3 Creative Lessons a 24 Hour Musical Can Teach You

One Night Stand
My daily schedule is a minefield of playdates, meal-makings and writing deadlines. But in no particular order. And with little consistency week to week, despite the valiant efforts of my editors to at least get my column in on time. They could put me on a train in Mussolini’s Italy with an Underwood under my fingers and a gun to my head and I’d still file late.

Consequently, if I want to explore my creative side, I have to do it quickly – in the few minutes I can steal between missing a deadline and picking my kid up from Ollie’s (which sounds like a bar now that I think about it). Thusly, I’ve become a fan of time-constrained creative events like National Novel Writing Month (been there) and 24-Hour film festivals (done that).

Sure, haste makes waste, but one person’s waste is another’s art (and if you don’t believe that you weren’t paying attention to the National Endowment for the Arts in the 80s – “Piss Christ” anyone?).

I recently learned of another way to contort the art-time continuum – the 24-hour musical. And like everything else in my life, I learned from the movies.

Directed by Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton, “One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day,” is a snappy, 90-minute documentary peek behind the curtain of one of the New York theater scene’s greatest innovations – the 24-Hour Musical. In it, writers, composers, lyricists and performers work through the night to create a script, music and lyrics and learn lines then open (and close!) their production in a single evening. What can musical theater with the lifespan of a fruit fly teach you?

1. Work with What You’ve Got

Among the many obstacles creative types put in their own way, is focusing on what they don’t have. Time, tech or tuppence are the big three, but the 24-Hour Musical proves that creative gold can be spun from a tight deadline and little more than one’s talent and a prop or two. In the case of the musical, the creators brought various items to inspire them, from a zoot suit to a pop-up phobia book. It worked. As did the talented cast, many of whom are recognizable working class actors better known as, “you know, that guy from that movie.” It serves to remind that you don’t need marquee names to do something interesting, just the will to do it.

2. Avoid Toxic People

Rachel Dratch… Or more specifically, avoid Rachel Dratch. And people like her. The Saturday Night Live alumnus was among the 20-strong cast of the 24 Hour Musical and damn near torpedoed the efforts of her team by insisting that her song be rewritten no fewer than six times. This kind of insecure, prima donna foot-stamping is hostile to achievement no matter how low the stakes. Creative collaborations are probably the second most satisfying form of human interaction (you could do the first most satisfying form of human interaction over the course of 24 hours too, but you might not ever walk the same). Try to avoid those whose ego-needs eclipse the esprit de corps of your project. And if this is you – stop it.

3. Iterate Quickly

In terms of producing a “minimum viable product,” the works the four creative teams created in the course of a single spin of the earth are exemplary. Here’s the deal – I’d venture to say that the result differs little from a draft that might otherwise have taken months to create. When I recently braved a peek at the opus that resulted from NaNoWriMo last November, I was pleased to find that it was no worse (and often better) than the kind of first attempts that once took me years to complete. The upshot? Work fast, fix it later. Better to have something janky with which to work (or even share) than be bridled by your own perfectionism.

Two themes arose in the post-show audience interviews that conclude One Night Stand: A) They were impressed and surprised by the quality of the entertainment and B) Some were inspired to attempt something similar themselves.

What could you do in 24 hours? Build Rome? I dare you.

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