There’s a reason there are so many plays, movies, and shows about the clashing of artists’ egos in plays, movies, and shows. Collaboration is complicated, especially when it’s something as personal as artistic expression might be. Above all else, it’s hard to check one’s ego at the door when producing theater. You put a group of people together who have different perspectives and conceptions of what a piece of theater should be, and there are going to be clashes. In my time working on theater inside and outside of Wesleyan, I’ve been the cause and the witness of these kinds of clashes. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s just the way it works.
The One Day Plays, however, are a whole different story. With the shortened time frame, the exhaustion, and the sheer number of people involved, clashes and ego are far less of an inevitability. I can’t claim that there are no clashes and differences of opinion, but they are smaller and less significant. They are my favorite thing that happens at Wesleyan, every semester, every year, for all the time that I’ve been here.
For those of you who do not know what the One Day Plays are, here’s how it works. A group of people come together, divided into three categories: directors, writers, and actors. There’s a preliminary meeting in which an assortment of props is brought in by various participants. Over the course of one night, the writers and cast determine the props they’ll use and then write a short play with them. The directors pick their script, meet the actors, and by the end of the day, the shows go up, usually for a sold-out audience. This is all overseen by Second Stage, with exhaustive (and exhausting) work being put in by a core group of four coordinators (in this case, Jess Cummings ’17, Cheyanne Williams ’17, Anthony Dean ’17, and Danielle Lobo ’19). The entire process is about 22 hours, taking place once a semester.
Every year, there are the same hurdles: the marathon of memorization, the distribution of props (determining who has which prop in the rehearsal process is a special kind of nightmare), the discussions of when to take a break, the endless pursuit of trying to get a few minutes of sleep before continuing the rehearsal process. After all this time, it’s gotten easier, but the struggle is part of what makes this day great. With that time frame, there’s not much time to think. You can only do and make theater.
This was my fifth ODP, and my first after a year abroad, and I missed the process. I missed being up at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday. I missed walking through the dark, reading scripts in a cold room with props strewn on the floor, meeting my actors, making silly and absurd choices, picking up snippets of direction and dialogue from other productions. I missed the line-learning breakfasts, and the sleepy interactions, and feeling tired, so tired. Seeing my play come together. The sense of accomplishment and community.
As always, there was a wide variety of One Day Plays this year. There were the ambitious ones: a 15-minute, heavily referential Les Mis parody; madness in the shape of love and bagels; and a highly personal piece of performance art. There were also the silly ones: an odd lark in a bed and breakfast, a “She’s the Man”-type story within the world of frat hazing, and a hidden meeting between best friends Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Drumpf. And there was the show that I directed, a prophet seeing visions of an autumnal apocalypse at WesWings, which come true in the form of acorns raining from the sky. Each had their charms and their joys, but above all else, the true joy is watching a group of people who have never worked together in this form, making something that will only exist for a few minutes, for one day, and then disappear.
I did a version of the One Day Play in my year abroad, playing Macduff in a 90-minute full production of Macbeth. It was great, but it wasn’t this. It was rewarding, but with that length of time and that length of show, a lot of the joy was stifled. The fear in Wesleyan’s ODP is secondary; the scripts are so short and full of wide-ranging silliness that you don’t feel the kind of profound fear of undertaking Shakespeare in a day. It’s good, but it’s not a great, ridiculous, exhausting day, this day that I’ve lived five times and always found something new to love while doing it. In theater-making, there’s something invaluable about taking a day and making plays happen quickly, joyfully. As I type this, it is two days later, and I am still completely and totally exhausted, despite two days of long, fulfilling sleep. But I wouldn’t give the experience up for the world.