Tracie Thoms, seen here in 2008, will be part of the acting ensemble for "The… (Los Angeles Times )
The 24 Hour Plays, a staple of the New York City theater community's charitable effort for arts education since 2006, made its L.A. debut last June at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica -- where the clock will begin ticking again Friday at 10 p.m. for the second L.A. installment.
The process calls for a 24-member acting ensemble, six writers and six directors to come up with a half-dozen short plays from conception to performance over the course of 24 hours. It will start Friday evening with actors feeding ideas to the writers, who, working individually, are supposed to finish their scripts by 6 a.m. so the directors can look them over, decide which four actors to attach to which play, and start rehearsals by 8 a.m.
The curtain goes up for ticketholders Saturday at 8 p.m., so technically the lead-off script will be a 22-hour play. A still-to-be-announced musical guest will perform between plays.
The announced acting corps includes Rosie Perez and Diane Neal, members of the Urban Arts Partnership artistic board -- Perez is its chair -- who were also on The 24 Hour Plays team last November in New York. Others include Jason Biggs, Sasha Alexander, Tracie Thoms, Wilmer Valderrama and Brooklyn Decker, who’s making the transition from Sports Illustrated’s 2010 swimsuit issue cover to an acting career. The directing squad is Leigh Kilton Smith, Andy Fickman, Lee Tolan Krieger, Gail Mancuso, Victor Nelli Jr. and Michael Peretzian.
Saturday’s announced writers -- Rachel Axler, Wendy West, Stephen Godchaux, Samantha McIntyre and Kayla Alpert -- mainly bring series television credentials.
The shows in both cities benefit New York-based Urban Arts Partnership, which was able to bring its afterschool classes to about 1,000 students in L.A. last year thanks to the $210,000 raised by the inaugural installment here. The sponsor on both coasts is Montblanc, seller of fancy pens and other luxury items.
Jan Patrick Schmitz, president of Montblanc North America, said one of his favorite parts of the process comes an hour or two into the marathon, after the whole creative group has brainstormed ideas.
Each actor is asked to bring a prop or costume item to deploy, and as the idea-bouncing goes on, Schmitz said, “we're sitting in a circle, and one after another gets up and puts his or her prop in the middle and says, 'I would love to play this type of character.' The writers are taking copious notes, and in the middle of the room you end up with a pile of stuff,” that literally serves as raw material for the performances to come.
Last November's theatrical mad dash in New York featured an all-star team of playwriting sluggers: David Lindsay-Abaire, Terrence McNally, Lynn Nottage and Doug Wright, four writers with three Pulitzer Prizes for drama and five Tony awards among them. Axler, who owns an Emmy Award as part of the writing team for "The Daily Show," was also on that team.
Schmitz said that last June’s L.A. debut didn’t sell out the 499-seat Broad Stage, but he was pleased because it did well enough to create a new educational beachhead for Urban Arts Partnership. In New York, he said, the 740-seat American Airlines Theatre sells out, and the six annual shows there have raised a combined $3.8 million for programs serving about 6,000 students.
Tickets for Saturday are $175 to $300; the online ticketing site (which is not the regular Broad Stage box office site) showed about 75 available seats as of late Friday morning.