As part of Pacific University’s Instant Theater Festival, play writers are assigned a random prop that must be in their play. For actor Xel Heidel, their cast’s assigned prop of cabbages was an opportunity for them to leave their mark in the play.
“You have to say ‘MY CABBAGES!’ at some point,” Heidel said, a reference to TV show “Avatar: The Last Airbender”.
That’s just one blocking choice of many in the 2021 festival, where plays are written, rehearsed, and performed for an audience in 24 hours.
Everything begins when playwrights, who write plays, select a prompt. They’re then assigned a random director, cast size, actors, and prop that must be included in the piece. Playwrights have about 12 hours–from about 6 P.M. to 6 A.M.–to write their play, according to the event organizer and play director Abby Ryan.
Directors meet with their cast at 8 a.m. They plan, memorize, and practice their performances until a dress rehearsal at 4 p.m, in preparation for the 6 p.m. show. At lunchtime, each group was given a twist to implement in their play; this year, each performance was required to have an actor wearing and taking off a clothing accessory.
Actors only had access to props and costumes they personally owned, so costuming and set design was frantic.
“I didn’t expect it. I thought we’d have a second to look [in the department’s costume shop],” said actor Chase Rumpca. “The fact that we didn’t made it even more instant.”
Staging and sound were issues, as performances took place outside this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do a lot of work on projecting, but a lot of that work is done in a place where the acoustics support it rather than dampen it,” Ryan said.
Ryan said this was the highest-attended Instant Theater Festival in her time participating, but that’s not what it was about for her.
“I think I always really hope that the playwright of whatever I’m directing likes it,” Ryan said. “It’s not about you. It’s about the work.”
The video recording of the 2021 Instant Theater Festival is available here. — Quint Iverson