24-hour contest can be a whacky first step

Bringing a play from the idea stage to the big stage can be overwhelming.

Where do you start? Who is there to help? What the heck is dramaturgy and why is it important?

During the first part of this year, Nakai Theatre has been working through a strategic-planning process and has been confirmed that it wants to be a “developmental theatre company.”

So, to answer this first question – Where do you start? – Artistic Director David Skelton suggests the 24 Hour Playwriting Contest.

This contest is legend. Year after year, writers sequester themselves in hotel rooms and crank out a script for a play.

There are stories – there are such stories! – of the sleep-deprived craziness and the plays that result.

And there have been success stories, such as Sixty Below, by Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather; Dirty Life, by Moira Sauer; and Carnaval, by Mitch Miyagawa.

“I hope none of that is lost,” says Skelton of the upcoming 24-hour competition scheduled for April 18 to 19 at the Westmark Whitehorse.

But he also wants would-be writers to know that this could be the first step to seeing their play produced onstage.

Whether a script comes out of a desk drawer, to be polished for the next 24-hour category, or a script is created from nothing but time and caffeine, this contest offers the luxury of 24 hours of uninterrupted opportunity to write.

And, when the muse hits a brick wall, Skelton and another dramaturg will be available close by to help.

A dramaturg, by the way, is a consultant and an advocate for the playwright’s intentions.

“Maybe I’ll just nod my head,” says Skelton, who has offered dramaturgy for Edmonton theatre companies and has learned the importance of listening.

He points out that the other person may not be a dramaturg, but they will definitely be someone from the theatre world.

“Not all plays are generated by playwrights,” he says. “They are created by theatre artists in collaboration.

“I want someone who can see if something is working or not.”

From the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition, someone may have a script they feel should be developed further. That is where next year’s Homegrown Festival could offer the next step.

With the help of Nakai Theatre staff, the play could be ready for this festival that gives works in progress an audience and all-important feedback.

The following year, it could be ready for the Pivot Festival. This is for finished works and those that are still in development.

From there, maybe the play will be presented by Nakai Theatre and, possibly, it will be toured after that.

Steps can be skipped and it doesn’t have to be a play, says Skelton. Some of the submissions from the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition will be image-oriented presentations while others may be more poetic … a stand-up routine, even.

“The idea is to lock yourself into a room and create a new world.

“All I want is for people to come and write.

“I’m not expecting anything specific … there will be a rainbow of things to write.”

Paint drying on a wall?

“I would be totally jazzed by that,” says Skelton. “If they have the audacity, I would say, ‘They have a way of seeing the world that is unusual and exciting.’

“But, you know, there has to be sincerity there.”

This step-by-step process is an organic structure that has seen pieces fall into place and other pieces move around.

The 24 Hour was postponed last year and Nakai staff are looking at how it affects the flow of ideas and scripts entering development.

The contest was also moved to April to see if that would affect participation and to see how it worked with an alternating Homegrown Festival.

With the Pivot Festival breaking out from the comedy festival and offering alternative theatre, it, too, has become a potential step in a script’s development.

But the very first chance a presentation can be tried out will be the 24 Hour Cabaret, May 2 at at location to be determined.

Each playwright has the opportunity to have the stage, for five minutes, to present their creation.

“The cabaret is pure fun,” says Skelton. “Everybody is there to offer support … people just want to see the new stuff.”

Then there are prizes for the crowd favourite, Larry’s Last Line (local Member of Parliament Larry Bagnell chooses the play with the best last line) and the best use of an optional-mandatory line.

The best play will be chosen by a panel beforehand and the winner will receive $500 donated by the Yukon News.

Applications are available at the Nakai Theatre offices at the White Pass building and online at www.nakaitheatre.com.

Registrations can be accepted on the day of the event, before the 11 a.m. start, but at a higher price.

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