The stakes were high last Saturday evening at Morrice Hall’s Tuesday Night Café Theatre (TNC). With the pride of winning McGill’s most temporally concentrated dramatic competition—not to mention the promise of free pitchers of beer at Bar des Pins afterwards—on the line, a trio of hastily prepared student-written plays were pitted against each other with hopes of claiming victory at TNC’s annual 24 Hour Playwriting Competition.
In order to do so, they would have to garner the majority vote of the students in the audience and the preference of guest judge Prof. Myrna Selkirk of the English department. Although the dual judging format led to an inconclusive competitive result—the two panels delivered different picks—the important result was the competition itself, which produced three distinctly entertaining plays.
The challenge of the competition is that students, who are selected by the TNC executives based on writing samples, have 24 hours to write a play from scratch. Then, they’re given another 24 hours to direct a group of randomly assigned actors who will be dramatizing the scripts they just wrote.
While the short window of time allotted for writing and practicing appears daunting, Emma Myers, co-writer/director of That’s All There Is, wasn’t overwhelmed by the experience of preparing a play under short notice.
“Honestly, we pretty much just cranked it out in a couple hours,” she tells me. “The process was pretty free-flowing. We didn’t really have to edit it too much or go back on what we initially decided to do. It was really fun, really low-key; we weren’t stressed out.
“In the morning we typed it up and realized we were four pages short so we decided to add an extra scene, which ended up being [a] flashback scene.”
The competition’s other guideline was that every play needed to begin with the words “I woke up like this” and finish with the words “Your man ain’t never seen a booty like this”—both phrases being pulled straight from the most recent Beyoncé album.
Each play took its plot in noticeably different directions. Thoby King’s The Death of Queen Bee (the student-pick for best play) fully embraced the Beyoncé effect and centred its story around a boy who starts uncontrollably spewing out Beyoncé lyrics every time he thinks of death (which happens comically often), and who eventually finds solace in a girl who has a similarly quirky compulsion to douse herself in milk when she’s attracted to a boy. Caleb Harrison’s The Body (Selkirk’s pick) explores how a situation unfolds when a man is found dead and a shop worker, prostitute, and Evangelical couple determine what should be done about it. Myers and co-writer Julia Edelman crafted a story about a female McGill student with a slew of issues that include her immature mother; smooth-talking, gangster-wannabe boyfriend; and backstabbing roommate.
Of the three plays, That’s All There Is featured the widest variety of roles, and Myers explains how a spontaneous casting decision solved the problem of not having enough actors for a scene—while also leading to one of the play’s funnier moments.
“We didn’t know if we would have anyone to play Debbie [one of the mothers dropping a child off at residence] until today,” she says. “And then Jacob came in, and we were like, ‘Can you do drag?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah,’ and it ended up being perfect.”
However, that was only the second-most pressing issue that had to be resolved in rehearsals.
“One of the girls in our cast, Lydia, who played Anna, has a milk allergy,” explains Myers. “A serious milk allergy where if she touches a dairy product—like the milk that was poured all over our set [during King’s play]—she could actually stop breathing. So that was pretty scary when we found out that they were going to be using milk. But we dealt with it, and it was fine.”
High as the stakes were for the excellent 2014 installment of the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition, sabotage by milk sounds like something we can probably rule out from King as a tactic for securing a competitive edge.