by Lenise Willis

The creative dash of last-minute panic


Most of us are familiar with the flushed cheeks, sweaty palms and overall knot in the stomach that come with that horrible feeling of last minute panic. And though, too often, we do it to ourselves in order to stay out with friends or watch our favorite TV show before deadline, there are some who simply enjoy that mad dash for adrenaline’s sake.

Writers are some of that few. And so are these brave actors. Last Saturday, more than a dozen actors met for the first time at 10 a.m. with the task of writing, rehearsing and performing a show for a live audience at 8:05 p.m., merely 14 hours later, in the Greensboro Cultural Center. The program is thus called The World’s Newest Play.

“I had many working actors wanting to participate in the new plays being presented by the Greensboro Playwrights’ Forum, but couldn’t give me weeks of rehearsal without giving up paying work at other venues,” said Stephen D. Hyers, City Arts Drama director who has hosted Dramatists Playground for 16 years.

“I kept thinking, ‘How little time would be needed to put up a show?’ One day was as short as I got. We tried it with 15 actors and one director and came up with an entertaining story. We had so much fun, we did it again the next year.

“Amazingly we get an audience every year that is willing to watch us.”

And that they did. The Studio Theater was decently full with at least 30-50 interested guests, which Hyers called “the bravest audience in the world,” since they’re not even really sure what they’ve shown up for.

What we ended up seeing was three short “shows,” “Doomed,” “Red Taped and Rattled” and “Sacred Kool-Aid,” which are more accurately described as detailed skits.

Yes, the shows are pretty simple with limited props, costumes and plot twists. But that’s what you get when you show up for a script written and rehearsed in mere hours”¦and for free.

More importantly, the actors enjoyed performing the skits and if anything brought the fun energy back into theater. It affectionately reminded me of my camp talent show days, where the point was simply to bond and have fun.

So how did these actors pull three shows out of the air without letting the pressure of a deadline crack ’em? Seasoned actor and 11-year participant Terry Power says they start out with improv games to break the ice and release the creative juices.

After discovering who they are to be working with for the evening and playing a few acting games, Power said the group then piles City Arts Drama’s props together and everyone grabs a prop and develops a character. After awhile the group has a few strong characters to work with and the shows develop from there.

The idea has attracted actors of all ages and backgrounds, including sisters Katherine and Tori Galloway.

“It was a huge confidence booster,” said first-time participant Katherine, 26. Although Katherine has basically grown up in the theater world, all of her experience has been on the technical crew. Katherine said it was her sister, Tori, who convinced her to try the improv show this year.

“She’s always seen (an acting) talent in me and has tried to bring it out,” Katherine said.

“It’s like a spiritual theater experience,” said second-year participant Tori, 21. Tori said the experience is not only a fun way to practice acting and meet new people, but it also helps keep her on her toes on the professional stage.

“Things can sometimes go wrong in a play, but something will go wrong in improv,” Tori said. “It teaches you how to fix it and keep going.”

The two work at their own theater company founded by Tori, Greensboro Youth Playmasters, and say that the adult improv group is a welcome change of pace. “It’s nice to set your humor free because you’re around other adults,” Tori laughed.

“It’s not really nerve wracking because of the format,” Power added. “Because of the nature of improv, no one really cares. We all just want to have fun.” !