The event is hyped as "The World's Quickest Theater Festival," and the more cynical among us might suggest that "quick" and "theater festival" are, indeed, a match made in heaven. But 14/48, the 14-plays-produced-in-48-hours creative rush that will be zinging its way through Consolidated Works beginning this weekend, has much more than brevity on its side: The compulsive, occasionally exhilarating energy that fuels it has made its annual appearances since 1997 all sellouts.
Matthew Richter, executive director of ConWorks, sees the success in simple terms: "It's that attraction to what people who really know their shit can do under extreme duress," he says.
The duress begins for participants on Thursday night. The artists gather to randomly select a connecting theme for the next night's series of seven 10-minute plays. After the writers draw another slip of paper determining the number and gender of actors for whom they'll be writing, they head home to knock out an ersatz masterpiece that will be designed, directed, and rehearsed the following day for a production that same evening. It would be remiss to suggest that these desperate inventions always bowl you over—in fact, if you see something spectacular you should consider yourself lucky. That possibility, however, seems to give the experience its little extra kick.
"I think that there's an affection for the format," Richter acknowledges. "If you hate one [play], you got seven more chances."
Your chances seem particularly good this year. The list of participants reads like a roster of Reasons to Take in a Show: directors include Burton Curtis, whose adeptness with comedy can currently be seen in Valley of the Dolls; designers feature Shades of Parkland's intriguing Curtis Taylor; the 14/48 Band has hip local musicians like Eyvind Kang; Wayne Rawley, the maestro behind Theater Schmeater's superlative late-night spoof Money & Run, is among the writers; and performers like the priceless Lauren Weedman (taking a break from her Comedy Central success) will grace the stage.
Though they've been forced to run with some rather unfortunate notions in the past—especially when the audience gets a hand in suggesting the theme for Saturday night's performances and the process starts all over again—the artists often prove up to meeting even that challenge with aplomb.
"The worst [theme] we ever had was 'boots,'" Richter remembers, laughing. "But it actually led to some very fun plays."