At Barry University on a recent evening, Antonio Amadeo was showing signs of strain. "All my writers are leaving," he said as he watched another top-tier SoFla playwright disappear into the night. He looked like a kid whose best friends had bailed at a slumber party. "My prediction is, in another 45 minutes, very few people will be left."
But all is well now. It's 8:30 the next morning at GableStage, at the Biltmore in Coral Gables, and Amadeo is running around, reveling in a turnout that represents perhaps the greatest display of solidarity ever birthed by the region's theater scene.
This is the 24-Hour Theatre Project, conceived by Amadeo and willed into being by a cast of dozens. Last night six of South Florida's most accomplished playwrights, a half-dozen of the region's best directors, and 24 of its finest actors met up at Barry. The playwrights drew from a hat the names of six hypothetical plays. From another hat, they each drew a director's name, and from a third hat, the names of four actors. Then they went home to write a script based on the supplied titles. Now the directors and actors are whipping these newborn scripts into plays. They have less than 12 hours. Shortly before 8 p.m., the house will open and fill to near-capacity with theatergoers who've paid $50 a head to watch great artists narrowly avoid meltdown, calamity, and humiliation.
Extremely good vibes are in the air. Playwrights, directors, and actors busy themselves in and around the big theater. At the moment, great peals of laughter are rolling off the stage as Paul Tei, the punky, goateed patriarch of Mad Cat Theatre Company, tries to block his actors for Michael McKeever's How My Sister, Sally, Collected Her Winnings Despite the Dead Mime in Her Car, a play about a lottery ticket, an angry mime, and Morrissey. Tei is directing actor Reiss Gaspard through a mime routine. Gaspard has just materialized an invisible kitty. He's petting it.
"Give the kitty to them," Tei says, gesturing to the seats. "Make a face, like, what's this?"
Gaspard grins a soft little mime grin.
"Now blow up the balloon. Now try to turn it into something."
Gaspard twists his imaginary balloon, getting flummoxed, hands moving more frantically.
"Right, right — get frustrated!... And then ... pop it! Just pop it!"
Gaspard jumps on the imagined balloon, a look of blazing hatred on his face.
"What'd I tell you?" says actor Matthew Chapman, in character, smiling hugely. "That is one angry mime!"
McKeever is sitting in the audience, looking delighted. He did not sleep last night. "But I'm doing well," he says. You believe him. McKeever has the pecs of a Renaissance sculptor's most optimistically proportioned wet dream, and he looks ready to run a decathlon. "We talked for about a half-hour, 45 minutes last night. Then I went home." He got to work immediately. "I've always loved the concept of angry mimes. And then near the end — about half of what I wrote, I dumped out and started over."
He finished somewhere between 4 and 4:30 a.m. "The alarm went off at 5. We got in the car and left."
Writer Marco Ramirez, whose Mister Beast is showing at Mad Cat, sits down next to McKeever.
"Same thing for me," he says. "It was an all-nighter. Maybe slept 20 minutes. Michael and I kept calling each other, playing phone tag — 'Hey, what's up? How's it going?'"
Rather than write a single play for four actors, Ramirez penned two pieces during the night: one for Promethean Theatre's Deborah Sherman and the Naked Stage's David Perez Ribada, and another for Mad Cat's Scott Genn and GableStage's Joe Adler, who is stepping out from behind the scenes to act. The prospect sent ripples of giddy anticipation through the community the moment word got out. When Adler arrived at GableStage this morning, he discovered he'd be playing a Stormtrooper. Not the Nazi kind. The Star Wars kind.
"It's that edgy sketch-comedy kind of stuff," says Ramirez. "I figure for the Joe Adler piece, everybody's going to be anticipating big laughs."
"He has the best line of the night," says McKeever: "Fuckin' Ewoks!"
The good vibes continue unabated for hours. Stuart Meltzer is in the dressing room, looking very businesslike, running his people through Juan C. Sanchez's Less than Beautiful. In the corner of the house, practicing Will Cabrera's I Was the Only Lemming on Noah's Ark, Ceci Fernandez is trying to figure out what a lemming sounds like when it cries, and come up with a stupefyingly cute cross between a hiccup and a squeal. In the back of the theater, Kim St. Leon is watching her crew read through Ricky J. Martinez's Dime Store Novel, and Bechir Sylvain is working on a broad-stroke parody of an Indian accent that's sending Martinez into paroxysms of giggling. He looks totally sleep-deprived, but he's plainly tickled to hear his fresh-off-the-printer words given life by some of SoFla's most beloved actors. Somewhere, Meredith Lasher is trying to midwife Andie Arthur's apocalyptic Dinner at the End of the World. Outside, Andy Quiroga is bouncing back and forth from Adler and Genn, who are cracking themselves up with Ramirez's Star Wars script, to Perez-Ribada and Sherman, who are working on Ramirez's soberer Twenty-Six. Twenty-Six is about a man who overnight has grown 30 stories tall, and the sister who comes to visit him.