When a party school atmosphere mixes with the art of theater, Midnight Madness happens.
Maybe the audience has been out drinking before, maybe they’ve been unwinding from a week of class, but at 11 p.m. they come together to see Ohio University’s MFA playwrights present five days’ worth of work.
“Personally I like theater that has more of a casual, sexy vibe,” Catherine Weingarten, a third year graduate student studying playwriting, said. “I like when madness goes crazy, when (the audience is) cheering too loud.”
Madness is an event that features the work of the program’s eight playwrights each week. In one academic week, playwrights must write, cast and rehearse three to five minute plays to be performed Friday. Free tickets are first come, first serve. Audience members show up as early as 9 p.m., Weingarten said.
Weingarten will produce the first Madness of the year, an experience she describes as being both “thrilling” and “scary.”
“(Producing is) almost like … you’re planning a party. But do you want to throw a lame party that no one is going to come to?” she said. “It’s like the more effort you put into it, the better it will be.”
Madness isn’t just a bunch of skits, they are true plays. Each of them falls in line with a prompt chosen by the producer. It is the producer’s job to arrange the plays so they tell a full story, Weingarten said.
“The thing about producing that people don’t realize is that if your prompt sucks, you’re kind of screwed,” Weingarten said. “You can ruin the whole Madness.”
Weingarten chose Summer Camp Madness as the first theme.
“My aesthetic is pretty girly, pretty trashy,” she said. “I did prom, casual sex, just like fun trashy stuff.”
The other playwrights’ jobs are a little simpler without the pressure of producing, Weingarten said.
“Some playwrights are super last minute, and they’re good enough writers they can get away with it,” she said.
The process for the actors is also much shorter than in a full-length play.
“Instead of rehearsing for weeks, we rehearse for minutes,” Carson Cerney, a second year graduate student studying acting, said.
He said the time frame takes the indecision out of the process. Writers and actors make a choice and stick with it.
“I mean it’s Madness. It’s mad. It’s crazy. It’s wild,” Cerney said. “I get a chance to work on new material. Maybe I get to show the audience, my peers and the faculty a new side of me.”
One of the best audience reactions Cerney said he has had was to a play he acted in last year. He played a father awkwardly dealing with his daughter’s first period. The audience’s view of the actress was obstructed. At its climax, the daughter came out from behind the acting block as a woman going off to war.
“I remember the audience reaction was wonderful. I remember a lot of people being upset, and that’s wonderful to elicit that kind of reaction because that means that, A: writers did a great job and B: the actors didn’t suck.” Cerney said.
Rachel Bykowski, a third year graduate student studying playwriting, said one may think the rowdy atmosphere would be limiting to writers. But well-written dramas and tragedies get just as much attention as lighthearted plays.
Due to “a little bit of an activist bone,” Bykowski said she leans toward exploring women’s issues.
She previously produced Silence Madness, asking playwrights to include one moment of silence in their plays. In the play Bykowski wrote, she said she explored the ways silence can affect a relationship. Even in silence, the audience could still see the abuse that existed between her characters.
Weingarten said Madness has taught her how to interact with her own work and her actors. Now she has a more intuitive relationship with both.
“The great thing about Madness is each week I get to see how an audience interacts with my work,” she said. “It’s such a gift to be able to do it.”