MadLab writers, directors and actors will have 24 hours to create seven short plays to be performed on Saturday, Aug. 17

On the evening of Friday, Aug. 16, a group of actors will show up to MadLab wearing mystery costumes. They’ll split into seven teams with writers and directors, and 24 hours later the teams will perform seven short plays in front of an audience.

“Whatever [the actors] are wearing on Friday night when they get put into teams is their costume for the show. Some of them dress really weird, and the writers will have to incorporate that somehow,” said Colleen Dunne, production manager for MadLab 24. “We also are having writers draw a random line of dialogue that we’ve had people on social media submit for the past couple of weeks, so each writer will get a random line of dialogue they have to incorporate, as well.”

After the teams are set on Friday, the writers stay up late into the evening (or early the next morning) crafting scripts. By Saturday morning, their job is done, and the actors and directors arrive early to begin rehearsing the just-written plays.

“I think the writers have the hardest job,” said Laura Spires, who has been working to plan the event but on Friday will become an actor devoted only to her team. “We’re all relying on them because their work impacts everybody else. MadLab writers, especially, have a hard job because we do two short festivals every year, so our actors and audience members have seen a lot of short plays. So to come up with something that feels really fresh and unique is particularly challenging. Our audience has high expectations for short plays at MadLab.”

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At the same time, the audience for MadLab 24 is in on the joke. They know how these plays were put together, and given that context, theatergoers tend to view the drama through a more forgiving lens. “I think that’s part of the fun as an audience member,” Spires said. “It goes back to improv. Part of the reason things are so funny at improv is because people know, ‘Oh, my God. They just thought of that off the top of their head!’ It’s sort of the same mentality: ‘Wow, that’s so good, and can you believe they only did it in 24 hours?’”

Some of the plays, in fact, could work so well that they turn up again. MadLab hasn’t put on a 24 performance in five years, but some previous MadLab productions, such as “Hanukkah: The Musical,” began as short 24 plays.

There’s also an edge-of-your-seat aspect to these performances, because, of course, things created under such time constraints don’t always go exactly as planned. “People do 24-hour festivals all over the world, but we absolutely require our actors to be off book. There are no scripts allowed onstage during the performance,” Dunne said. “It’s like you’re going to a hockey game and waiting for a fight. Or you’re going to a NASCAR race and hoping for a crash. There is that element of, ‘Will this all just completely fall apart?’ ’Cause it might!”