I love speed writing challenges. For years I was part of “TheAtrainPlays,” a project where playwrights picked characters out of a hat, got on the subway train at the top of the A line, and wrote a 15-minute play which would be performed at the Neighborhood Playhouse but whose set would be the subway train itself.
At the end of the line, at Far Rockaway, the playwrights were randomly matched up with a lyricist-composer– that’s what I did. We read the playwright’s script and wrote songs while traveling up the line to the Bronx and then back down until we met the actors back at midtown. The plays were presented the next day, off-book, with a full band. Guided by the energy of actor/producer Larry Feeney, it was breathless and wonderful, exhilarating and wicked fun.
We haven’t done theAtrainplays regularly for a few years now, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to be part of the Washington DC edition of the 48 Hour Film Project, with the production company Sciatica Veer Films. In this speed writing event, filmmaking teams are given a genre, a prop, and a character name, and have to shoot and edit a film in 48 hours.
When Sciatica Veer drew “comedy” as their genre, my good friend Marni Penning recommended that I come down from New York to act in their piece. It was last minute, but I wasn’t doing anything that weekend, and I was looking for material for my acting reel. I had recently found myself filming a lot of student films up at Columbia, and while they were great acting experiences, the material tended to be more dramatic, and the wait time for finished product was measured by the months and years.
But Jason Mullis’ production company Sciatica Veer had office space and a history of cranking out industrial films and video that looked great, in short order. They were able to scrape together an outline, outstanding actors, and an idea about a “show within a show” called “Zombie School” that would allow them to use the character name prominently and eventually won us the “Best Use of Character” award, along with being named among the 25 “Best of the Fest” films out of hundreds of submissions.
So I was not only able to give a comic performance that I think really reflects what I do as an actor (awkward secretary in a natural, “Office”-y vein), but in a full-circle moment, I was able to help out and compose the theme song for “Zombie School” in about 15 minutes from pencil to recording studio. The spirit of the Atrainplays lives!
Here’s the final product, up on Youtube. The genre we were given was “comedy”, the prop was “a pencil,” and the character was “Riley Thompkins, a teacher.”
Posted on July 31, 2014