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Writing and producing a Play in a Day

Monday - 2/11/2013, 8:35am  ET

Megan Thrift acts out a scene where her character attempts to avenge her father's death through the use of martial arts moves her character learned in Japan. (WTOP/Heather Brady)
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Heather Brady,

BETHESDA, Md. - Joe Baker stood in the empty café on the second floor of the Renaissance Inn and surveyed his cast.

The two actors he was working with were holding their scripts and practicing, relaxed but focused.

"We have hours before the performance," Baker said, reassuring the pair standing before him.

For most directors, the final 24 hours before a show can be especially daunting. But for Baker and his cast, 24 hours was all the time they had to write and rehearse their play.

The group was participating in Play in a Day, an event that has become an annual tradition. Kristin Stone Palmer and Robin Mansfield, two East Bethesda residents, approached the Bethesda Urban Partnership with the idea in 2004. The partnership, a nonprofit established by Montgomery County, assisted with the event and made it part of the Bethesda Literary Festival in its first year.

Palmer eventually moved to Los Angeles, but Mansfield still serves as the honorary chair of the project. Six professional theater companies from the D.C. area were involved in the event this weekend.

"It is a unique opportunity for the audience to see the companies perform together in one exciting and fun show, since they only have 24 hours to write, direct, rehearse and perform their plays," says Stephanie Coppula, director of marketing and communications for the Bethesda Urban Partnership.

This year's event began on Friday at 8 p.m. when the playwrights and directors gathered to receive their assignments and props. They were then tasked with writing a 10-minute play and putting it together by the performance deadline of 8 p.m. the following night.

While Baker and his Keegan Theatre team didn't stay up all night on Friday -- Baker says he likes to have the play written by 10 p.m. -- they did work all day Saturday, taking few breaks and using whatever props they could scrounge together in the café of the hotel where they rehearsed. This was Baker's third year participating in Play in a Day, but the two actors he was working with were new to the event.

The plays were performed at the Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda. Award winners from Saturday night's performances include Olney Theatre Center for "Best Use of Prop," Adventure Theatre for "Best Writing," Flying V Theatre for "Best Direction" and Adventure Theatre for "Best Acting." Keegan Theatre and the American Ensemble Theatre also performed.

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