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Playwright Daniel Tarker confers with director Andy Jensen at the 14/48 Theater Festival. Photo by Ian Johnston.

Playwright Daniel Tarker confers with director Andy Jensen at the 14/48 Theater Festival. Photo by Ian Johnston.


14/48 Theater Festival: From Playwright To Stage In 48 Hours

Marcie Sillman

What if you had only a day to produce a play from start to finish? There's a Seattle theater festival that does just that. KUOW's Marcie Sillman has our report.


They call it the 14/48 Theater Festival because participants have 48 hours to create and perform 14 short plays. The process starts on a Thursday evening at ACT Theatre, where the festival is held. The playwrights choose a random theme and a random number of cast members. After a ceremonial beer or two, they get 12 hours to write their plays. The scripts are due the next morning.

Daniel Tarker: "It was a challenge, especially having to stay up all night and do it."

It's 8:45 Friday morning. Daniel Tarker is the first 14/48 playwright to arrive back with his script. Despite the paper cup of coffee he's clutching for dear life, Tarker looks groggy. He sports a white nametag that also designates him as a 14/48 virgin. That means this is his first experience with the festival. Even though Tarker's written short plays before, he says he's never come up with a finished script overnight. The process was full of pitfalls.

Tarker: "Questioning yourself, and trying to find a structure, and all those elements. It's a lot to juggle in those conditions."

As the clock ticks on, other people filter into the room. At 9:00 sharp, 14/48 organizers Shawn Belyea and Peter Dylan O'Conner saunter in. They've got seven white legal envelopes. In each envelope is a script.

Belyea: "All right directors, good morning!"

Belyea and O'Conner spread the envelopes on a table. Each director picks one, then opens it to find out what play they've chosen.

Director: "Oh god, I'm so excited; 'Juliet.'"

After the momentary thrill, the directors and writers buckle down. The plays have to clock in at 10 minutes, and most of the scripts are too long, so they've got to edit them down.

Virgin playwright Daniel Tarker is paired with 14/48 veteran director Andy Jensen.

Jensen: "What if we cut the next two lines, consider this a freebie. Fine, why don't you tell me where it's at?

Tarker: "That's actually better. "

Jensen: "I'm glad you think so."

You can't apply to be part of the 14/48 Theater Festival. Every year the organizers — they call themselves the Steering Committee — invite theater artists they admire to participate. Committee member Shawn Belyea says they're always on the lookout for new talent.

Belyea: "The Steering Committee is active people in the theater community: producers, directors, actors, writers. And so, we are looking at people's work that we appreciate throughout the year. And hopefully people feel that 14/48 is a reward for the work they've gotten to do."

This is the Festival's 15th season. Jodi–Paul Wooster is one of its co–founders.

Wooster: "Originally, it was a fun experiment to see if it could be done. We really just wanted an opportunity to work with people we didn't get to work with."

Wooster admits the first festival didn't produce any great art. But he says it did foster a real sense of unity among people who are usually focused on their own work.

Wooster: "All these artists got together, and everyone was so excited. People that had never worked together were talking, all these different relationships were already being created that we realized — that was sort of our 'a–ha' moment."

Back at ACT Theatre, it's now 10:00 a.m. It's time for the directors to cast their plays. They pull the actors names at random out of two large coffee cans; one boasts a photo of Farrah Fawcett, the other Burt Reynolds. These cans hold the names of 25 actors and actresses.

Belyea: "All right, here we go!"

One by one, the directors step up to the podium to pull out a name.

Belyea/Poisson: "You are looking for two fine gentlemen and two lovely ladies."

The process repeats with the other six directors until all seven plays are cast. Then, Sean Belyea sends them off to work.

Belyea: "All right, go make some plays people!"

The teams have about 10 hours to get the plays ready for the first of the evening's two performances. 14/48 co–founder Jodi–Paul Wooster says virgin audiences should leave their preconceived ideas about theater at home.

Wooster: "We're much more of a rock show than we are going to see theater. The music's louder, there's a lot more yelling; it's really, really visceral. And it's loud and fun and big and beautiful."

Playwright Daniel Tarker plans to head home after the initial read–through of his script. This is only day one of what will be a long weekend for him. At tonight's show, Tarker and his fellow playwrights will choose a brand new theme and spend another long night writing.

Tarker: "Yeah, I'm hoping I can get to sleep this afternoon. (laughs) Otherwise, tomorrow's play is going to be pretty weird."

Maybe that's the appeal of 14/48: It's a chance to see something new, and raw, and yeah, sometimes weird.

I'm Marcie Sillman, KUOW News.

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