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UA student, prof down with O.P.P.

By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 30, 2004
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Are you down with O.P.P.?

If you answered, "Yeah, you know me," you've responded legitimately. However, Naughty by Nature will have nothing to do with the O.P.P. going down this weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, Old Pueblo Playwrights is teaming up with Hotel Congress for its third annual Play-In-A-Day. This year's event will consist of six original plays being written, cast, directed and staged within a 24-hour period.

"It's audience participation at the highest level," said Hal Melfi about the audience's influence on the short plays' ingredients. Melfi is a co-producer for the show, and former president and current member of O.P.P.

If you go...

What: Play-in-a-Day
Where: Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
When: Oct. 1 & 2
7:30 p.m.
$10 for both nights

On Friday night at 7:30, audience members will congregate in The Room at Hotel Congress for performances of short, staged readings of plays written by O.P.P. playwrights. These plays are just warm-up entertainment and aren't part of the Play-In-A-Day event proper.

The audience will then write and vote on one line of dialogue they want each of the playwrights to include in their plays. The audience will also vote for three props that must show up on stage during each of the performances.

The 12 participating playwrights will be randomly paired up and given a hotel room. Some of the playwrights won't even know each other.

Each pair must produce a play by 7 a.m.

Each of the six directors will have copies of a play. They have one hour to read it before a pool of actors arrives at 9 a.m. The directors will choose actors without the benefit of an audition and begin rehearsals.

The staged readings of the plays begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. After the fat lady sings, a panel of judges will choose a winner. The audience will also decide which performance merits a cash award for best play.

"In this case they are the midwives," said Melfi, explaining the audience's role in birthing new dramas. "They are right there before even a word is written, because certainly the playwrights have no way of guessing what props or what partner they're going to get. The chemistry of it occurs right before their eyes and of course, they helped to plug those things in."

Michael Swanson, an assistant professor for the UA School of Theatre Arts, is going to be one of Play-In-A-Day's directors.

Swanson said he signed up to direct because he's new in town and wants to meet theater buffs who aren't associated with the UA.

"It's a very unique experience in theatre to do this kind of short production process," said Swanson, who has had previous experience with rushed plays when he was an adjunct professor at Western Illinois University.

Gary McGaha, a theatre arts sophomore, whetted his appetite for theater when he landed a role as Thomas Putnam in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" five years ago. He's been hooked on acting ever since.

McGaha was one of the first people to sign up for the Play-In-A-Day event, offering to write, direct or act. McGaha said he just wanted to be a part of the event.

On Friday, McGaha will be up late writing for Play-In-A-Day.

"The only thing I'm a little nervous about is working with a partner," said McGaha. "I'm hoping my partner and I will get along and that we'll be able to work constructively together and that we won't have any problems."

McGaha said he's never done anything like this before, except for a 24-hour short story contest.

"I've written a few plays in the past, and I just enjoy playwriting very much," said McGaha. "I thought this would be a fun way to stretch my creativity as a playwright."

When Ry Herman walked up to his hotel room last year with fellow playwright Kolby Granville, whom he had never seen before, he had no idea they'd be finished writing by 2 a.m.

After generating about 25 ideas, the playwrights kept coming back to a certain one and decided to stick with it.

"It ended up being a comedy about a girl's father dying," Herman said. "We were actually the first ones done that evening."

The play Herman co-wrote in four hours turned out to be an audience favorite and won for best play last year. The short comedy had more unusual success when it went on to win a contest in Maine.

Herman has wise words for playwrights at this year's Play-In-A-Day: "The speed in which you write it doesn't necessarily mean anything because the people who took the longest were the ones who came in second."

Melfi said Play-In-A-Day is an entry-level organization where anyone who's interested in playwriting or reading plays can do so and won't be discriminated against by level of experience.

Students are encouraged to show up at Hotel Congress on Saturday at 9 a.m. if they want to act in one of the plays. They just might get a role.

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