For the fifth year in a row, a group of New London residents is preparing to create a theatrical production with only 24 hours and a few cues.
The Mayfly Playhouse is taking place at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Crocker House Ballroom, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. Donations are accepted at the door, with a suggested amount of $10 per person. The event, part of Hygienic XXXIV, will debut seven short plays that have all been conceived, written, and rehearsed over the course of a day.
David Foulkes, the Mayfly Playhouse producer, said the idea first came about as a way of adding a new element to the annual Hygienic Art festival in its 30th year. The countdown begins when playwrights receive a theme, prop, and line of dialogue at 8 p.m. on Friday. By 7 a.m., the writers need to have a play submitted to Foulkes. At 8 a.m., randomly assigned groupings of directors and actors begin the process of bringing the performance to life.
“I love doing this,” said James Stidfole, a director in the event. “I have 55 years in theater. This is probably my most fun moment in my entire life in theater.”
Foulkes said he adds a new element each year, and this year’s twist is the addition of a special guest actor. The actor must deliver the assigned line of dialogue as their only speaking part, and it will be up to the writers and directors whether the actor comes on for a passing appearance or if they are on stage the entire time.
Michael R. McGuire is participating in the Mayfly Playhouse for his fifth year. He said the process allows him to take more risks since he isn’t sending the final result to a literary agent. He also said the fast-approaching deadline lets him focus more energy on being creative.
“It’s a good exercise in turning off that editorial voice while you’re creating,” said McGuire. “Some writers are paralyzed by that.”
Anna Maria Trusky, who also writes for the production, said the process can be stressful since she always tries to produce a good quality piece. However, she said she enjoys the challenge.
“Every year I’m like, ‘Bring it on!’” she said.
Once the rehearsal starts, the writer is barred from the process and the director and actors choose where they want to take the performance. Emma Palzere-Rae, an actor with the Mayfly Playhouse, said the group needs to develop a working relationship in the short period of time.
“I think everyone knows we’re working against the odds,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re going to end up with.”
Foulkes said the plays sometimes include unexpected moments or inside jokes. When he warned the players about the use of copyrighted material one year, one playwright made it a theme and incorporated several deliberate breaks where actors noted the need to avoid using such material. During another play, a playwright’s cell phone went off and it turned out to be a staged call from an actor.
“For that one moment I was completely surprised,” said Foulkes. “‘She’s taking a phone call? During her play?’”
Stidfole says he likes it when the plays alternate between comedy and drama. Palzere-Rae said one benefit of the event is that the plays move quickly, so if the audience doesn’t like one show they might well enjoy the next one.
“As an actor you’re torn,” she said. “You want to go last because you have an extra half hour to learn your lines, but then you don’t get to see anyone else’s play.”
Stidfole said he considers the Mayfly Playhouse one of the biggest draws of the annual Hygienic festival.
“It is literally wall to wall people,” he said. “If you get there eight minutes into the run, you’re going to be standing for an hour.”