William & Mary

Write a play in 24 hours?

W&M students are up for the challenge

  • Play on:
    Play on:  Katy Shinas '22, Frank Kennedy '22 and Pablo Solano '22 are puzzled during a performance of "The Wheel of Calamity," one of the plays created in 24 hours for the festival.  Photo by Jo Rozycki '20
  • Play festival:
    Play festival:  Kate Dooley '21 chats with Maria Miao in "Heather Hendricks Rides the Dakota Circuit," written by Margot Flanders '22 and Alex Bulova '19 and directed by Jesse Pollack '19.  Photo by Jo Rozycki '20
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Writing a play is no small feat. Having to write a play in under 24 hours with certain prompts and a cast full of various talents is a challenge that Shakespeare himself would likely shy away from. But for a group of talented students at William & Mary, it’s a celebrated tradition and downright fun.

Alpha Psi Omega, William & Mary’s theatre honor fraternity based out of the theatre, speech and dance department, kicks off each academic year with a whirlwind theatre-making experience. The 24-Hour Play Festival brings together a team of student writers and directors to audition, write, direct and produce a series of short plays for an audience, all in a day’s time.

Festival breakdown
  • Friday, 8pm: Students audition for playwrights and directors
  • 11pm: Plays are cast
  • Saturday, 12am-8am: Plays are written
  • 8am-5pm: Rehearsals
  • 8pm: Show time

The plays are centered on a particular theme and six unique plays are performed. In addition to the theme, quotes are utilized as beginning and end lines of every piece.

Students draw the beginning and end lines from a hat, with the beginning line of one show being the end line of another, creating a loop. The budding playwrights can write whatever they want in between, but it’s all cohesively connected.

Sometimes there are additional prompts to challenge the students’ creativity. For example, this past year the students were tasked with following what has become known as the Mako Mori Test. It critiques media by answering three simple questions: Is there at least one female character? Does she get her own narrative arc? And is that arc not about supporting a man? With these things in mind, writers set out on Saturday night to create entertaining and cohesive pieces that incorporate all of the required factors.

Auditions for the festival are quite popular, with students showcasing some of their most unique talents, including tap dancing and stage combat. While everyone who auditions gets to be in the show, the auditions are used to gauge what talents each student is bringing to the stage.

The 24-Hour Play Festival also includes a philanthropic aspect. This past year, proceeds from the festival went to Clowns Without Borders, a Spanish humanitarian group that offers comedy and entertainment to people in areas of crisis or adversity.

Whether you’re up for the challenge of speedwriting your own masterpiece or you just want to be in the audience to see it all come together, you can learn more about the 24-Hour Play Festival and other events offered by the theatre, speech and dance department on their events calendar.