As a first year obsessed with theater and terrified of auditioning for shows at a college level, the Instant Play Festival was a wonderful introduction to performing on Whitman’s stage for me. It’s a one-day commitment and it’s a low-stakes fun opportunity to be onstage. Anyone and everyone is welcomed to be a part of this production and you inevitably meet new and wonderful people and really begin to feel like you’re part of the theater community.
The IPF process goes like this: 14 students take an intensive play writing workshop over the first few weeks of school in preparation for the first Whitman show of the season. At 8:00 pm the night before the first performance of the Instant Play Festival, the young writers are divided into two groups. The first seven students are given a prompt: three things that must appear in their play. The first is an action: every actor’s feet must leave the ground at some point. The next is a particular word, such as “epitome” pronounced incorrectly or “what?” said three times in a row. And the third requirement is usually a prop such as a suitcase, umbrella, or newspaper. The playwrights are also given a “cast list.” They know how many people they have to work with and the gender and approximate ages of these individuals.
These seven students then have 12 hours to write a ten minute play.
At 9:00 the next morning, these sleep deprived students are joined by the crew of students, staff, and faculty who signed up to direct and act in these plays. You never know whose play you will be working with or who will be directing. You might have a ridiculous comedy or a tragic drama. The playwright then reads their play aloud to their cast and director and then rehearsals can begin.
You’re in rehearsal all day with a group of people you may or may not already know. The playwright usually chooses to go home and sleep until the show at 8:00 that night, but the student or faculty member who directs your play works hard to make sure the actors stay true to the script and produce an entertaining 10 minutes of theater. Costumes and props are scrounged up over the lunch and dinner breaks, and a whirlwind tech rehearsal never seems to be enough time to get everything ready.
But then at 8:00, the curtain opens, and seven 10 minute plays, written just 24 hours before, are presented to a real audience. And then, as soon as the curtain closes, the next seven young playwrights are given their prompts and the process begins again!
In past years, I’ve been in some drastically different plays. My first year play was a study abroad experience gone awry complete with backpacking in the Andes, a blood oath, a fight about avocados and lupus, and a suitcase full of poison darts. The second year was a quiet play about a girl searching for understanding by talking to a possibly imaginary companion (and because it’s live theater, a quiet, sentimental moment turned into a rather hilarious sudden death as an actor tripped and fell with an audible THUMP). Last year, the play I acted in incorporated a young boy looking for romance, a girl trying to avoid her invisible hula hooping godmother, much discussion of slugs, and a rather spectacular newspaper hat. I can’t wait to see what kind of play I’ll be able to work with this year.
Blink and it will be over: this Whitman tradition is something you won’t want to miss!