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  • Tom Moran

Alaska Overnighters


This is a playwriting site, so perhaps I'd better write a bit about drama, eh? A few weeks ago I traveled down to Anchorage to take place in the Alaska Overnighters, run by Last Frontier Theater Conference head honcho Dawson Moore. Eight playwrights get handed prompts and assigned casts at 8pm-ish, then they write plays overnight and hand them off in the morning. Then they're staged that night. I've done a few of these events in the past and have always enjoyed the hell out of them, which is why it was totally worth the 720-mile roundtrip to do this one.

I've always been pretty happy with my output from these sort of things: for whatever reason, time pressure and major limitations on cast size, props, etc. seem to bring out my creativity. And I can usually get the play done at a not terribly unreasonable hour.

I was given a cast of three men and three women, a director (Erin Mitchell) and a few basic notes on the actors' abilities. The theme this year was the Zodiac, and my prompt was "Everything happens for a reason, and that reason surely is in the stars." Which I don't actually believe, but I thought it was a solid foundation to work with.

Six actors are generally more than I want or need for a ten-minute play (but I lucked out, other folks got up to 11!) but in the end the number worked out very well, as it let me add a very theatrical element to what was otherwise a conventional three-person plot: A man and his wife get engaged, the man's pragmatic father objects to the wife because she's flaky, he makes up a lie to try to break them up, but everyone comes to their senses before it's too late.

The twist was, each person's Zodiac sign was also a character. They read the people their horoscopes, offered advice, and ultimately convinced everyone to do the right thing - even the character who doesn't believe in them. It helped make the plot way more interesting, and having a bull, fish and scorpion (photo below) as characters also gave me some very solid opportunities for laughs. Once I got the basics down the play largely wrote itself, and I was able to wrap it up at 2 AM, though I did a couple of quick revisions in the morning to try to better define the main character's arc. The result was a piece that got a lot of laughs and applause and that I think acquitted itself very well (though the bar is pretty low at these things.) Several folks told me it was one of the more coherent pieces they've seen at the Overnighters. It's still a bit rough around the edges, but it's something I could see throwing at another contest or two once I make a few fixes.

If it weren't for the sleep deprivation, I'm pretty sure I could do one of these every week.

Me with "Scorpio"


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