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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Theatre Arts Club pulls off one day play

Callum Standish
The cast of “Dr. Faustus” takes a triumphant bow after their first performance.

A knowing audience of students and community members alike sit patiently in the dim theater. After a warm welcome and a thank you the show begins. The crowd is captivated and the performances are passionate.

You would never know they had only 24 hours to prepare. To decide on the play. To write an original adaptation. To rehearse and to perform before a live audience.

This is what’s known as a 24-hour play. It was the first Theatre Arts Club event of the semester and the first in-person performance since Feb. 2020. The club had lost funding and became defunct during the pandemic.

This year the club was brought back and returned with a strong first show. The event was a fundraiser for club members to attend the United States Institute for Theatre Technology Conference this spring. With weeks of setup and prep work, they only had one day to pull it off.

The source material for the 24-hour play, “Doctor Faustus”, was chosen randomly by spinning a wheel Friday morning. At 4 p.m. that evening roles were assigned and the actors cast as the controlled chaos began.

The general outline of the script was written first, with plenty of room for actors to improvise. Concepts and ideas flowed as writers collaborated to find what they wanted to maintain of the source material and what they wanted the modern story to be. Simultaneously the cast worked to get sets and costumes designed and ready for the show.

In the original play, Dr. Faustus agrees to sell his soul to Lucifer in exchange for 24 years of unbridled knowledge and power. The club’s adaptation substitutes a yearning for knowledge with a desire for social media fame and online validation.

“There’s ideas and scenes you take from the book. There’s also improvising and transcribing stuff as it goes” John Crosthwaite, lecturer, TAC advisor and director of the 24-hour play, said. Ideas for different plots and themes were workshopped on a whiteboard.

Opposing forces of good and evil pull at protagonist Francis, played by Claire Vandeman.
Opposing forces of good and evil pull at protagonist Francis, played by Claire Vandeman. (Callum Standish)

Adapting the storyline and themes of the original play to fit into a modern framework was a unique challenge that resulted in a topical and relevant plot. The writing crew worked for about four hours to have a script ready for rehearsal.

The play began with scenes from the original “Faustus” then transitioned to a present-day storyline following aspiring influencer Francis. Through self-reflection and personal growth Francis decided to save her soul and return to anonymity.

It was a self-aware satire with topical jokes, fourth-wall breaks and some audience interaction. A scene in which a demon, Mephistopheles, learns about the internet and then happily explains its torturous potential to Lucifer felt especially pertinent.

“It was just so powerful and so relatable for the 21st century. Especially as social media has become our main thing,” audience member Jessica Lamas said. “I was so moved.”

The idea of selling one’s soul in the name of internet fame was refreshingly relevant and an effective commentary on the state of social media.

The actors brought the script to life with excellent timing and heartfelt performances. Movement was integral to the show with characters leaving the stage, roaming up and down the aisles and waiting for cues while improvising with audience members.

Of course some sacrifices were made in the name of timeliness. The scripts were shared and read aloud on actor’s phones, which at times caused lines to be spoken too quietly. Some audience members also noted that the makeshift sets and costumes would have benefited from a longer timeline.

The two performances both ran smoothly, unlike the Performing Art Center’s elevator. Between showings a malfunction caused a hydraulic leak with the elevator, soliciting an emergency response and a full building evacuation.

Most of the audience had already cleared out, but the entire cast and crew had to take their dinner break on the lawn in front of Kendall Hall before returning to the stage.

In only 24 hours the revised TAC delivered a well-written and prescient story that blended elements of comedy and horror. There were moments of tension and fear while maintaining a lighthearted, improvised feeling. The art of theatre is alive and well at Chico State.

Callum Standish can be reached at [email protected].

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