Completing 29 Plays in 29 Days
From a young age, I absolutely loved writing. I would always participate in writing challenges when I was in grade school. We had something called "Night of a Thousand Stars" where they would give us blank books to fill with our ideas. I never won, but I looked forward to it every single year. As I got older I started to drop the habit of writing. By the time I was in college, the only writing I did was for academic papers. Suddenly an email pops into my mailbox. It was advertising a UK based writing challenge called "28 Plays Later".
I jumped at the opportunity. I convinced a few friends of mine to join the challenge with me and we started planning ways to motivate one another to finish each day, apart from the financial incentive from the challenge hosts. As the start date approached I realized I overbooked myself. The month the challenge was to take place I was Managing Director for SUU's Second Studio, Stage Managing a production of Low Level Panic, Sound Designing a production of Glengarry Glen Ross, beginning a run of The Wolves as ASM and finishing my last semester at SUU. Surely I couldn't manage to write 29 plays during all of this. However, packing my fridge with Red Bull and pantry with ramen, I completed the challenge.
The first prompt came in; Use the word two/too/to in any variation to any extent. A two person play? A play for 22 actors? The first brief was much more ambiguous than I had anticipated. I came to dread this ambiguousness as we got further into the challenge. I looked forward to more restricted prompts like Day 4, where we were given VERY SPECIFIC characteristics of 6 characters that we had to use in our play. On days where my other responsibilities drained me, it was easier to let consciousness flow around pre-decided rules. However, my best plays came from the more ambiguous prompts where I was most drained during the month.
Yea, suppose to bring a thing. This
is my thing.
What’s it for.
First place in State. High School
How old are you?
(still in his phone) 25.
Was that your last big
accomplishment? From Seven years
ago? Nice work bud.
Our first prompt, the two/too/to rules, I wrote a play titled "Too Close" about a speed dating event where two lovers fall for each other and refuse to move to the next table. Upon getting to know each other better, they come across the realization that they are actually lost first cousins. This play was adapted into "Unstable Connections" which was produced with Online Theatre Festival and went to be featured at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival where it won an award for best student production. The ending was changed to allow for more wholesomeness. I loved this one because I was able to explore different stereotypes of terrible first dates all in one play.
"The day before you left for school? That was the first
drink I've had in a long and time - And it was the best drink I've ever had." - Clara, Reaching Bliss
Another play that came out of my challenge was Prompt 21. They told us to set a timer for any time of our choosing and just start writing. I had been lucky enough to just get out of my therapy session and my emotions were set to full for a complete dive into what was bothering me at the time. Lucky me. I had decided to write about my relationship with my mother. The script, which is my favorite to come out of the challenge, turned into a short film that I directed at Southern Utah University where it won second place in our competition.
Most of the time though, my scripts were very messy. At one point I wrote a three-part play around a village experiencing a Lovecraftian apocalypse, each part taking place around a different group in the town. Yeah, that happened. Another was about a woman meeting God in a church and asking about her place in the world. Another followed an actor interrupting a production of Death of a salesman because he didn't get the leading role. Another was from the perspective of a pet hermit crab in a cage...
Nevertheless, this whole challenge made me a better writer. It made me commit to writing every single day. Even if it wasn't towards working on some giant play, if it was only working on a scene that was in my head or turning a conversation I overheard while walking on campus into a story. It helped me establish deadlines too. There were so many nights that I started writing at 10pm after rehearsal, mere hours before the deadline. And when our internet went out, which was often, I would run in my pajamas to the Utah Shakespeare Festival and sneak into the artists lounge to use their WiFI.
I can not recommend these timed challenges enough for anyone who struggles with writing. It got me out of my comfort zone, kept me to deadlines, and established a habit of sharing my ideas with others. I can not wait for the next time this challenge is offered. Who knows what will come out of it this time.