LaSalle Theatre 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge is underway!

I was hoping for 12 participants, but the five students who came out for the two-hour organizational meeting are enthusiastic and motivated — can’t ask for better than that, especially the first time around. As far as I know, our town hasn’t had a theatre project like this before. I’m hoping it becomes an annual event.

There were some glitches, of course. The theatre space is still under renovation, so it wasn’t nearly warm enough to stay more than 45 minutes in the lobby where we hoped to perform and I’ve had to book a different space in the event that it’s still uncomfortably cold tomorrow night. We tried moving the space heaters currently in use, and then we tried using blankets and quilts to make a blanket fort over the space heaters, but that required sitting on the floor. It kind of worked to capture the heat, but then the cold radiated up through the concrete and tile. Finally, we said “enough” and retreated to the nearby Tim Horton’s (after putting everything back, of course).

For their patience and fortitude, I rewarded the kids with hot chocolates on me.

We had some great ideas coming forward, and now the writers are working away on their scripts. I’m hopeful that there will be three scripts prepared for the morning. Then we will dive into a full day of blocking, memorizing, and rehearsal to the performances at 7 pm. Thankfully, I won’t be the sole supervisor — the theatre’s artistic director and his assistant will be there also to lend a hand. And maybe some of the kids will be able to bring friends with them to bulk up our cast and crews.

I have to say, it was really cool sitting around the table at Timmy’s, talking theatre with these young people. Just general guidelines for what they’re doing tomorrow, the schedule of activities, what is expected of the directors and actors, and the possible contingency plan for the performance space. (The latter has been taken care of, thanks to an open and friendly local church with a terrific space for presentations in the basement.)

But I am disappointed with my inability to get the posters out. I’m trying not to berate myself, accepting that I’m only one person with a full schedule of my own. And yet . . . I know it wouldn’t have taken long to canvass local businesses to put our posters up. So why didn’t I do that? I was able to post the event listing on Facebook and create an online sign-up sheet, coordinate students to record a radio ad and I did an interview with the radio news as well.

I think that I hit a limit, though. As much as I want to be like Leslie Knope, a powerhouse of getting things done, I’ve come to a wall. There is a reason why theatres (or other organizations) have publicity teams in addition to coordinators. It’s a hell of a job, getting the word out about an event or project. It can be a very fun job, too, for someone who is outgoing and has a lot of energy. And if that is your sole focus, the work is even easier. I tried to psyche myself up to go out after school, carried posters in my bag, asked students to help me out, too. I had some lovely offers of help from other adults last weekend, but I think at that point I was feeling like it was too late to put up notices with the event less than a week away. Good advertising needs to happen at least three weeks before the thing, not six days before. Actually, I don’t even know if that’s true for all things, but for theatre, I think it is, especially in winter and during a cold snap when people think carefully about their plans before making them.

I think, too, that I was holding myself back on the posters because I was terrified (and still kind of am) that the project will flop. For days, now, I’ve been afraid to hear the ad on the radio. It’s difficult to put your enthusiasm and energy into a great idea knowing that it’s not going to see the response that you want, yet I know it’s still important to try. The five kids who came out tonight made it worthwhile. I swing between being determinedly optimistic and flatly despairing, pushing forward because I said I would, and because they’re having a good time and a good experience from it.

Plus, an up-side to all of this is the learning experience for myself. I’ve never done one of these and it’s been interesting to feel my way through it, research other similar projects, suss out the potential problems and find ways to close the loopholes. Scary and challenging and exhilarating all at once. I said to my son (who is participating), maybe it’s better that we are starting with a small group.

And anyway, isn’t that how grassroots events and movements begin? Could this even be termed a grassroots event?

I really just want to go to bed. But my son is typing away on the other end of the couch and I cannot abandon him . . . I know what it’s like to suddenly have a creative writing deadline, and I greatly admire and respect him for taking this on. 10 pages of script when you’re 14 and you’ve never attempted to write a play before! It doesn’t seem like much, not at first. Sitting around a table in a doughnut shop, or in a circle of chairs in a theatre, what’s 10 pages?

It’s when you’re staring down the blank screen and trying to come up with character names, actions and dialogue, remembering that the story should ramp up on page four and that it needs to connect with a specific theme — that’s when burgeoning (or professional) writers need support. Once the roll gets going and the words are flowing, it’s all good. The hard part is getting into the flow. And for myself, the hard part is also keeping my mouth shut so that the words are all his. All theirs.

IF you happen to live in or near Kirkland Lake and want to show your support, the students’ performances are tomorrow night (Saturday Feb 21) at 7 pm, likely at Trinity United Church. I’ll put a note on the door of the LaSalle Theatre to confirm the change in locale, weather depending. Tickets for the show are $10, with proceeds going toward  refurbishing the LaSalle, and I know the students would sincerely appreciate the support.

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