Fourth annual theater 'Miracle' held this weekend

Posted: Thursday, October 01, 2009

The idea of pulling an all-nighter to complete a writing assignment may be a sweaty-palm-inducing flashback to college for some, but for Geoff Kirsch, one of four writers participating in this year's 24-Hour Miracle, staying up all night to write a play sounds like heaven.

Courtesy Of Eric Caldwell
Courtesy Of Eric Caldwell

Kirsch, a freelance writer and Juneau Douglas Little Theatre's president for the past two years, is a stay-at-home dad, so finding a quiet, uninterrupted time to write while watching his busy toddler is next to impossible. He looks forward to the annual event as a great chance to indulge in what he loves: Writing.

"I'll not have another eight hours of undivided writing time until next year," he said.

The 24-Hour Miracle, in its fourth year, is not for the deadline-phobic. Writers are given a topic at 8 p.m. Friday and must produce a finished script by 8 a.m. Saturday. At that point, the director and actors come in, review the script and start staging the performance. The plays go live at 8 p.m. Saturday night at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center.

The key to not going off the rails under such constraints, Kirsch said, is to keep it simple. This not only helps the playwright finish the script, but also benefits the director and actors, who have to bring those words to life with very little time for staging and memorization.

Incorporating improvisation could speed the process up, Kirsch said, but this approach may or may not translate well.

"It's a big trust thing, and you don't know what you'll get," he said.

Kathleen Harper, who has directed in the past three productions, said this year she'll switch over to writing. She said in her experience the time constraint, though inherently restrictive, can be freeing as well.

"It's a little bit freeing. You know you only have 24 hours and you know your part is only from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., so it gives you the freedom to have fun with it."

Harper, general manager of Perseverance Theatre, said she's been involved in theater since fifth grade. She said her work as a director, and her previous experience as an actress in other productions, have given her some ideas of what to avoid in 24-Hour Miracle plays. Long speeches, for one.

"It's really hard for people to memorize lines in an eight-hour time chunk," she said, adding that for some, this is their first experience on stage.

Kirsch said the balance between experienced and inexperienced actors is a positive aspect of the event.

"That's what I love about it. We've had people who've had absolutely no experience come down and do it and be really, really good at it."

Leaving it open to inexperienced thespians also keeps the event from becoming too serious. It is meant to be fun, Kirsch said, and though they are trying to create good work in a short period of time, it's a community-based event rather than a professional production.

Kirsch took the helm as JDLT president last year after Eric Caldwell stepped aside. He has written for the 24-Hour Miracle for the past two years.

"I am a writer so I was roped into producing the show and being the president because I didn't want to see this thing die," he said.

This year's Miracle will involve four teams, each with a writer-director pair and a group of three or four actors. At this point the writer-director teams have already been determined, but the actor spots may still remain flexible through Friday, depending on the director.

"By Friday evening I would ask that the teams be set, barring unforeseen circumstances, so that the writer knows how many people he has to write for," Kirsch said. "Up until Friday, you have the opportunity if you want to get involved."

He said last year there were several last-minute participants, and though this makes things slightly more chaotic, involving more people is something the JDLT wants to encourage.

"The goal is to make it better and better every year, to have more people involved, more of an audience and better material," Kirsch said.

The four writer-director teams for this year's miracle are: Geoff Kirsch and Mike Levine; Eric Caldwell and Kathleen Harper; Heather Paige and Mark Sean Tinneny; and Pat Race and Roblin Davis.

Harper said some writers might plot things in advance, but she prefers to be prompted at the starting gate.

"I have not really been thinking a whole lot about what I will write I because the theme will push me," she said. "It's better for me if I take it and run with it."

• Contact Arts & culture editor Amy Fletcher at 523-2293 or

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