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Lobster Players stage a 24-hour theater fest

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published August 22. 2013 4:00AM

Writers intimidated by deadlines need not apply.

The Lobster Players' Annual 24 Hour Theater Festival needs dramatists who can crank out copy quickly and with confidence. The fest, you see, requires a play to be written and rehearsed in just 24 hours. And then? Performance time.

The public can watch the finished product at 8 p.m. Sunday in Connecticut College's Evans Hall.

What happens starting 24 hours earlier, at 8 p.m. Saturday, is: Writers gather. They receive their marching orders - meaning they get a sentence they must use in their play and they are shown five props, one of which they must incorporate. They retreat to write during the night. At 8 a.m., they hand their scripts to the actors and director. They spend the day rehearsing and then, at night, perform in front of an audience.

This marks the New London-based Lobster Players' fourth annual 24 Hour Theater Festival. The group was founded in 2008 by Galen Danskin, a 2007 Waterford High School grad who went on to Wellesley College, as a place for local college students to write and produce their own work. In subsequent years, the group expanded to include high schoolers, and many of its founding members are out of college at this point; the age range is now about 14 to 25.

"What I think is beautiful about The Lobster Players is it's completely youth-driven and supported and run and produced," says Hannah Schenk, artistic director of The Lobster Players. "We do original work, and we keep it local so everyone has a tie in some way to the area."

Schenk's sister, Marie, was the person who came up with the notion of The Lobster Players doing a 24-hour play festival. She had seen a similar festival at college and, when she had trouble getting people to commit to a long-term theater project during the summer, decided this might be a good option. It's much easier, after all, if all that's required is 24 hours.

"People say, 'OK, I'll be there for the day.' They get their lines memorized, and they write their scripts, and it's just condensed, amazing theater work," says Hannah Schenk, who graduated from Waterford High School and is entering her senior year at Vassar as a drama-sociology double major.

(By the way, this is not connected to the Mayfly Playhouse 24 festival that Intentional Theatre started in 2009 at the Hygienic and stages each winter.)

All told, Sunday's show will feature six plays no longer than 10 minutes each. They will probably reflect the variety of past festivals - some creations have been farcical, but some have been serious pieces with adult themes, such as a post-apocalyptic drama about hunger and sacrifice.

First, though, three or four Lobster Players brainstorm ideas for the sentence and the props that playwrights then have to incorporate. One year, the line was: "I once sat next to a full mariachi band on the subway."

As for props, they try to devise a mix of items - something goofy, something normal. Past options have ranged from a mug to bubble wrap to a game of Jenga.

Decisions on this year's choices hadn't been made by the time of this interview. Schenk did note that this year's festival has a Eugene O'Neill theme "to honor our local playwright" and to honor New London. The fest's title is "Long Night's Journey Into Day" - a twist on the title of O'Neill's best-known work, just switching the day for night in the name. This doesn't mean the props or line of dialogue will be inspired by O'Neill, though.

Schenk says of the festival, "It's so much fun. It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's also interesting to see the actors and directors who are working on different kinds of scenes because I've gotten commentary that 'This is the most pure, joyful fun I've ever had' and also 'This is the most deep and thoughtful and emotional experience I've ever had,' which I love. I think that both of those - the intense emotion and the intense joy of it - marks that experience for me. You do feel a little desperate at times and shell-shocked afterward, but it's just so much fun and so rewarding."

The Lobster Players' 24 Hour Theater Festival, 8 p.m. Sunday, Evans Hall, Connecticut College, Mohegan Avenue, New London; $5; the Players are also collecting donations for a memorial fund in honor of the late Stirling Danskin, who was a crucial part of The Lobster Players and whose sister, Galen, founded the group.

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