket, so there wasn’t a lot of fretting time for me. Chris and the actors did a great job- there was a little more implied incest than I expected. The spaghetti was used as alien vomit, which was delightful. The cast did a great job. Met one of the actresses afterward, and she said she really liked the script, though wanted to kill me for giving her lines with words like “kundalini”, “Perestroika”, and “Ntozake Shange”.

The other shows were entertaining, as well – The Truth Mirror and the Greedy Whore by Nora Vetter (Greed, Disney Movie), about what goes on behind the scenes recording voices for a Disney flick; The Devil’s Nobility by Bill Bria (Lust, Period Picture), a vampire piece about the Bathorys; The Assdyssey by Shuo Zhang (Pride, Adventure), a parody of everything from Titanic to Pinocchio with a giant whale, a wicked witch, Santa Claus, a missing middle finger, and a guy dressed as a Donkey; Love’s First Sight by Andrew Rothkin (Wrath, Romantic Comedy), about a guy in a library with three women falling in love with him (and then battling it out); A Fondness for Aqua Net by Michael Weems (Envy, ‘80s Teen Movie) with nerds and popular girls; and Force the World to Die by Oliver Thrun (Gluttony, Spy Flick), an hilarious parody of James Bond flicks, done as a movie trailer, with an incredibly energetic and sexy cast.

The second show at 9:30 was so popular, the place was sold out (my brother and his wife were in the audience), and those of us who had worked on a show all had to sit in the lobby, and peered in the doors when we could. The audience sounded even more amused the 2nd time around.

Finally, around Midnight, the audience (who had all been given voting ballots) chose the winners in 7 categories – we won “Best Use of Prop” (hooray alien vomit!). It was a really fun time, and I hope to do it again next year!

Duncan Pflaster is an award-winning playwright (2 time winner, Spotlight On Award, "Best New Play" 2005 and 2006), whose plays have been produced in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and New York. He also has been known to direct, write music, play the ukulele, and (if his arm is twisted) act.

To learn more about Phare Play Productions visit

1 comment:

Billychic said...

Duncan is awesome! He's also wonderful at Trivial Pursuit.