Friday night, at Charleston’s first ever production of the 24 Hour Plays, I sat and took notes as a continuing stream of actors took the stage for approximately four minutes each. They stated their names and special skills after explaining their prop and costume choices. There were football and baseball jerseys, overalls, boas, too many hats, a stuffed animal assortment fit for a daycare, and, my contribution, a Mount Gay rum bottle (emptied the night before) and an American Pride T-shirt, with personally-cut tassels hanging over the midriff.
By 10:30 p.m., all the actors and directors had left, and the writers were finding cozy-ish nooks and crannies of the South of Broadway Theater in which to type their masterpieces. My Starbucks was by then cold, and my dreaded sleepiness had set in, but my nerves were gone. My only mounting issue was that I had absolutely no clue (still) what I was going to write about for 10 pages. I eyed the other writers nonchalantly.
Tom Stearns appeared to be confidently jotting down ideas on the comfortable couch he mercilessly stole from me. (I forgave him 24 hours later after witnessing his genius on stage.); Nick Smith seemed suspiciously calm; Matt Hampton lightly informed me he’d probably start writing at 5:30 a.m. because he worked best under pressure. This turned out to be a flat-out lie, when he packed up and cruised out the door well ahead of 2 a.m.
Pacing up and down the length of the prop table I kept my mind wide open to inspiration. I wanted to dismiss props like coffee grinders and toy guns, but knew better. It was only a matter of time before my story would choose me. And then, someone walked past wearing a T-shirt with a musical staff graphic on the front, (I played piano for 10 years) and I thought, write what you know.
I sequestered myself to my silent corner and, with renewed energy, unraveled a silly little comedy about Alison, a white girl with no rhythm nor style and her friend Rosie, “a Latina with serious sass and sexy dance moves” at a Halloween party (my costume options left me no choice). Rosie, played by Elisa Clark danced and spoke Spanish (‘write what you know’) and Alison, Allie Caudill, tried and failed miserably (write what you’ve seen). I channeled an SNL skit “Can I Get Your Number?” when weaving in my third character, Byron, (geek with a player complex), played by Randolph Middleton and begged our sound guy to mix me the best Latin sound track feasible. I headed to my car close to 4 a.m. feeling relieved (and no, I was the second to last writer to leave the theater). I had done my best.
“It’s funny in my head,” I told Andrea Studley, one of the producers, “but now it’s out of my hands.” I slept soundly that night/early morning.
The following evening I brought some brave (and wonderfully loyal) souls with me back to the South of Broadway Theater and watched in awe as my first ever play, written 20 hours earlier, opened the show. Caudill was hilarious, Clark fit into her Latina role comfortably, and Middleton was outrageous. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. I wanted to kiss Andrea Studley who directed my play (whether by choice or default, I couldn’t care less) for bringing my vision to life and actually thinking it was funny, too. Comedies and dramedies, one after the other, left me feeling proud of myself and my peers.
Art for arts’ sake should be attempted more often and bravo to all my fellow artists for fearlessly (or fearfully – doesn’t matter) closing their eyes and jumping into the chaos. Hopefully next year there will be more experimental theater-loving Charlestonians out of their comfort zones (in North Charleston), jumping alongside us.