First-ever “24-hour” Play Festival Hits the Mark this Holiday Season

By: Stefan Barkow Last Updated: December 9, 2013

On the 7th day of Christmas (well, December anyway) Imaginary Doors Entertainment gave to northwest Indiana seven never-before-seen plays about Christmas.

Held at Mainstreet Theatre in Michigan City and co-produced by the Festival Players Guild, the “On Your Marks…” Festival of one-act plays was an event the likes of which has never been seen on its stage in its entire 44 years of operation.

Just one night before, seven writers were locked inside Lakeshore Coffee and Specialties for the night with only their laptops, maybe an idea or two, and some sparse directions. Each was to produce a 10-15 minute, family-friendly, Christmas-themed play. Only two actors would be available for each play and the only sets that could be counted on were two chairs and a table. They got down to work.

At 7 AM the next morning, the scripts were turned in to the theater. At 8, they were assigned to seven directors, who then worked with their assigned actors to learn, block, and rehearse the plays while trying to figure out workable costumes and hand props as the clock ticked away.

At 7 PM, a short 24 hours since the writers began, the theater doors opened to admit a paying audience excited to be a part of this one-shot event.

“I think theater needs to be more accessible, more welcoming,” said Brant Beckett of Imaginary Doors Entertainment. “Part of how we’re doing that is by changing up the format and trying some new stuff. 24-hour festivals like this one haven’t been done around here before.”

With only a few hours to write and then a few hours to rehearse, there wasn’t a single person involved who wasn’t scrambling to make sure that the show went on. That’s why it might be surprising to find out that every writer, director, and actor was an unpaid volunteer. Sheri Hogan, one of the directors, even drove all the way from St. Louis to participate.

For all the stress, there are some advantages to an event like this.

“A lot of us aren’t full-time actors. We have time constraints like jobs and families; we can’t dedicate the weeks or months it takes to put on a full production. But something like this allows us to get on stage and do what we love while requiring nothing more than a single day of commitment,” said Barb Riley, one of the actresses.

Across the board, experience ranged from published authors and professional thespians to people who’d never written a play or been on a stage before.

At 7:30 PM nearly one hundred of the theater’s 130 seats were filled and the performances began. For all the hustle and bustle ahead of time, everything played out perfectly, which is a testament to every person involved.

“It was great. It was such a cool Christmas-y thing to do on a Saturday evening,” said audience member Hallie Orgel once the final play had ended.

With an even mix of comedy and drama, the plays covered a wide range of ways to think about Christmas, from a story of a lonely widower at a Christmas party to the story of two thieves that unwittingly steal a bag of children’s letters to Santa. Another showed Santa winning over a cop who doesn’t believe. One even portrayed a husband and wife as they considered the many merits of skipping Christmas altogether—and plotting how they could do it—before coming to the realization that the joy of reuniting with family and friends was worth dealing with all the problems for. Somewhat akin, perhaps, to the spirit of the festival itself.

As the panel of judges deliberated, the audience turned in their ballots to determine their choice for “Best Production.” And the awards went to:

Best Actor: Tom Osborn for his role in Merle Miller’s “Geezer Teaser”

Best Actress: Kelly Carlin for her role in Merle Miller’s “Geezer Teaser”

Best Director: Sheri Hogan for her production of Jerry Holt’s “The Christmas Bags”

Best Script: “Hi, My Name is Grace” by Stefan Barkow

Best Production: “Hi, My Name is Grace” directed by Courtney Papa and performed by Kathryn Hein and Avalee Brewer

Though this was a one-shot event with no repeat performances, Imaginary Doors and the Festival Players Guild has a number of other productions and events planned. Visit www.festivalplayersguild.org or call (219)-874-4269 for more information.