Unbound Student Theater presents 24-hour play festival

On Sept. 15, experimental student theater group Unbound offered a 24-hour play festival in which group members and new students alike were able to write and perform their own plays. Courtesy of Yijia Hu.

On Saturday, Sept. 15, Unbound Student Theater presented its second annual 24-hour play festival, with the theme “That’s a Rock Fact.”

Twenty-four hour play festivals aim to bring together actors, directors and writers to create 10-minute plays under the time constraint of 24 hours. Unbound managed to create five plays this year, with five directors, five writers and 10 actors involved. All students were invited to participate or attend.

Although this is only Vassar’s second year of holding of a 24-hour play festival, such events occur across the country, from high schools to

regional theater troupes. The 24-Hour Company implements a mandated structure, but Unbound altered it to allow for as much collaboration as possible in order to ensure a stress-free, positive experience for everyone involved.

Mollie Lipkowitz ’20, president of Unbound and writer of the play “A Study on Bonobo Chimps,” stated: “Traditionally, there is someone with a designated role as a producer who stays up for the entire 24 hours, but we divided that up because it’s such a huge role…We’re a family! Everyone only works for eight hours. Additionally, halfway through the night at 2 a.m., all the writers check in with each other and read each other’s scripts…it’s really collaborative.”

Lipkowitz additionally stated that the event serves as an ideal introduction to theater at Vassar, especially for first-years. However, anyone and everyone was welcome to participate—no experience required. The event was for fun only, and despite the seemingly stressful and daunting nature of creating a play in such a short time frame, Unbound treats the experience as more of a synergistic bonding experience.

Actor in the play “Not Quite Detroit,” Frances Rippy ’22 stated, “I thought it would be very high-stakes with everyone very stressed, but it’s a very well-oiled machine—we’ve all [writers, directors, and actors] been called at different times, so no one had to stay up all night. It’s not about creating a perfect play, but rather about seeing how much work can be done in 24 hours.”

The beginning of the 24-hour period is denoted by the reveal of the festival’s theme. This year’s theme, “That’s a Rock Fact,” was just as kooky as last year’s, which was “Smokin’ Hot Tea.” The theme was chosen by an unaffiliated student in an effort to ensure that everyone was on equal footing at the beginning of the writing process. The title is an esoteric reference to a Cartoon Network miniseries titled “Over the Garden Wall.”

The seemingly nonsensical theme is representative of the offbeat and laid-back nature of the festival. However, the phrase itself is not widely known and only a small number of participants were aware of the origin of the phrase. Unbound props manager and actor in the play “Not Quite Detroit” Jordan Kalina ’20 is one of these select few. Kalina stated that there are some plays that align with the phrase’s true meaning and others that don’t. He explained, “[T]here are some things that may not be real, or hard to understand, and there may be an unreliable narrator in some sense. But we are also taking the definition a little bit

literally, as we are using physical rocks in some productions!”

The ambiguity of the theme allowed for a wide variety of interpretations. The plays ranged from a humorous piece about chimpanzees to a dramedy about a tumultuous rock band to a harrowing drama about a man who chooses to be homeless. The theme also inspired the cast to create a collaborative Spotify playlist that played throughout the show, which included tracks as disparate as Hannah Montana’s “Rockstar,” Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Although the small time frame increased the possibility for errors during the performance, the participants expressed more excitement than nerves. Discussing the emotions she felt as she awaited the show, Lipkowitz stated, “Honestly, anything could happen in the show and I would still think of it as a success because the point was to get a bunch of people together who didn’t necessarily know each other previously and have them create some form of art. We already succeeded at that, just by the nature of all being in this building at the same time.”

In addition to the 24-hour play festival, Unbound hosts numerous other events throughout the year. In the 2018 to 2019 season, they plan on doing a full-length show, a sing-along stage reading of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Halloween and a first-year cabaret. Regardless of the production, however, Unbound members always feel attached to their creative or original work. Kalinas emphasized this attitude in reflecting on the play festival, stating, “I’ve really enjoyed seeing the things that people have brought to the stage and how we’ve been able to sort of stage these things and get them off the ground within the 24-hour period—which has been chaotic but rewarding.”

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