A Foolish Tradition.
Several new plays are created in just 24 hours. And then, sometimes, we do it all AGAIN. We'll have time for sleep later.
"One of the best theatre experiences in town! Kamikaze performances from fearless actors... an impressive amount of writerly polish... This is an excellent thing." - BackStage West
"The most upbeat and lively late night show on (or off, as the case may be) Melrose Avenue... fun, unpredictable and impressive!" - L.A. Splash
"A much better choice than Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Walt Disney Hall!" - L.A. Weekly (for reals)
What the hell is FAST & LoOsE?
5 STEPS OF THEATRICAL FUN!
or 11pm, That Night
On the Spot
Overnight theatre can be highly stressful--and richly rewarding.
Most theatre productions--the quality ones, anyway--take months to prepare. From writing the script and casting calls to nonstop rehearsals and breathtakingly boring tech nights, theatre is a lengthy and precise process. Even the shows that look like they were slapped together overnight probably involved a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of everyone involved. And that's how it should be, right? After all, could I possibly recommend a play that was put together in a day?
Actually, yes. One of the best theatre experiences in town is also becoming one of the most popular. It goes by many names, from 50 Hour Drive By (Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group) to TheaterCRAM (The Actor's Lab). But the general idea is the same: Short plays are written, cast, rehearsed, and performed in just a few hours. Perhaps most ambitious is Fast & Loose, presented by Sacred Fools Theater Company. While some groups give two days to mount their productions, the masochistic Fools have only 24 hours in which to mount several new world premieres.
Fast & Loose premiered in 1998 and has surfaced every few months between mainstage productions at the theatre. Under guidelines, writers draw random elements the night before the show. These elements can vary from the simple (a noun and a verb) to the obscure (a piece of artwork), but they're all intended to jumpstart the writing process. The writers also arbitrarily draw how many characters they will be writing for and what their sex will be. They are then given 12 hours to write a short script incorporating those elements, which is turned in promptly the next morning. Directors and actors are then assigned to scripts, literally by having their names drawn out of a hat. Each group is given a set period to rehearse and tech onstage, but most practice is done in an apartment or a parking lot. Somehow this all goes into a show that goes up that night with (hopefully) very few hiccups.
But that was still too easy. So now, through May 1, Fast & Loose will be presented on a weekly basis, every Saturday night at 10 p.m. This is the brainchild of producer Joe Jordan, a veteran writer/actor/director of countless F&Ls, who made a few adjustments to the formula to prepare it for its run in the late-night slot. "I'm basically doing this as an experiment," he told me early on. "I wanted to see if it would stand up to being done on a weekly basis. It's a show that a lot of people are really in love with and enthusiastic about, and I figured why not give them more." Now, instead of the usual eight plays, there are four. And unlike prior shows where as many people as possible were used regardless of experience, Jordan auditioned actors for this round and is pulling from the same small group of writers and directors from week to week.
One of these writers, who will be writing all six weeks, happens to be myself. In my outside life, I like to fancy myself a playwright--albeit one who has never gotten a positive review from this very paper. But until Fast & Loose, I had rarely written short-form plays, instead concentrating on full-length productions. My feelings about the format changed on New Year's Eve 2002, when I attended my first Fast & Loose show. I realized that not only was I intrigued to see how the writers would incorporate their elements--in this case, New Years props like a photo of Dick Clark, confetti, or a noisemaker--but also that I was witnessing great writing and performing. All done in 24 hours.
Since then, I have written six Fast & Loose scripts and even dared to act in one. My reasons for writing began simply: It was a good way to get my work seen, and it sounded like fun. Over time, it's become something much more. Aside from forcing me to not procrastinate and actually put pen to paper, it's given me an opportunity to write characters I never would have before. I've been known for writing primarily lighthearted romantic comedies. But due to some of the constraints of F&L, such as the time I drew three men, I've been forced to get creative. I've written about a grown businessman who regresses to breast feeding in the space of minutes. And two women fighting over who gets to be a gay man's best friend. And a couple of nasty theatre critics evaluating each others skills in bed. They haven't all been gems--one was an outright disaster--but each has left me wanting for more. The potential for reward is enormous; nothing tops the feeling you get when a piece gets pulled off. On the other hand, if it doesn't go so well, at least you haven't invested more than a night in it. Margaret Easley, a new F&L actor, described it perfectly: "It was one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my acting career, and yet, somehow, the thrill and joy was directly proportional. What a high!" Indeed, F&L is quickly replacing alcohol as my drug of choice.
On April 9, 2003, I kept a journal of my experiences on Fast & Loose, which I now offer as an insight into the process of creating theatre overnight.
Friday, April 9, 10 p.m.: These things never start on time, and I'm desperate to pick my variables and get started, as I'm still getting over a really nasty case of food poisoning. The elements for this week, we've been told, are "Black and White: Black Sabbath and Barry White Songs." As I don't know a single Black Sabbath song, I'm already concerned. And nauseous.
10:15p.m.: I'm the first to draw my songs. My Black Sabbath song is "Iron Man," which I know only because it was used on a recent episode of The Simpsons. My Barry White song is "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe." I'm predicting I will be writing a sexy, romantic scene, maybe something in which a woman uses the pet name "Iron Man" for her boyfriend. These plans are dashed when I draw my characters: three women. Great. I make a promise to myself that there will be no women kissing, something that frequently happens when an F&L writer draws more than one woman.
10:30 p.m.: In the car on the long ride home from Hollywood to Culver City, I toss around several ideas in my mind. This is usually when I decide upon a plot, and by the time I arrive at my house I'm ready to go. I'm not so lucky tonight. I start with a few ideas--a bunch of superheroes hanging out, one of whom is named Iron Man. (Is there a real superhero with such a name? I can't remember.) Or a parody of The View in which those nattering ninnies talk about what music they like to listen to and what names they call their men when they're "getting it on." I spend a good 20 minutes with that idea, even starting to write it once I arrive home. I get four pages in and throw it out.
11:20 p.m.: I decide to use my songs not literally, but more metaphorically. I write a script about two sorority sisters who are at one's home, preparing to kiss. At the last second the mother of the girl comes home early from her vacation, disrupting the romantic atmosphere. Completely clueless, the mother humiliates her daughter by revealing the daughter's embarrassing habits. These include her struggle with weight ("It's OK to be a little bit anorexic, you know") and that the girl needs to take iron pills (the brand, of course, is Iron Man) because of her "unnaturally heavy periods." Fed up with her mother's nagging and interference, she tells her she's "had enough of your love."
April 10, 12:10 a.m.: I hit up on the idea that the girls aren't lesbians but rehearsing a scene from Showgirls for an acting class. So when the daughter has to reveal her "secret" to her mom, it's not that she's a lesbian--it's worse. She's an actress. The mother will, of course, flip out and disown her. I'm also pleased that I've managed to write a scene that doesn't fall into the two-women--kissing stereotype. I go to bed shortly thereafter, deciding this is the best script I've ever written.
3:20 a.m.: I wake up and decide this is the worst script I've ever written. I decide to finish The View parody after all.
4:10 a.m.: I wake up my rather crabby roommate and ask her to read both scripts and choose. She gets halfway through the Showgirls one and says it's fine, to just go with that. I question her commitment to my art.
10 a.m.: I decide my script will be fine if I draw a solid cast. I have seen mediocre scripts saved by great actors. Then again, I've seen great actors completely forget their lines and choke onstage. And if F&L has taught me anything, it's the value of a director. Watching them condense the rehearsal process into one day and the ideas they come up with consistently amaze me. I end up drawing one of my favorite directors, Ben Rock. And my cast is the people I had in mind while writing it: Andrea Ruth, Julie Mullen, and Margaret Easley. As we step outside to do a few read-throughs, I feel a sense of relief. All three are hilarious and I know Andrea, who has done countless F&Ls, will make a great mother.
10:20 a.m.: Ben casts Margaret as the mother. Andrea is the best friend; Julie is the put-upon daughter. Margaret, a terrific comedienne, has never done a Fast & Loose. I tell myself not to worry and head home to sleep.
10:25 a.m.: I start to worry. What if Margaret has trouble remembering lines? Even the most accomplished performers can struggle with the one-day process. It's not easy to learn a 10-page, verbose script in 12 hours.
2:30 p.m.: I talk to Ben via phone and ask him how it's going. I get, "Fine." I try to push for more and get, "Really fine."
9:20 p.m.: I run into Margaret outside the theatre and ask how it's going. She tells me she's incredibly nervous and really worried about remembering all those lines. I start to sweat more than usual.
10:00 p.m.: Showtime. My play is up last, so I'm left to squirm. I'm amazed at what the other writers have come up with using their elements. Padraic Duffy used the song "War Pig" to write a tour de force about a businessman who dresses up like a pig and expounds on combat. With "Hand of Doom," Paul Plunkett penned a script about bratty kids on a cruise ship, one of whom strangles the other on a sugar high. And Gerald McClanahan turned "Electric Funeral" into a meditation on four men who find themselves in hell. I hate going last.
10:55 p.m.: Much to my relief, Margaret not only remembers all her lines, she improves on most of them. I make a mental note to take credit for her improvisations later. Andrea and Julie are brilliant, and there are tons of nice little touches I wasn't expecting. Most important, people laugh--though probably none harder than myself. Even lines I didn't intend as jokes get laughs, thanks to their delivery. I relax for the first time in 24 hours, realizing I'm off the hook. At least for another week.
-- Jenelle Riley
©2004 Backstage West
In proper sacred and foolish spirit, I’ll try to be quick about this. And loose. There’s this thing that Sacred Fools has been doing for a while now in a 24-hour timeframe: Its members get a bunch of their usual suspects together and make plays under the gun. (Not a real gun. At least I don’t think so.) The deal is that these guys (and I’m using that in a non-gender-specific way) create what they call “overnight theatre” by giving four writers, at 10 p.m., random ideas picked from a hat, and the playwrights come up with short plays by morning, and the plays are randomly cast by random directors and rehearsed (assumedly not randomly) for a show that opens (and closes) late that night.
My take? This is an excellent thing. And what’s even more impressive is that this is the 21st round of Fast and Loose the Fools have managed to squeeze out along with their other mainstage, off-night, and regular late-night shows.
What to expect from this sort of deadline-driven madness? Kamikaze performances by fearless actors (Brandon Clark’s pathetic dancing cowboy or Holly Gabrielson’s uniquely un-date-able woman, anyone?), ridiculous situations slapped onstage with an impressive amount of writerly polish (gotta admire Paul Plunkett and Scott Stein; Jenelle Riley’s forgivably formula take on speed dating is wonderfully funny, and Aaron Francis’ worrisome outing of male bonding should not be forgotten), and some gutsy directorial swipes that manage to pull the evening together (thanks, Jacob Sidney Dietzman: Who knew the secrets unintentionally revealed by men wrestling in shorts?). Oh, and there’s free beer.
Paying homage to the dead-at-last by forcing “Reaganisms” on the writers, making fantastic use of the way-Southwest setting currently on the Sacred Fools stage, throwing together some very silly costumes and sound effects/music/what-have-you that add that perfect last-minute touch--and the whole hosted by an easy and charming Henry Dittman--it seems to me that Late Night Fast and Loose is pretty much all that it can be.
-- Jennie Webb
©2004 Backstage West
What do you get when you take four writers, four directors and twelve actors and give them just 24 hours to create and produce four totally new one-act plays? The most upbeat and lively late night show on (or off, as the case may be) Melrose Avenue.
The equation all adds up to Late Night Fast and Loose at the Sacred Fools Theater.
Here's how it works: at 11:00pm on Friday night, four writers congregate and some suggestions are thrown into a hat. These "variables" are drawn from the hat by the writers and become the basis for the plays they will compose overnight. How they do it, exactly, is anyone's guess. But the result is four completely original theater pieces.
Twelve hours, the writers reconvene with their finished scripts and each is given to a different director. Then the four directors "cast" the plays by pulling actors' names from the hat.
In the following hours, each team gets all of 45 minutes of actual stage time to rehearse. The rest of the time, they are rehearsing in their cars, their living room, the parking lot or anywhere else they're not going to get kicked out of. There is no "time to prepare." No getting with The Method. Because twelve hours later, the curtain goes up and the result, whatever it is, is performed... Ladies and gentlemen, it's both opening and closing night! This process repeats itself every weekend.
The result was not only fast and loose, but fun, unpredictable, and impressive.
First, you would have to have a lot of confidence and a strong stomach to even undertake such a project. As there is no time for writer's block and certainly no time to relearn forgotten lines, these folks are sharp. The mere thought of composing a totally original script -- idea, story, characters, and lines having nothing more to go on than two suggestions (in one case these were "snow" and "lunch lady") -- is enough to make a less adventurous writer pull the covers over his head, especially when the writer couldn't possibly write for a certain director with one or two certain cast members in mind since he doesn't even know who these folks will be!
Further, for a script never read by the director and then shoved in his hands to produce for performance, is a task most directors would never volunteer for. And then to have it blocked, rehearsed and performance-ready in just half a day is almost masochistic.
Finally, consider the actors who were out there in the hotseat with everything riding on them. You don't forget a line (you just learned that day). You cannot forget a step or miss an entrance... there is no time.
©2004 L.A. Splash