On November 12th, America Ferrara, Brooklyn Decker, Justin Long, Rachel Dratch, Seth Green, Rosie Perez, Vanessa Hudgens, Zosia Mamet, Billy Crudup, Gabourey Sidibe, Gina Gershon and Sam Rockwell and others will perform in the 12th annual 24 Hour Plays on Broadway.
The journey to get there is as exciting as the performances themselves. Famous playwrights, (Theresa Rebeck, Adam Bock, Jonathan Marc Sherman and Rachel Axler), gather with the actors the day before. They come bearing costumes, props and share special talents and skills.
Ever inspired, each writer composes a 10-minute play by 7 a.m. the following morning. The directors select the pieces and cast the plays. The actors rehearse all day and the shows are performed at 8 pm in front of a live, paying audience on a Broadway stage at the American Airlines Theater.
This marathon of theater and music has helped Urban Arts Partnership raise millions for their programs to bring arts programs (like photography, music, dance, playwriting, theater, visual arts) to students in underserved public schools.
With all this talent, it's a special night. But what makes the night even more special is that a passionate 21-year-old writer, Maynor Alas, will be writing his very own play alongside the pros. Last month, Montblanc held its third annual Young Writer's Program so an Urban Arts playwriting alumni (like Alas) could compete for a chance to write on Broadway.
During the competition last month, Urban Arts alumni and students wrote short plays that were performed by actors from the HBO family before an audience of industry professionals and a panel of judges. Jan-Patrick Schmitz, president and CEO of Montblanc North America, which has long supported Urban Arts, was one of the judges.
Schmitz saw something special in Maynor Alas, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from El Salvador. In Alas' play, Astonishing Panorama of the End Times, Satan and Cthulhu (the God of madness) are a couple shopping for end of the world supplies, bickering like an old married pair over what to buy."I was specifically struck by Maynor's ability to explore iconic mythological characters in a contemporary and humorous way," says Schmitz. "He is a natural playwright."
Alas graduated from New Design High School, which is closely affiliated with Urban Arts Partnership. Their many workshops ignited his passion for playwriting. And he plans to continue honing his craft at HB Studios, the famous theater school. I had a chance to talk with Alas about his love for writing and the challenge of pulling a playwriting all-nighter for the upcoming 24 Hour Plays.
Q: When did you start writing?
Maynor Alas: I've been writing stories since I was little. But I began writing plays during my senior year of high school. Before then I never had anything read out loud. Julia Grob, my acting teacher, really got me started in all this. She was the first one to really help me break out of my comfort zone. She's very inspirational.
Q: Why did you start writing plays?
Maynor Alas: One day, in high school, I was asked to write something in one day to be presented in front of the kids. That was just nerve-wrecking.
Q: What was the play?
Maynor Alas: The title was, She Can't Have Cheese With Her Wine if She's Lactose Intolerant. It was about two guys living in a post-apocalyptic America that was torn apart by the French. And it involved an elaborate scheme with Au Bon Pain and baguettes. I worried about everyone getting the lines correct, but it was such an exhilaration. Once it was performed, I got such a rush. At that moment, I thought, I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life.
Q: Do you remember a play that really had an impact on you?
Maynor Alas: In high school, I saw a five-hour play, Morning Becomes Electra. It was just so moving and very, very emotional. And it really got me thinking that maybe I could write long, dramatic plays myself someday. Or maybe comedic plays?
Q: What inspired your play, Astonishing Panorama of the End Times, which won last month's competition?
Maynor Alas: It all started when I was walking down the street and saw a poster for an end-of-the-world party on December 21. I thought, this it's very relevant right now. Let me just make a farce about that.
Q: What went through your mind when you won last month's competition?
Maynor Alas: This is my second time in the Montblanc Young Writer's Competition. The first time, I was sick and couldn't participate. So that was disappointing. So last year was going to be my moment for redemption. I thought, I missed it the first time. I want to show everybody. But it didn't work the way I wanted. I was pretty upset that I didn't win. I finally decided that I'm going to do this again. I'm going to win it this time. And I came back and I won.
Q: So you're going to write a play overnight. What is your survival secret?
Maynor Alas: Coffee. Lots of coffee. And have fun with it. I don't want to make the audience bored because what's the point of really writing. The key is to enjoy what you're doing. I think of what my Urban Arts playwriting teacher Zac Kline always said, "Keep the play moving forward." That's what I try to do. I try not to stick too closely to one particular moment. I just keep moving.