Annual PlayOffs taking stage at Bloomington Playwrights Project


Tabitha Burton's character, Cecelia, coaches Mike Sheehan's character, Duncan, on how to channel Lady Gaga's "Telephone" persona during a tech rehearsal of their play, "Going Gaga." Burton and Sheehan were part of a team competing in the Ike & Julie Arnove PlayOffs, in which a team of a playwright, director and three actors have 24 hours to work with a surprise theme, prop and line of dialogue to create a full production. Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

At 6 p.m. Friday, playwrights in the Bloomington Playwrights Project PlayOffs will meet with actors, receive a line of dialogue, a prop and a theme. They then have 24 hours to produce a fully-staged production.

This Friday and Saturday, the nonprofit theater organization is holding its annual Ike & Julie Arnove Playoffs, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Tickets are $15.

The event, one of Bloomington Playwrights Project’s yearly fundraisers, brings together nine playwrights, nine directors and 27 actors to create full-fledged productions in the span of 24 hours. On Saturday and Sunday, audience members vote for plays to win MVP and vote for their favorite play to win World Series Champion.

“It’s really the heart of a new play,” Emily Goodson, a member of the PlayOffs, said. “The new play at it’s most new and raw and most horrifying. Like watching the sausage be made.”

Goodson has acted in a number of PlayOffs in the past, and this is her second time taking part as a playwright. In past years, Goodson and her team began the event by sharing their strengths and what they’re comfortable doing. She then brainstormed with her director to talk about lighting, sounds and effects. Then Goodson settled in for the night with a pot of coffee and her laptop until 5 a.m.

Because of the time limit, it’s not like writing other plays, Goodson said. It requires a lot more of going with your gut.

“It becomes a little bit more improvisational,” Goodson said. “You have to trust yourself a little bit more because you can’t rewrite.”

When 5 p.m.arrives, the actors receive the script and have until 7 p.m. that evening to block, rehearse and design the show, which goes up for audiences at 7:30 p.m. 

“Theater is such a collaborative effort — working with a director, working with actors, working with set designers and lighting designers,” Goodson said. “It’s the only sport I’m good at it. It’s like basketball for the weird kids.”

Among the challenges of the PlayOffs are staging, staying focused during the writing, memorizing lines and action. In rare instances, actors have dropped out last minute, and the team has to adjust the script or find another actor to fill in.

“Saturday night is a little rough. That’s probably the biggest obstacle we face,” Tabitha Burton, commissioner for the PlayOffs, said. “Everyone is always worried about memorizing lines, it’s always stressful. But I wouldn’t keep doing it if it wasn’t a fun time and a great experience overall.”

Over half of the people who participate in the PlayOffs are Bloomington community members. By supporting the PlayOffs, audiences support these local writers and actors alongside fundraising for Bloomington Playwrights Project’s future productions.

“They get to come to BPP and see someone they’re supporting,” Burton said. 

The PlayOffs is the BPP's most mission-driven and mission-focused fundraiser of the year, Goodson said. The culture is fun, the mission is fun and the product is fun, she said.

“It’s the reason I got involved in BPP in the very beginning, how much I loved this specific fundraiser,” Goodson said. “It’s the most teamwork, the most chaos, the most theater and new play-driven at its heart. It’s the one that embodies the BPP mission the most.”

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