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24/7: Charlottesville playwrights stay up all night, produce 7 new short plays

If you’d like to see something original and brand new, you’re in luck: Local playwrights stayed up all night Friday creating seven short plays just for you.

It’s all part of this year’s “24/7,” presented by Whole Theatre and Charlottesville Players Guild. Performances are at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; the festival, now in its 13th season, will be presented at Jefferson School African American Heritage Center for the first time.

Ray Nedzel of Whole Theatre said that the fun started on Friday evening with a theme for Saturday’s shows — anything from “lawnmower repair” to “the road to nirvana” — drawn from a hat. Each of the seven participating playwrights then drew his or her casting requirements from the hat, plus an inspirational word or phrase to help shape the work, before sitting down to write a 10-minute play overnight.

Early Saturday morning, each of the seven directors will pull one of the fresh scripts out of the hat and get one hour to speak with its playwright. When the actors arrive, casting happens when each director pulls names out of the hat. Nobody gets left out.

“Every actor gets a role,” Nedzel said. “There will be a total of 24 roles written. They might be mourning a loss; they might be falling in love. That’s the excitement. It focuses also on the collective; we’re all in this together.”

Then it’s time to start rehearsing to prepare for the evening performances. That’s where the magic happens.

“There are many ways to flip the script on how theater is done,” Nedzel said. “It’s a really good way to hear some unheard voices. We don’t have to program six months in advance and get the rights. The key is, ‘How does this play work now with the ingredients I’ve been given? How can I best present this?’

“And the audience is in on it. It’s the very first show, so there’s a little amazement when it actually works. It’s not perfect, but everyone is trying to make it perfect.”

Over the years, participants and audience members alike have found “24/7” a refreshing reminder of what live theater can be.

“I’m humbled, but I’m not surprised, when people tell me it’s the favorite thing that they’ve ever done,” Nedzel said. “ One thing that’ll never change is the randomness, the enthusiasm and the commitment to creativity.”

Leslie Scott-Jones of Charlottesville Players Guild has participated in “24/7” as an actor three times, as a director once and as a playwright once. She said the compressed time frame of “24/7” lifts participants out of years of habits and expectations and into a creative, collaborative zone.

“When I direct a play, I start prepping a year in advance. This is not that,” Scott-Jones said with a chuckle. “You get handed a script at 7 a.m., and you are performing it at 7 p.m. You get the lead out, and you make it happen.”

Scott-Jones fondly remembers playing the goddess of the forest in one play, and she still marvels at how one playwright turned in a musical about a beauty pageant that included five brand-new songs. “Very proudly, I am the reigning Miss Kentucky Fried Dream,” she said.

For actors and others who’ve dreamed of becoming playwrights, “it’s a perfect way to get your feet wet and see if it’s something you want to pursue,” Scott-Jones said. “As a writer, the challenge is, ‘I just wrote seven pages and took it through a workshopping experience in 24 hours.’ “

Experienced coaches are available overnight in case playwrights need them, but “you don’t have time to allow yourself to get stuck,” she said. “This is a nice way to stick your foot in. It’s low impact. It’s seven pages of dialogue. That’s nothing. That’s absolutely nothing. It can stretch you in interesting ways. And it’s hilariously fun.”

Teamwork is heightened because “you’re all in the same boat,” she said. “It’s a beautiful illustration of what live theater can do, and it brings people together in ways you would never participate in otherwise. It’s a magical day.”

Scott-Jones said the “24/7” ticket proceeds will benefit CPG in several ways.

Paying artists per rehearsal and performance can help CPG set the professional tone it values, which can help actors grow and prepare for more challenging roles.

“You walk in that room confident that you know what your job is, which is the role you’ve been cast for,” Scott-Jones said. “I would love to pay these people just a fraction of what they’re worth.”

The cost of securing the rights to plays has tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a significant burden for community theaters, Scott-Jones said. Getting permission to present a play for two weeks that once cost $800 can cost more than $1,800 today, she said. It’s also important to purchase licensing for lighting programs and other production needs, she said.

“It makes it difficult for community theaters to do these plays,” Scott-Jones said. “It makes it difficult to plan a season. Production costs have gone up so much.”

The fundraiser also makes sure more perspectives find their time in the spotlight. At CPG, “the work we do is so steeped in the Black experience,” Scott-Jones said. “It’s always about lifting up that particular strand of Blackness and talking about it.”

Tickets are $40 for VIP seats and $20 for general admission. A limited number of $15 seats will be available.

Keep an eye out at each show for a silent auction offering brown-bag lunches with Andrea Douglas and Leah Puryear, a private tour of Monticello and a wine tasting in an elegant private tasting room at Crush Pad. Also up for bid is a playwriting seminar with Scott-Jones. Learn more at


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