How would you describe a play written, produced and performed in 24 hours? Generic Theatre Company cast member Brittany Perrotte called it ” ‘Saturday Night Live’ on crack.”
The idea of performing a play just one day after writing it might seem like an absurdly stressful undertaking, but the members of Generic have turned this challenge into a valued tradition, performed at least once a year. This semester’s play, held at the Lisner Downstage this past weekend, consisted of about a dozen short, humorous skits.
“[The show] is a great way to get freshmen involved,” said Caroline O’Grady, the company’s executive producer.
The process of putting on the 24-hour play begins with a writing session that starts the night before the scheduled performance. This year’s session was held in O’Grady’s apartment, and more closely resembled a party than a meeting. Generic members sat in small clusters throughout the apartment’s living room, tossing around jokes, stories and – occasionally – viable suggestions for skits.
“We just sort of shout out about a hundred different ideas that nobody’s going to use, but it’s fun just talking about them,” sophomore Ariel Warmflash said. “It’s crazy, but it’s fun.” Cast members wrote until about midnight, breaking up the meeting to get some sleep before the 11 a.m. rehearsal.
“A lot of people showed up to the writing session this year,” senior Nate Wolfson said. Manpower helps. In previous years, the writing process has carried well into the night and early morning, often not ending until 3 a.m.
At the start of the rehearsal, roles were assigned on a volunteer basis and scripts were passed out. Cast members then broke into small groups throughout the Lisner Downstage, practicing right up until about 6 p.m., with people occasionally slipping back to their dorms to scrounge up costumes and props.
At 8 p.m., the show commenced. This year’s play started with a skit titled “The Thurston Musical,” in which the lyrics to the “Grease” song “Summer Nights” were changed to describe the typical evening nonsense in GW’s largest residence hall. This was followed by skits that portrayed, respectively, a visit to Manoush’s hot dog stand, a shopping experience at Trader Joe’s and a spoof of the show “The Situation Room,” involving Mike “The Situation” from MTV’s reality show “The Jersey Shore” discussing health care. Generic member Jon Foox read aloud from The Hatchet and, as is tradition, there was also a skit performed by two randomly selected audience members who were simply handed scripts on the spot.
Even when the cast members steered the evening in a more serious direction by asking the audience to donate to the earthquake relief effort in Haiti, they still kept the mood light. Wolfson, in an effort to encourage contributions, offered to let the highest donor slap him in the face. The slap ultimately sold to an audience member for $40.
Even though the show has been performed more than 10 times, the 24-hour play does not actually fall within Generic Theatre Company’s annual budget. The only money spent on the show was a little bit of cash thrown in by O’Grady for notebooks used at the writing session. Most of the skits relied entirely on six wooden crates that were stacked and rearranged to create a bed, grocery shelves, a vending cart, and other props.
The cast only had a matter of hours to rehearse, but the skits ran smoothly.
“I think our greatest challenge is actually just staying awake for the entire process,” said O’Grady. “It’s amazing how you can strip a play down to nothing and still have a really great show.”