Freshman Michaela Mense didn’t get much sleep on the night of Friday, Sept. 25. She stayed up until 5 a.m. writing a play.
Mense was one of four playwrights who participated the annual 24-Hour Play Festival put on by the Jayhawk Initiative for Student Theatre, or JIST.
JIST director Sophia Hail would normally have co-directors to help her organize events like the festival, but she said the initiative is experiencing a period of transition.
“I could have just stepped back and watch the performance play out — and I probably should have — but I wanted to be involved because I’m crazy and I love being involved,” Hail said.
Usual co-directors Joe Lilek and Michael Wysong are honoring other commitments: Lilek is spending the semester in England, and Wysong is preparing for a move to New York City to pursue a career as a playwright. Wysong co-wrote the musical “Love Is…” which was performed by JIST members last May.
The festival began on the evening of Sept. 25 and ended around the same time the following day. Seventeen participants signed up in advance requesting one of three possible roles in the festival: actor, director or writer.
Everyone met in a Murphy Hall room to be randomly assigned to a group consisting of one writer, one director and at least two actors.
The groups then began to brainstorm script ideas. No prompt was provided. Rather, actors were each allowed to bring a single item they thought might inspire the playwright.
One of Mense’s actors presented a jar of peanut butter to the group, which inspired Mense to tell the story of two siblings facing various problems together as children, then as teens and finally as adults in her play called “Untitled Sandwich Project.” The peanut butter jar appears in every scene and serves as an enduring symbol.
After spending a couple of hours in bouncing ideas off of each other, everyone goes home. The director and actors are done for the night, but for the writer it is only just beginning. Scripts were due at 7 a.m. the following day, and writers worked long into the night to make sure they were perfect.
Directors were first to receive the completed scripts. After regrouping in the Kansas Union, they had an hour to read before their actors arrived. The rest of the day was spent in rehearsal. Actors memorized dialogue as quickly as they could, directors extracted as much meaning as possible from a short script and a shorter time frame, and writers watched the situation play out.
Hail directed the play written by Mense in addition to helping run the event. Hall, a senior finishing her degree in theater performance, said this was her fifth year of involvement the festival but her first time directing.
A theatre and voice major, Mense inadvertently became involved in the festival when she auditioned for the KU Interactive Theatre Troop and a JIST member encouraged her to look into it.
“[The festival] is a great chance for artists to get together and create something passionate,” she said.
Despite the pressure one might expect to feel in such a situation, Hail said the whole day was pretty calm.
“It’s a fun environment,” Hail said. “It’s a fun thing. No pressure. Just try to memorize your lines in one day.”
Hail said she believes events like the festival are part of JIST’s goal of preparing members for a career in the theater industry.
“It’s a great exercise for actors and directors to learn how to perform under crunch time,” she said. “Things move fast in the professional world.”
“JIST has prepared me to work in theater," she added, "because as a theater creator or artistic director you need the ability to be flexible and have patience, [and] to know that great theater is simple theater, and working with what you have is sometimes the only option.”
— Edited by Maddy Mikinski