Logo for 24 hour theatre projectPROVO — Five hilarious plays were performed last Saturday night for BYU’s Experimental Theater Company’s 24-Hour Theatre Project. I didn’t really know what to expect and wondered that since it was “experimental theater,” if I’d need to dress up in black clothes, wear a beret, and say “groovy” all the time, like the Beatniks from the ’60s. Such was not the case. I sat in a very large audience that was predominantly BYU students (naturally) with a few oldies like myself. My 15-year-old son was the youngest member, except for the occasional babe in arms.

Here’s what they do for a 24-hour theater project. At 7 PM on Friday night, five writers gathered (presumably, they’re all students). The writers pulled three play titles out of a hat and chose one. Then they began the arduous task of writing a 10-page play until 7 AM the next morning. The Emcee of the event told us that, among the writers, collectively they got five hours of sleep and that was a record for the most hours any group of writers have gotten since they began doing this annual project several years ago. Oh my! In my opinion, the writers got the toughest part of this project. And I will give serious credit to these writers. Each play was tightly-written, the dialogue was fun, current, and skilled.

At 7:30 AM, five directors got their scripts and read through them for a half-hour. Then their actors arrived at 8 AM to get those scripts, and throughout the day, the directors blocked and directed the talented performers in their 10-minute plays. The actors learned their lines and completely fleshed out those scripts, and by 7:30 PM were ready to perform. This whole production was clearly “experimental” and a total success. All who were involved in this project were up for the challenge.

Each play had two common elements, though this wasn’t a requirement. First,  all the plays were funny. I was slightly disappointed because I hoped at least one of them would be a more thought-provoking piece that would touch the audience. We live in tough times, so I was hoping for something with more depth in at least one script. The second element was there were allusions to several topics that are prevalent at BYU, all focusing on dating, finding the right mate, and marriage. For example, there was one quite amusing play about a 32-year-old daughter who still lived at home, had no job, and her almost frantic mother kept giving her horribly ancient daughter some tips on how to find a man. When it was revealed that the daughter was over 30, the crowd erupted in guffaws and sighs, being that “old and unmarried” is an unwritten and well-established no-no at BYU. I knew these insider jokes because I graduated from BYU 20 years ago and apparently the rules are the same now as they were then. My teenage son didn’t understand any of those jokes. Obviously, the plays were either written with a BYU student audience in mind—a smart choice. But the jokes got a little tiresome and using this BYU frantic “we must be married” theme was probably the weakest aspect of the whole evening.

ETC logo with BYUThe strongest and most delightful part of this experience was by far the proficiency and talent of the actors. They played as if they’d been rehearsing for far longer than 11 hours. They all had a synergy with their fellow actors within their individual plays. I was frankly amazed, though I realize I shouldn’t have been. BYU is a tough school to get into, and it has pulled the best of the best would-be professional actors from all over the world. And this is the one difference I’ve noticed between college productions and amateur theater productions. BYU, as with most colleges with a Fine Arts department, has a gigantic cache of remarkably talented actors, whereas plays put on by a community often have several great performers who’ve acted for years and then a bunch of really enthusiastic “normal” people who’ve never been onstage in their lives. Thus, BYU plays are usually a sure bet to be awesome.

After the show, several of the performers came into the basement Nelke theater’s foyer to joke and laugh, and I thought, gosh, they’re just kids. You wouldn’t have believed this when they were performing. Many of the plays were about much older people and the dewy youth of the BYU casts was no deterrent to the audience’s suspension of disbelief. They all looked like who they were portraying because they could really act.

Each play had three or four actors and all performed on the stage with the same set pieces, though they could move them around any way they liked. Most kept the set as it was. All was painted black, there were no backdrops, and most of the actors wore dark clothing, though a few threw on various minor costume accessories. The theater, located in the Harris Fine Arts Center, was cozy and had a steep, excellent grade so everyone could see.

The plays were as follows:

Exit Strategy was written by Mont Toronto, directed by Shanti Rose, and starred Wyatt Felt, Alexis Wood, and Carson Wright. We enjoyed this play and it had a quirky ending that was funny and edgy. The second, Haystack, was written by Teresa Gashler, directed by Ronnie A. Stringfellow, and starred Mallory Gee, Briggs Alsbury, and Aubree Lyman.  This play had an excellent rapport within its cast. Takeout Tonight was next, written by George Nelson, and directed by Daniel Riggs. It starred Jona Inman, Hunter Brown, Kat Webb, and Kira Jacobs. This play had a lot of physical comedy, which was probably difficult to get right in such a short period of time. But all the actors worked well together.

The fourth play was The Faulty Outhouse, by Danielle Peterson and directed by Bergen Goesch. Jacob Baird, Lindsay Clark, and Adam White made up the cast and they all used cowboy-like accents and sounded authentic. A fun play. The final piece was Plan B, by Joseph Heath, and directed by Beau Brewster. Noelle Houston, Jennifer Ansted, Riley Carrasquillo, and Rafe Gandola performed in this frankly hilarious play about a couple of Harry Potter geeks.

My husband, my teenage son, and I liked all the plays, each one made us laugh, and we were impressed with this project. We’ll definitely go see it next year.

The entertaining Emcee did ask several times that we “like” the BYU Experimental Theater Company on Facebook, so I’m including the link here: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/BYU-Experimental-Theatre-Co/136828136360067. For more information, you can email them at: byuexperimentaltheater@gmail.com

I would recommend going to BYU productions in general, but scoping out fun projects like this, which was FREE by the way, is well worth your time. It’s good, clean fun.

The BYU Experimental Theatre Company’s 24-Hour Theatre Project played for one night only in the Nelke Theater on the BYU campus.