By Ryan Gladstone
On February 9, a theatrical event is taking place. 48 hours beforehand, seven theatre companies will be given an inspiration package. You are invited to bear witness to the limits of creativity, to the power of human ingenuity—and come see what they come up with at Theatre Under the Gun (TUG).
I’ve been involved in Theatre Under the Gun and similar events as an artist, performer, writer, producer, and host, and I promise the experience is always unique, always entertaining, and always surprising. Part of the joy is learning the process the groups go through to give birth to these pieces.
But before you see the show, put yourself inside the mind of one of these brave artists. They are committing to create a piece of art, without knowing anything about it, the tools they’ll work with, and sometimes without even knowing the artists they’ll be creating with. To give you insight into what obstacles they face, I wrote these six tips for making a play in 48 hours.
1. Don’t plan ahead. The temptation is always there to make decisions before you get your inspiration package. To make things a little easier, to cheat just a bit. But the most rewarding pieces are the ones that surprise the artists themselves.
2. Try something you’ve never done before. One time I was part of a group and after brainstorming, we thought, “let’s do a puppet show.” None of us had ever done a puppet show, but we got some things (that weren’t puppets) and turned them into puppets. Be brave. Be weird. This isn’t a play writing competition. In fact, this isn’t a competition at all. It’s more like a festival of creativity. So experiment.
3. Get at a little sleep. The truth is brains work best when they get some rest. Who knows, maybe you’ll dream about something that will inspire you. Maybe you should just sleep the full 47 hours and then get up and try to turn your dreams into theatre.
4. At some point, you have to make a decision. One of my tenets of creating is to delay the moment of decision. Once you’ve made a decision, it obliterates all the other possibilities. To decide something is an act of violence against options. But at some point a decision is required. In Theatre Under the Gun that point comes much, much sooner than usual. But TUG is the whole development process on fast-forward—from conception, to fleshing out the concept, to building an outline, to giving it words or movement or images, to rehearsal, to tech, to dress rehearsal, to opening night—all in TWO DAYS!
5. If you don’t like it, start again. One of my favourite TUG memories was spending the whole first day developing a play about a vacuum cleaner salesman (one of our inspiration pieces was a vacuum cleaner). It was a fun little play. We liked it. But we didn’t love it. And even though we had already spent 24 hours working on this vacuum cleaner salesman play, we thought, “what the heck, let’s try something else.” So, recklessly, we threw it out and started from scratch. In the end, our revised piece was infinitely better. That isn’t to say that it always ends up like that, but you won’t know until you try!
6. Play with form. Who says it has to take the shape of a play? Another favourite memory was from a similar event where groups only get 24 hours. We got a playwright to create something and we rehearsed it. Around midnight the script arrived, and we didn’t love it. We didn’t know what to do. We had already wasted eight of our 24 hours letting the playwright have a go. We started brainstorming and started talking about time. “Maybe we could start with just the ending?” And someone misunderstood. “I thought you meant read the whole play backwards line by line.” And we did. And it was hilarious. So we staged this play, totally backwards. The set was a mess at the top of the show that slowly got cleaned up as the play went on. A couple started smoking cigarettes, then lit them, then started panting out of breath, then climaxed, then started having sex, then kissed, then flirted. It was a riot. It all came from a willingness to go with the flow!