The Mad Dash :: A Theatrical Endeavor in 24 Hours

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 9, 2013

Some people like their theatre... comfortable. That's peachy for some people. Others like something a little more dangerous, volatile. They like an atmosphere where nothing is certain, and nothing can be taken for granted.

This weekend, Fresh Ink Theatre and the Interim Writers are giving audiences the dramatic equivalent of "The Next Iron Chef," a powder keg of creativity, ingenuity and potential disaster. It's a 24-hour play festival called The Mad Dash.

At 8:00 Friday evening, two arbitrarily paired playwrights will be given two mysterious prompts and a line of dialogue that must be used. They'll be assigned a randomly selected group of actors, but they won't know anything about them except their genders. Then they will be expected to write a complete 10-minute play by 7:00 Saturday morning.

At 9:00 a.m., directors and cast members will be introduced to the playwrights' creation. The actors and director will have from 10:00 to performance time to stage, memorize and rehearse whatever it is they've been given.

What if the playwrights clash with their partners? What if the actors forget their lines? And what if the directors try to incorporate fire effects and burn down the set? That may be a stretch, but the possibilities are endless. Like chefs that are given albacore tuna and M&Ms and asked to make an hors d'oeuvre, these artists will either create a masterpiece or a catastrophe.

"You can't overthink this," says John Griner-Ferris, one of the Interim Writers and a playwrights selected for this challenge. "I've done this kind of thing before, and you just have to open yourself up to the experience and let it take you where it will. After all, that's what the theatre is all about."

We are in the sweltering Democracy Center at Harvard Square, where the Interim Writers often have their monthly play sounding series. The weather report has posted an "extreme heat advisory," and this place is not even a little bit air-conditioned. Despite the oppressive conditions, the room is filled to capacity, because groups like the Interim Writers are diligently working to put Boston on the map as a mecca for new theatrical work.

Griner-Ferris hands me his business card, which features a picture of him reclining in front of Eugene O’Neill’s gravestone with a mostly empty bottle of Scotch.

"Awesome," I think to myself. "I can’t wait to see what this guy comes up with."

And Boston audiences always look forward to the work of Grant MacDermott. His enormous popularity as an actor hardly overshadows his ability to write, as we saw in his play "What Men Do Alone on Islands" at Such Times: The 1st Annual Sex Fest.

Directors will included some of the most talked about names in the Boston small and fringe theatre scene, like Lizette Morris whose production of "Dog Sees God" throbbed like an exposed nerve through the theatrical community earlier this year and consequently won the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production by a Fringe Theater.

And people are still talking about director Barlow Adamson’s raucous yet resourceful staging of John J King’s racy parody "From Denmark with Love" (a production which quite frankly did more than a little throbbing of its own.)

Actors will include one of the most popular faces in the fringe theatre Bob Mussett, who resume includes such diverse plays as "Fire on Earth" and Edward Albee’s "The Play About the Baby." And I look forward to what the critically-acclaimed Bridgette Hayes will do with her role. In "From Denmark with Love," she was able to play broad comedy without ever letting the audience know she was acting. That takes talent.

But Fresh Ink Theatre isn’t just filling the stage with ringers. "It’s important for us to give opportunities to people at different places in their careers," says the innovator of The Mad Dash, Lyndsay Allyn Cox. This philosophy is mirrored in all the work her theatre company produces. "At Fresh Ink new play development is what we’re all about. We’re not looking to select plays that are already fully formed."

Log on to The Mad Dash webpage until midnight on Thursday, and you can play an active part in this play creation challenge. Fresh Ink is looking for a line of dialogue that must be included in every play script submitted. Everyone who submits a "20 word or less" sentence will be entered into a raffle. On the night of the show, Fresh Ink will be giving away all kind of prize packages from Noshoba Valley Ski Resort, Lyric Stage Company, Clio, Cardullo’s, Picco, Urban Grape, Flour Bakery and more.

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