If you love theater but hate that you can’t go to a play because you’re quarantined, here’s an idea: Put on your own 24-hour play at home.
We asked thespians Amy Gentry and Morgan Peeler, who have been featured in Phoenix Theatre’s 24 Hour Theatre Festival in Edmonds, for some tips on how to turn their jobs into a game you can play with your kids.
Gentry, 49, of Shoreline, is the spokeswoman for the Phoenix Theatre. She’s acted in two of the 24-hour plays and was a playwright for the festival in 2018, which had a “Wonder Woman” theme because all of the directors and playwrights were women. She has two sons and one daughter.
Peeler, 42, from Everett, has performed in three of Phoenix’s 24-hour plays. His 7-year-old son watched last year’s 24-hour play festival.
“My son was able to see the show, which was a big deal for both of us,” Peeler said. “A lot of the work I do is a bit over his head material-wise, so it was nice that he was able to come see this one. It was (age) appropriate.”
Since they can’t perform any plays at the Phoenix Theatre in the Firdale Village Shopping Plaza to comply with Washington’s stay-home order — this season’s showing of “She Kills Monsters” was canceled — Gentry and Peeler both liked the idea of performing a play at home with their children.
“I have a family of five, and I drive them crazy because I’m constantly trying to find something creative we can do,” Gentry joked. “Tomorrow, we’re making a movie.”
Here are Gentry and Peeler’s eight simple rules to put on a play at home:
Pick your roles out of a hat. You’ll need one playwright, one director and at least two actors. If you have a family of three, one of the parents can have the duel role of playwright-director. If you have a family of four or more, Gentry recommends having one of the kids write the play and one of the parents direct it.
You can pull more than just your roles out of a hat. In addition to who will act, direct and write, they also like to randomly draw for play prompts on slips of paper. Peeler listed off ideas that include play themes, titles, characters, props or funny lines. One line Gentry got a kick out of was “That’s too spicy for me.”
Find your costumes and props. Go through your closets to collect costumes and props for each of your actors. For the 24-hour play festival, actors show up wearing a costume and carrying a prop of their choice. For example, they’ve shown up in an evening gown, dressed as a scarecrow or as an Elvis impersonator, with a plunger, a football or a teddy bear. It’s all up to your imaginations.
“It’s always fun as an actor to come up with your own costume to help prompt the playwright,” Peeler said. “When I’ve done it, I try to do something interesting and random with my costume versus the prop to give them a lot of stuff to work with.”
Be creative. Don’t take any ideas — such as costumes and props — too literal. This game is all about having fun and being creative. Just because Mom decided to put on her Princess Leia Halloween costume, it doesn’t mean the play has to literally include the iconic “Star Wars” character.
Make an outline. Before you start writing your script, list your cast of characters and write a description of the setting. Think of your play as a story in a book. They both have the same key elements — a beginning, a middle and an end — but plays are divided up into scenes instead of chapters. In addition to a setting and characters, your play should have a plot with a problem and a solution. Plan to write at least one scene with dialogue (what the actors say) and stage directions (what the actors do, how they speak and where they need to be on stage).
Keep it simple. If you’re the playwright, whatever you do, don’t overthink it. Be kind to yourself. You’ll only need to write a script with as many pages as there are minutes in your play. Phoenix Theatre’s festivals showcase 10-minute plays, which translates to about 10 pages. If you’re new to putting on plays, write three to five pages for a three to five minute play.
Remember to be kind to your actors, too. They’ll need to rehearse and memorize the play you write. No two-page monologues, please.
The trick when writing a play is to not start at the beginning — go ahead and write the ending first. “A lot of playwrights write that way,” Gentry said. “Otherwise you start going in circles, and you don’t have the wrap-up you need.”
Take breaks. Just because this game is inspired by a 24-hour play festival, it doesn’t mean you have to finish it in 24 hours. But that’d be cool if you did. Just make sure you and the kids take lots of breaks between writing and rehearsing. Peeler warns us to not get so involved in rehearsals that we forget to eat or drink. Hey, it can happen.
Expand your audience. Skype, FaceTime or Zoom with your extended family so they can enjoy your play, too. Or record your play for Facebook or YouTube so you also get to watch it. “If you’re filming, I would keep it to about three minutes,” Gentry said. “You want (your kids) to have fun. If it goes on too long, it won’t hold their attention.”
It’s not about memorization. If you’re one of the actors, remember that you don’t have to memorize the script to put on a good play. “I don’t think it even matters if they get their lines right,” Peeler said. “If they understand what they’re trying to say, the lines don’t have to be precise. Even if they flub it, the whole process of creating is much more important than the detail like that. It’s more fun that way.”
If you blank on your lines, just improvise. Some of the most quotable lines in a movie or play are the ones that are made up in the moment.