Fruits of 24 hour play contest on show

Of all the skills a playwright must develop to be in full command of their craft - an ear for dialogue, a command of pacing, a knack for character - the most crucial is undoubtedly the ability to sit down and actually write.

Of all the skills a playwright must develop to be in full command of their craft – an ear for dialogue, a command of pacing, a knack for character – the most crucial is undoubtedly the ability to sit down and actually write.

We’ll never know if Samuel Beckett or Noel Coward would have been seduced into inaction by Facebook or Buzzfeed’s 25 Funniest Cat Gifs Ever, but it’s safe to say that into their greatest works, and indeed into the works of any great playwright, went a tremendous battle with procrastination.

For any writer, there is always something – reorganizing bookshelves, doing the dishes, finishing one’s taxes – more appealing than the idea that the words on the page might come out wrong, or not at all.

This is the draw of the Nakai Theatre’s 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge, which took place Oct. 5 and 6 at the Edgewater Hotel in Whitehorse. This year’s writing marathon – the 27th annual staging of the event by the Nakai Theatre – saw some 22 participants take up the gauntlet, agreeing to lock themselves in a hotel room and write for as long as was physically and mentally possible. The twist – and what essentially acts as an ironclad contract forcing participants to create – is that they will perform, read, or otherwise stage five minutes of what they’ve created this Saturday night in front of a live audience 24 Hour Playwriting Cabaret.

David Skelton, the artistic director of the Nakai Theatre, was one of this year’s participants, and will present a portion of a play he first began working on in the 2011 challenge.

“For myself, I need to have different ways of writing,” explains Skelton, who declines to describe the work he’ll present on Saturday. “I have periods of writing where I just have a very open-ended time with blue-sky ideas, lines, or images I want to portray, but no real practicalities about dialogue or anything like that. So for me, this time allows me to take that raw material and set a deadline to compile and edit it.”

Dawsonite Mary Fraughton, a recent graduate of Vancouver Island University’s Creative Writing program, had wanted to participate in the 24 hour challenge in previous years, but it always fell during her busy mid-term season at school. This year, she looked up the event (normally staged in November) just a few days before it was due to start and had to scramble to enter.

“It was literally like two or three days before,” says Fraughton. “I had to beg for a ride down to Whitehorse.”

At just 24 years old, Fraughton is one of the younger participants in the challenge, but she’s already got another play, Making Tracks, going into production next spring, to be staged in Nanaimo by the Western Edge Theatre.

Like Making Tracks, Fraughton’s work created in the 24 hour challenge draws on her personal experience growing up in the Yukon bush. It’s a one-person play, and for her five-minute showcase, Fraughton will take on the role of performer.

“I’ve rehearsed for myself, and for my dog, and that’s about it,” she jokes.

However the audience and jury receive her performance, Fraughton is keen to participate in the challenge again.

“It’s great to create a space where there’s nothing to do but write,” she says, noting that she threw a blanket over the television in her hotel room and pretended it wasn’t there. “And there’s a camaraderie that comes out of doing this with 21 other writers. At 11 o’clock they had something called ‘whiskey hour’ where we came down to the lounge for a drink. And I realized that, in the same way too much alcohol lowers your inhibitions, too much writing can do the same thing. I came down to talk with all these other writers and I had like, no filter on.”

Though not every piece created in the 24 hour challenge will be a diamond, or even go on to be a fully-formed play, past year’s efforts have borne some serious fruit. Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather’s 60 Below was born at the 24 hour challenge, as was The River by Skelton, Judith Rudakoff and Joseph Tisiga. Syphilis: A Love Story, by Peter Jickling, came out of the 2009 challenge, and made it to both the Edmonton and Victoria Fringe Festivals.

“Sitting in the hotel room by myself really forced me to get my thoughts in order and hammer out as much of the story as I could,” says Jickling, who participated in 2009, 2010, and 2012. “The final product is very different from what I came up with at the end of 24 hours, but that initial burst of productivity was essential to the process.”

“It really is a lot of fun,” he adds. “It gets a bit stressful when it’s 4 a.m. and you’re trying to write but you can’t think straight because you haven’t slept and you’re a bit drunk, but in retrospect even those moments of panic end up being an important part of the event.”

Ultimately, Skelton says, the Nakai’s performance cabaret is a lot more entertaining than an evening of amateur theatre ought to be. There are prizes, audience participation, and a supportive crowd.

“It’s an opportunity for the playwright to see what audiences think of what they’ve done, and for the audience to get a peek into what’s being created,” he says. “It’s really rough and ready, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The 24 Hour Playwriting Cabaret will take place on Nov. 9 at the Yukon Inn’s Fireside Room, beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information, visit

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read