One day, one room, one play

The brain can do strange things when it's been awake for 24 hours. That's especially true for a creative mind, which is already a bit of an unconventional place.

The brain can do strange things when it’s been awake for 24 hours. That’s especially true for a creative mind, which is already a bit of an unconventional place.

Mix the two together and you end up, essentially, with the premise for Nakai Theatre’s 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge.

For 24-hours writers are challenged to spend their time away from daily life, in a hotel, focused on their writing.

This year’s event takes place from 1 p.m. Nov. 8 to 1 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Best Western Gold Rush Inn.

Last year was the first time Dawsonite Mary Fraughton gave the challenge a try.

In 24 hours she managed to produce the first draft of a one-woman show titled When the Wind is Hungry.

Being alone in a hotel room has a particular draw for her, she says. She admits she wouldn’t have made a very good roommate.

“Personally my writing process involves a lot of being naked and juggling. It’s hard to do that when you don’t have the privacy of a room.”

After confirming that was, in fact, not a joke, Fraughton pauses.

“Oh my God, this is going to be in the newspaper,” she says, chuckling.

She says there is a certain freedom that comes with writing in the nude.

“Partly it’s a sensory thing. So there’s nothing really distracting me. Partly it’s just indulging in being alone. And partly it’s an inhibitions thing.”

Checking your inhibitions at the door is important, she says.

“Because otherwise there’s no point. If you are trying to write with inhibitions you’re censoring yourself, so I try not to do that.”

Now add the juggling swords.

All three blades are about the length of her forearm.

“They’re not sharp. They just kind of look dramatic,” she insists.

The juggling contributes to Fraughton’s writing style.

Her dialogue ends up with a very rhythmic cadence, she says. Often it’s a three-beat rhythm, similar to throwing and catching the trio of swords.

Nakai has been putting on the 24-hour challenge since 1985. That would make it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, event of its kind, said Nakai’s artistic director, David Skelton.

Since then, similar events have taken place across Canada, the United States and as far away as Singapore.

“You have 24 hours to be outside of your normal life and just focus on writing. I invite anybody who’s got an idea for a play, or they’ve got a play that’s half written or a play that they just need to tweak before it goes to production, to come and take time to write,” he says.

“Because I just want people to have an opportunity to write. Just focus on that.”

Skelton acts as a bit of a sounding board for the writers – someone they can approach during the challenge to bounce ideas off of him and get advice.

He has also participated as a writer in the past. He says he gave himself five hours to write “and then everything else is gravy.”

“The kind of writing changes because you’re tired. When you’re starting, I think, you have more opportunity to be premeditated. After a certain amount of time you’re sort of blathering,” he says.

“Nonetheless, that blathering can be really informative when you go back and look at it. After a little sleep.”

Skelton says he’s seen writers go through cycles of intense, inspired writing followed by periods where they’ll just wander the halls aimlessly, hunting for coffee – which is always available.

One year a participant was spotted walking around the hotel wearing a Mexican wrestling mask “and scaring the shit out of everyone,” Skelton says.

“And he wasn’t trying to do that, I don’t think. But it was pretty crazy. I have no idea whether regular guests came across him. Certainly members of the challenge did and so, that was pretty fun.”

Writers aren’t forced to stay trapped in their room for the entire time.

Events like yoga, tai chi and dancing are scheduled throughout the night if people feel the need to move around.

Fraughton skipped the calisthenics but was sure to make time for the midnight whisky hour last year.

At that point she had been writing alone for about 11 hours.

She says she’s normally a very shy and quiet person. At the “meet and greet” before the challenge she didn’t speak to anyone.

After all the self-imposed isolation that changed.

“I discovered that after 11 hours straight of writing and not speaking to anyone I just had no inhibitions at all. So I was just sort of babbling to everyone, drinking whisky,” she says.

People only have to hand in a completed piece of work if they want to. In the end there is a competition for best play.

Other prizes are also handed out including for the best use of a mystery item in a play. (Last year’s item was a sasquatch.)

The 2014 prizes haven’t been settled on yet.

Four weeks after the challenge, on Dec. 4 this year, Nakai presents the 24-Hour Cabaret, where participants are invited to present five minutes of their new work to a live audience. A people’s choice award is handed out then.

“What would be ideal is that they come out of it with something that they can see has a next step. They come out of it and they go, ‘Wow this is crazy, I just can’t wait to get at it again and make it into more,’” Skelton says.

The event can sometimes be a springboard for people looking to stage their plays as part of Nakai’s Homegrown Theatre Festival, which is happening in May.

Some 24-hour scripts have been so good that Skelton has offered playwrights a commission to help them work on the next draft.

Fraughton said she is proud of the play she’s written and would like to keep working on a second draft.

She encourages anyone interested in the challenge to take a crack at it.

“It’s so much fun. And if you’re at all like me, and you work well under competitive pressure, you will probably come out with something resembling a manuscript, which is really, really useful.”

Worst-case scenario, you just have a lot of fun, she says.

The last day to register is Nov. 5. Space is limited usually to about 20 people.

The cost is $75 for people participating in Whitehorse and $40 for those writing on their own outside of the city.

If she can manage it, Fraughton says she would love to do the challenge again this year.

Juggling knives and all.

Contact Ashley Joannou at