Who Wants to See an Actor Fall Apart on Stage?
At 8 p.m. on Friday, a member of BRAT Productions named Megan Slater will usher in a performance of The Bald Soprano with the line, “There, it’s 9 o’clock.” Twenty-four hours later, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, all six exhausted actors will utter, in unison, “It’s not that way, it’s over here!” thus concluding the performance. During the 24 hours in between, the six actors on stage will be performing The Bald Soprano repeatedly. Non-stop. With no breaks, no sleep, and only a few minutes per showing to grab a sandwich before rushing back on stage.
“In truth, the actors will have been up longer than 24 hours,” says local actor Bradley Wrenn, who is the only one of the six performers who has done this before, having performed in this 24-hour absurdathon two years previous. “They got up that morning, so they’ve been up for a while by the time the play begins.” Over the course of the play’s 24 hours, he says, “you can see the actors start to unravel, and people are just exhausted. If you come at three different times, you can see that progression.”
Wrenn plays the Fire Chief, one of the two smaller roles in the play (the other being the Maid.) The four main characters, two couples named the Martins and the Smiths, will spend almost the entire 24 hours on stage. So what about food and bathroom breaks?
“The play is built (not intentionally) so that the Smiths are on stage, and then the Martins are on stage, so that the four main performers get a break every 45 minutes,” says Wrenn, who played one of the main characters in his previous go at this. “And that break is for about eight minutes. So they have just enough time to go to the bathroom and grab a bite to eat, if they need to.”
Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote the absurdist, hour-long play so that at the end, the Martins become the Smiths and the Smiths become the Martins, and the play starts over with the two couples having swapped roles. In the original, however, the play wraps up shortly after returning to its starting point. For this production, the actors just plow through it time after time … after time … after time.
The crowd is an instrumental part of the show. Some people try to take in the whole marathon (“Last time we had some people who stayed for 17 hours,” Wrenn says), while others pop their heads in and out every few hours, watch a few minutes, and then continue on their day. The going gets tough in the morning. Wrenn, who is also one of the three members of an alternative comedy collective called the Berserker Residents, says, “The hardest time for us was 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Most people there are asleep, and that’s when it’s just brutal. You sort of rely on the energy of the crowd, and when they’re there it’s easy. But then you hit that no-man’s land, and … it’s just a matter of will.”
The insanity takes place at Plays and Players Theatre (you can buy tickets here). Audience members buy a ticket for a two-hour block, but are welcome to come and go throughout the 24 hours as long as there is room in the theater.
“Come for 15 minutes. You can come three times, or try to stay the whole time,” says Wrenn. “But it should be viewed as a 24-hour art piece. People who come to the 8 p.m. show, they’ll go home to go to bed and they’ll have this knowledge that it’s still going on. That we’re still performing.”