The most impressive aspect of Witness Theater’s 24-Hour Show was, unsurprisingly, the time limit. The act of writing and producing a show is incredibly daunting on its own, so the addition of such a short deadline almost seems like a cruel joke. Despite the time constraint, Witness’ most recent production — held on Saturday, Nov. 10, in Arellano Theater — had all the hallmarks of an excellent production. The jokes were funny, the acting was tight and the entire performance was a testament to the group’s creative talent.
The numerous ways that the show’s writers interpreted their prompts, posted to a Facebook page by anyone who wanted to suggest one over the course of about a week, were one of the performance’s most impressive attributes. Some scenes, like sophomore Chloe Otterson’s Finding Each Other, stayed very close to the suggestion and fully explored every branch of humor that it suggested. Others, such as junior Nick Scandura’s You’ll Never Guess What’s in My Bucket, used the prompt as a springboard to launch off toward increasingly unusual and unexpected ideas. There was clearly a lot of creative diversity among the show’s writers, which made for very interesting scripts and kept the audience from knowing how the next short would play out.
The actors also did an excellent job, especially considering how little time they had to work with the material. In particular, there were a lot of little moments peppered throughout the performances that made each short feel very well-rounded and helped to solidify my overall enjoyment of the show.
For instance, one of the funniest moments of the show happened completely in the background of a show. Revisionism, the first short of the night, centered on an artist and her two silent assistants pitching an installation to an influential potential backer. While the backer suggested increasingly grim changes to the instillation, the assistants — played by junior Maya Singh Sharkey and freshman Bridget O’Leary — changed their behavior to match the new, darker tone of the project. I almost didn’t notice the change, but it was a very neat touch that kept the play very engaging while the other characters spoke.
If I had to pick one of the six shorts as my favorite, I would definitely have a hard time choosing between the final two of the performance. Shots — written by sophomores Dominique Dickey and Benjamin Balfanz — had a very simple premise: a middle school student performing a dramatic monologue of the titular song by LMFAO at his school’s talent show. However, the short really heightened every aspect of that premise, making it so incredibly goofy that it was almost impossible not to laugh. Sophomore Aidan Smith’s performance as the student was particularly excellent. From the moment he waddled onto the stage to the moment he was dragged off of it while passionately shouting the chorus, Smith was fully committed to the role, and it was easily the funniest performance of the night.
The Haunting of Chill House, on the other hand, was one of the most consistently funny sketches of the show. Written by freshman Aparajita Kashyap, Chill House is the story of three former frat boys — all named Brandon or some variation thereof — who must confront their shared history after they reunite at their fraternity’s haunted house. From the very beginning, it was packed with jokes that only got funnier as the plot line went further and further off the rails. What started as a reunion between friends quickly spiraled into a dramatic epic on par with The Princess Bride, complete with sword fights and passionate declarations of love, and I laughed through every minute of it.
Kashyap commented on the challenges of writing in an e-mail to The News-Letter.
“The most challenging part for me was definitely writing because I’d never done that before, so I had no clue what I was doing,” Kashyap wrote.
When asked about her writing process she described how it ended differently than what she had planned.
“I’m not sure that I had a creative process, per se. I outlined the script before starting it because I wanted to make sure my play had character development and a solid beginning, middle, and end, but I ended up deviating a lot from that,” she wrote.
In the end, Witness Theater proved to be more than adept at overcoming the 24-hour time limit. The group turned a handful of suggestions into a series of well-written and well-acted shorts that put their wide range of talent on full display.
All in all, it was an excellent show, and I look forward to seeing what the group creates when they aren’t working under a time limit. Witness Theater’s next show will be the Intersession Showcase toward the end of February 2019.