Performers race through 30 plays in 60 minutes in Play Space show

by Apoorva Dixit | 2/2/14 6:02pm

by Tracy Wang / The Dartmouth

“Hi!” a company member cheerfully greets me. “What’s your name?” She has a stack of name tags placed in front of her, a Sharpie poised in her hand.

“Apoorva. A-P-O-O-R-V-A,” I carefully dictate, an automatic response to years of botched spellings.

She nods, scribbles on the name tag and hands it to me with a smile. The card reads, “Hello, my name is Jay Gatsby.”

From the moment audience members descended the stairs to the Bentley Theater on Saturday to the final time they heard performers shout, “Curtain,” “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” an interactive performance of 30 plays in 60 minutes, proved a clever and hilarious experience.

Inspired by a show of the same title put on by The Neo-Futurists, a Chicago-based experimental theater troupe, Amber Porter ’14 proposed the idea for the theater department’s Play Space program, which allows theater majors and minors to use the Bentley Theater and a $100 budget for unconventional projects. Porter said she had been excited to debut a new style of experimental theater at Dartmouth.

“There are the improv groups, and then we have the 10-minute play festival and WiRED, and this is kind of the middle ground between the two,” she said. “The intent for WiRED is to restrict and inspire, and this is the ultimate version of that.”

The theater department appreciated the novelty of the project as well, theater professor and Play Space program director Jamie Horton said.

“This is not your standard fare,” he said. “This is what the department was looking for with the Play Space program — things that push the envelope, change the nature of the theatrical experience.”

On Saturday, the audience filed into the theater, name tags on, and found a warning sign on our seats, foreshadowing the silliness to come. On the flip side was a program with the names of all 30 plays and corresponding numbers, one to 30.

At the front of the theater, the same numbers were posted on stage. It was the audience’s job to yell out a number, which indicated the play to be performed.

A company member would then run out, rip off the number and call out the play title, bringing the actors on stage to perform. At the end of the performance, the troupe members shouted, “Curtain!” -— cueing the audience to choose a new number.

Most plays lasted between 10 seconds and 3 minutes, making “Curtain!” a common word. “Drink,” thanks to play number seven, took on special significance, too. Introduced within the show’s first minutes, “The Drinking Game” involved Diane Chen ’14 casually sitting on the corner of the stage with a whiskey bottle and shot glass. She took a shot each time a joke fell flat, a performer messed up or whenever the audience asked her to, for the duration of the performance.

Chen’s sideshow was a clever built-in back-up plan for mistakes, although performers did not have to fall back on it often. The audience and I roared with laughter at punny sketches like “One Night Stand,” where a company member walked out and placed a lamp stand at center stage.

In another sketch, “Eye Contact Is Important,” company members ran out from backstage and held a staring contest with the audience for a full minute. Another favorite featured Molly McBride ’14, who played the recurring character of a girl enamored with anyone in a uniform, including Zahra Ruffin ’17 as a frustrated 911 call operator and Robert Leverett ’16 as a monotone Transportation Security Administration officer.

The original plays were written and rehearsed over just two and a half weeks, Porter said. The creative process included collaboration from all of the performers.

“It’s gotten to the point where no one really knows what they have contributed,” Porter said.

The group faced the daunting challenge of solidifying the acts in time for the production, performer Cristy Altamirano ’15 said.

“We started off with 50 ideas, and we just had to be hard on ourselves and decide what was going to be in the show and what was not,” she said. “In the end, we communicated well and just had fun.”

Perri Haser ’17, an audience member, said she enjoyed the show’s chaotic nature.

Porter said she was pleased with the show and its turnout, especially given the scheduling conflict with the Dartmouth-Princeton hockey game and the Hopkins Center’s screening of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013). The performers are discussing running a similar show in the spring, she said.

“The show tonight was as great as I’d ever imagined it,” Porter said. “We had such a great energy, and the entire company was just having fun.”

The article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

Correction appended: February 3, 2014

Because of an editing error, the article initially identified Perri Haser '17 as a cast member, not a spectator. The story has been revised to correct the error.