In most cases, theater performances have a long, strung-out process that demands perfection on all fronts. However, time was of the essence for the writers, actors, directors and stage crew of last Saturday's annual 24-hour theater performance, "Helluva Time."
Each fall in mid-October, the Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society creates a time restricted performance for the public. Senior Emily Wood, president of Alpha Psi Omega, explained the 24-hour performance and its impact on those who participate in it.
“It challenges writers, actors, designers and directors to push themselves creatively,” Wood said.
Senior Ella Johnson, a member of Alpha Psi Omega, held a hefty role in organizing and producing this year’s performance. Johnson said the process of 24-hour theater is a grueling effort for all those involved.
“The writers stay up all night and write, and the directors take over at 5 a.m.,” Johnson said. "Actors should arrive around 6:45 a.m., and rehearsals start immediately, rotating rooms and spaces all while preparing for the performance by memorizing, practicing and getting tech involved."
The full tech rehearsal, which involves the directors and actors, as well as the stage and tech crew, took place between 3 and 4 p.m. the same afternoon. The performance was held a few hours later at 7 p.m. in front of a live audience.
Senior Ryan Bowman, an Alpha Psi Omega member and co-producer of the production, said he has been intrigued by the concept of 24-hour theater since he first participated in it as a freshman three years ago. After participating, Bowman found his passion for theater and stage production.
"I took part in this my first semester as a freshman, because it was an easy way to do some quick, punk theater," Bowman said. "In taking part, I was able to meet so many amazing artists, and that day is one of the reasons that I decided to pursue writing, directing and comedy."
Bowman has firsthand experience of how performances and events like this can impact the lives of others. He has also come to notice the amount of time spent creating a work of art does not always translate to the quality or creativity of the piece.
"I've found in my work with the theater student organizations that you can make impactful, meaningful, thought-provoking art in a week and even in a day," Bowman said. "While events like these test you, they also prove to you that you can do really incredible things."
When it comes to the work that a 24-hour production such as this one requires, Bowman said it is not an easy process. The writers spend close to seven hours writing a 10 to 12 page play, which they hand off to the directors in the morning. Working with the lighting and sound designers, the directors are able to create unique designs and concepts.
Johnson and Bowman were the coordinators and facilitators of the entire process for this year's 24-hour show. They stayed awake for the full 24 hours so they could aid in the creative processes and production of the performance.
The productions, however, are very different each year. In past years, the 24-hour stage has been privy to various aspects of theater. Bowman recounted some memorable concepts and genres from the 2018 performance as well as prior years.
"We've had absurdist pieces, which are difficult to direct, and last year we had a mini-musical," Bowman said.
However, no matter what type of theater performance the students decide to execute, both Johnson and Bowman agreed there is an innate unruliness that follows a time-limited show like this.
"It's just amazing to see such quick and seamless collaboration that takes only 24 hours to do a full show, while most rehearsal periods are at least two months," Johnson said.
Despite all the chaos that ensues each year, Johnson said all the participants are able to experience the absolute rawness of theater in this simple, unrefined setting.
Johnson said she wants 24-hour thespians to learn more about theater and production skills, as well as their inner artists.
"I hope they learn a lot about themselves, the art of collaboration and the power of theater," Johnson said.
To those considering participating or looking into the yearly theater event, Bowman said he constantly tells others to just jump in and try it out.
"Art is something you just do," Bowman said. "You don't wait for the right moment, you make the right moment."
The ability to perform in this show, and many other NAU Department of Theatre shows, is open to everyone, regardless of their major or experience. Generally, there are posters around campus advertising the various upcoming shows or productions. There are also several bulletin boards with the upcoming production posters lining the halls of the NAU Performing and Fine Arts Center. These boards include sign-up sheets or applications beneath them for anyone interested.
Between the performers, crew, writers, directors and even the audience, art is what they share. Bowman said he wants those who participated in or viewed the production to understand that dedication is what is important.
"I always hope that 24-hour theater shows those who participate and those who will see it that art doesn't take an eternity, and you don't have to suffer for it," Bowman said. "It just asks for effort."
Bowman said the show is a tremendous starting point for performers and creators. However, he cautions artists to explore creative outlets beyond theater.
"Twenty-four-hour theater is great at kick-starting your creativity, but don't let it be your only outlet," Bowman said. "Keep making, keep creating, keeping living."
Both producers of “Helluva Time” said they were excited to see how this year’s production might turn out.
Bowman said he enjoys assisting with performances because he views himself as having both a helpful and creative personality — both aspects that bode well with such production.
"I saw that as a producer of this show, you’re the ultimate helper, " Bowman said. "It’s fantastic to see art being made, and it’s fantastic to help an artist in their process."
Johnson shares a similar sentiment. She enjoys seeing the innovative minds that come together and create boundless artistic concepts.
"I love working with Ryan and seeing this massive puzzle of people working together to make an inspiring end product," Johnson said.
The “Helluva Time” producers expressed it to be a truly enamoring, theatrical experience for both the performers and the audience members.
"Go see art, it's so good for the soul," Johnson said.
Although this performance has already occurred on October 12th, it is an annual production. The producers of this year's show and the NAU Department of Theatre encourage those interested in performing or fine arts to explore the 24-hour theater production when it returns next October.