Nearly a decade ago, Jerry Rapier and Cheryl Cluff of Plan-B Theatre decided to bring to Utah a 24-hour theatre event concept -- one that had been tried in other areas of the country -- and the first SLAM was born.
After eight successful runs, Plan-B Theatre is at it again. At 8 p.m. Saturday, May 12, they'll present five original short plays in one night. They'll also announce the 2012-13 season.
Five local playwrights will meet at 9 p.m. Friday, May 11, to learn the SLAM parameters, which change slightly each year. Then for the next 12 hours, they will furiously draft and perfect their own original 10-minute plays. The following morning, at 9 a.m., the actors and directors find out which playwrights they were assigned to the night before.
The actors and directors will have eleven hours to memorize lines and develop characters before presenting it all to a live audience that evening. The whole event occurs in a 24-hour period -- a process that would normally take at least 18 months from the time pen hits paper to opening night.
Some of the participants say it is a stressful process, while others say they love the challenge -- but everyone agrees that SLAM produces massive amounts of adrenaline, excitement and energy for those involved, including the audience.
"When we started it, we thought it would be fun to do it once," Rapier said.
But the event was so popular that it has become an annual tradition, and now local universities have adopted similar productions.
Actors dress in black, using no props or costumes.
"The idea is to really focus on the play. Artistically, it is an exercise in trusting your instincts. It is very freeing in that there is not enough time to over-analyze and over-think, so you go with your gut," Rapier said.
Latoya Rhodes, originally from Kaysville and now living in Salt Lake City, is in her second year participating as an actress in SLAM. She likes the fact that the event keeps her focused in the moment.
"It is intense but it is fun," she said. "There is no time to think about how it will go. It is all adrenaline."
Fuel up, hold on
Rhodes learned from last year's experience that it is important to rest up beforehand and to remember to eat and drink during the long day of rehearsal.
"It is a combination of coffee, adrenaline and fear that puts people at the top of their game," Rapier said. "It feels like they have rehearsed for weeks when the shows go on."
Four plays from previous SLAMS have been developed into full-length plays, and so far three have been produced.
Rapier described the event as "unique" and "energizing," and said, "You never really know which shows will fly until the audience is there."
The audience becomes the important final component in the climax of the 24-hour event as they give their reaction to the works.
Rapier said that every year he sees the same cycle of emotions. Playwrights start our optimistic and believe they are writing something brilliant. Those thoughts give way to doubts until they believe it is the worst play they have ever written, and by the end they usually just want to go home and get some sleep, he said.
It is the same for the actors.
"At some point in the day, they all suck and by the evening everything comes together," Rapier said. "The day runs the full gamut of emotions of everything you experience in a full-length rehearsal process, but in one day."
New and veteran
Kalyn West, a Weber State University musical theatre student, is participating in SLAM as an actress for the first time this year. She did something similar -- "Play in a Day" -- with the university in the past. She has heard it is stressful, but is still excited.
"I hope I am at least a little bit prepared," West said.
"When your mind and body know that you have to memorize something by a deadline, it just opens up like a sponge. I am interested to test my absorbing capabilities," she added about her enthusiasm for the challenge.
Carleton Bluford, of Ogden, is in his third year as an actor with SLAM. He described the experience as part punishment, part thrill.
"The payoff is always great, but it is kind of a rough day," he said.
Bluford said the audience is always excited afterward.
"It is like they are in on an inside joke and waiting for something to happen or something to go wrong, but it usually doesn't," he said.
Kyle Lewis, a Weber State graduate living in Midvale, has been with SLAM since the first year and he can't get enough.
"It is a blast. I started calling it 'Theatre Christmas,' " Lewis said. "I enjoy the format and the fast-paced, fantastic energy of the day."
He started out as a director before trying his hand at acting for one year. After that, he decided to stick with directing. He took a few years off to attend graduate school in Arizona and is back this year.
His wife, Colleen Lewis, is participating as an actress.
"I guess it is more fun for me than the actors because I don't have to memorize lines," he conceded.
Each year, Lewis looks forward to the element of surprise.
"You never know what you'll get, but you do what you can and have a good time doing it," Lewis said.