Six writers, six directors, 23 actors, five designers, four stage managers, and three theatre professors gather in a blackbox theater at Towson University for a 24-hour PlaySlam. They have 24 hours to write, direct, produce and perform six one-act plays. “Go!” Towson theatre professor David White shouts as students race off. The group is anxious but full of bravado.
Morgan professor Deletta Gillespie draws a theme out of a hat for the playwrights. They will spend the next 10 hours writing one acts about the theme, glass. “With glass I expect more drama,” says Morgan playwright Wilton Howard. “You can go so deep with that.”
The “equality nutcracker,” a toy black nutcracker, goes to Howard and Timothy Huth as a prop they must somehow incorporate into their play. Other props, drawn by other teams, include a spoon, a stroller, a mask, a rope, and measuring cups.
The actors and directors leave the Towson Center for the Arts. Six playwrights stay behind in the otherwise empty building to make art. The clock is ticking.
All is quiet in Towson University’s Center for the Arts building. Outside the Ruth Marder Studio Theatre, the smell of coffee is immediate while the playwrights are hard at work. Steven Barroga, a Towson senior, wanders into the hallway with a mug in one hand and cigarettes in the other. Just before he exits the building to give himself a mental break, he smiles slightly. “Something that I really like about [Playslam] is that because you’re under a time limit, it makes the writing more intuitive while forcing you to not spend as much time thinking about it,” he says, showing no signs of fatigue. “It forces you to make quick judgments which a lot of times are the best things because it’s all working on instincts.”
Barroga makes his way outside the building, toying with the idea of a car crash scene for his mini play. With eight hours of writing left to do, he takes a little break to brainstorm more ideas, and then heads back to work.
Wilton Howard, a Morgan senior, enters the studio theatre and begins rambling about ideas for his play. With “glass” as the theme, the possibilities are endless for this eager playwright. He moves the only table in the studio, suddenly falls underneath it and yells out, “Brunhilda! Brunhilda! Brunhilda!”
Just after his burst of random excitement Howard realized, “I don’t even know what their freaking faces looks like,” referring to his actors. Rushing out of the studio with a hurried “I’ll be right back,” he returns with his actors’ resumes and headshots to assist his creativity.
For a brief moment, Howard rests himself and describes what a playwright does. “A playwright observe[s] everything. Anything and everything can be a stage and [we] write it down so that you’ll never forget it.”
Howard suddenly leaves the studio just as quickly as he came, leaving so much to wonder about his spirited Brunhilda.
Five playwrights wander into the atrium of Towson’s Center for the Arts to scream, releasing the pressure and stress of writing all night long. A few recite lines from films like Independence Day and A Time to Kill. Steve Barroga and Brandon Scott Boyd head outside for a smoke with Jim Harbor, a Morgan Electrical Engineering major in tow, raving about Starship Trooper. They smoke and use this break to talk of movies—anything but playwriting. Scott Boyd, a Towson senior, paces back and forth complaining about his broken computer and the fact that he has been taught to time his plays by the page length and his Smartphone. Tonight, he doesn’t know how long his play is.
Meanwhile, back inside a classroom writers Linus Owens and Dominique Butler are working diligently to finish their plays. Owens listens to Flash Dance’s “What a Feeling.” Already he has started writing seven different plays. “[But] they lost all their power,” he says. “I had to just keep starting over and starting over which I realize is a tool that helps because when it comes to writing something short like this if I get the setting right it really kicks it off for me.”
Butler, a Morgan State student, silently works on scene two of her play. She seems relaxed. “ I feel like [the deadline] is encouraging me,” she says. “If I didn’t have a certain amount of time it wouldn’t be as good or I probably wouldn’t put as much effort into it as I am now.”
Barroga has disappeared in the building, completely out of sight. Every once in awhile Scott Boyd emerges from the writer’s room, a space set aside for the evening’s work. He is shoeless, pacing the building, stopping to chat with other writers before moving forward on his script. Wilton Howard has found a couch in the hallway to finish working out the kinks in his play while Harbor walks from room to room, waiting to have his played edited by a fellow writer.
The Center for the Arts is quiet. The only sound is that of computer keys being tapped, as the playwrights near the finish line, working hard to complete and perfect their scripts.