A play in 24 hours

As soon as I decided to accept my Fulbright in Munich this year, I researched two things: theater and opera. I knew there was a lot of art to see (after all, that’s why I chose Munich), but I also wanted opportunities to get involved. The amateur opera scene turned out to be non-existent, but the amateur theater scene here is pretty vibrant. There is even an English-language company, Entity Theatre! (I don’t think my German is good enough to get me cast in German-language shows.)

Entity won’t be casting a new play until winter, but last weekend they had a fun event: a 24-hour theater festival. Basically, you give some groups of actors guidelines and tell them to return in 24 hours ready to perform a short play. In that time, they have to write it, direct it, learn their lines, make acting choices, collect costumes and props, plan a simple set, do a quick tech run, and maybe even catch a little sleep. I’ve done it before, but we had a dedicated writer/director that time, so there was a bit less pressure on the actors. Not so in this case!

Friday evening began with an improv show by Bake This!, which introduced the theme of the festival: crime and mystery. We then formed groups (varying in size from two to five people; we had five) and chose titles and tech times out of a hat. We needed to write “The Raven’s Cry” and have it ready for tech by 4.30pm on Saturday. We also learned that all plays had to incorporate these elements:

  • The line “I’ll have one of those”
  • A reference to Oktoberfest, without saying the word “Oktoberfest”
  • A dance sequence at least ten seconds long
  • At least one monologue

What are you going to do with a title like that? Write a play about Edgar Allen Poe, obviously! He actually died under very mysterious circumstances, so we were able to draw inspiration from history. We brainstormed a plot outline together, and then one other cast member and I co-wrote the script overnight. We re-convened in the morning (I managed to find about three hours of sleep somewhere in there) to revise and rehearse. My character ended up with very few lines (by virtue of being insane), so I spent the line-learning break running home and retrieving costumes. (My team was pretty excited to learn that I happened to have a mid-nineteenth-century dress with hoops and a floor-length black velvet cloak sitting in my closet.)

Pretty soon, we were at the theater tech-ing. The lighting looked good; I was able to sit down and stand up in my hoopskirt; and the sound cues were all in place. We were ready to go! Except for one thing: we’d lost a cast member. Our narrator had gone to Oktoberfest the previous night, lost his voice, and decided not to return to us. We taped his part (fortunately, just two monologues) into a book and begged an actor from another team to read it. She graciously agreed. Crisis averted!

At 7.30pm, the curtain rose on the first of five short plays. The judging panel sat in the front row of the audience, looking very serious with their clipboards and pens. They were to provide feedback after each play and pick an overall winner at the end. The five plays were as follows:

  • “The Red Riddle”: men are being killed at Oktoberfest, with messages written in lipstick found next to them. As it turns out, the assistant inspector has no patience for the creeps she’s been encountering… and no patience for the inspector, either, when he makes a pass at her.
  • “Cold Whispers”: a historian and an heiress bribe the guard of Lenin’s tomb to let them enter and temporarily resurrect him. Each wants information (historical details in one case, a bank account number in the other), but Lenin is a bit foggy after his resurrection. Not that it matters—the guard kills them all with a vacuum cleaner, then sits on the front of the stage and swigs vodka while explaining to the audience that she’s creating a “Brechtian moment”.
  • “The Case of the Missing Locket”: self-proclaimed “Sexy Jesus” has been arrested for assault and indecent exposure at Oktoberfest, and it’s suspected that he stole a locket, too. But the inspector may have a secret as well—and “Sexy Jesus” has an invisible friend who will help reveal it. This play was wildly inappropriate but brilliantly written, including several sections in rhyming verse.
  • “The Raven’s Cry” (that’s ours!): Edgar Allen Poe died under questionable circumstances. At the funeral, emotions are high and accusations fly. The maid suspects Poe’s friend, and he suspects her. But who’s the crazy girl in the ballgown? Did she kill him? It certainly seems that way, and her suicide confirms it in everyone’s minds. But the narrator has a surprising confession to make.
  • “Dark Shadows”: an inattentive student dozes in Tai Chi class, dreaming of things both worldly and spiritual. When he wakes up, there’s a fly buzzing around his ears. He finally squashes it… and his classmates cry, “Murder!”

All of the shows were really fun to watch, and there ended up being a nice mix of comedy and more serious murder mysteries. We were surprised but excited when the judges announced that we won! They mentioned particularly liking the dialogue, the costumes, and the opera and waltzing scene (of course we had my character sing and dance), so I felt pretty proud of my contributions. Our prize was a bottle of champagne, which we drank on the spot.

Supposedly, a team member’s parents recorded our play. Unfortunately, he hasn’t sent me the footage yet, but I’ll add it to this post if I ever get it. For now, here are a few photos, kindly taken by a Fulbright friend who made the trek to Neuperlach to watch the shows and support me:

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