14/48, SEATTLE'S WEEKEND theater festival, brings eight playwrights together. They are given a theme on Thursday night and each writes a 10-minute play by Friday. A director and some actors rehearse it and perform it twice that night. Then another theme is drawn from a hat and it all happens again. We asked three participants in the most recent 14/48 to keep diaries of their hectic experiences.


THE ACTOR: Barbi Beckett

THE PLAYWRIGHT: Dawson Nichols

THE DIRECTOR: Rachel Katz-Carey

Barbi Beckett: The first meeting was tonight. I'd been looking forward to this, but when I arrived, I started to feel anxious. I didn't want to get out of my car. When we signed in, we were given a sort of force-the-people-to-mingle bingo game. I hate that stuff. I don't really care to lose, yet I don't have enough ambition to win. The organizers talked about the schedule. It all sounded pretty tight, so my biggest concern was snacks. Would there be any, and when would we eat them? That too was covered: There will be baby carrots and broccoli.

We discussed the qualities of a good theme, but people still wrote dumb stuff. Everyone's suggestions went into a hat and one was picked. Nobody liked it. Another was drawn. Then a third! And a fourth! They were considering choosing among them with an applause meter. [Actor] John Paulsen next to me whispered, "This threatens the very fabric of the event." So much for spontaneity and going with your first idea because there's a time crunch and There Are No Bad Ideas. Turns out there were six bad ideas, right in a row.

Dawson Nichols: 10:07 p.m. Just got home. The choosing of a theme was a fiasco--finally a seventh theme was drawn and accepted: "Home for the Holidays." So much for the integrity of the process. Anyway, now I'm settling down to write. Already I can see that this journal will be a wonderful way to avoid getting down to business.

Barbi Beckett: [Actor] Amy Augustine and I talked in the lobby about her previous 14/48 experiences. She said that in one day you hit all the same peaks and valleys that come up in a full-length rehearsal process, and at the end you're left feeling empty and alone--only she made it sound really good.

Dawson Nichols: 10:40 p.m. Right after we were given the theme, I had some good ideas--I know I did. But then we had to wait around while they decided how many actors each of the playwrights got. Everyone started socializing and I forgot my damn ideas.

11:50 p.m. Having decided on one idea and erased everything else--I have a scorched-earth policy with such things--and having spent a half-hour cranking away on it, I'm now thinking of abandoning it entirely and trying something different. The humor I'd intended isn't playing well.

Rachel Katz-Carey: 1:00 a.m. Doing 14/48 is sort of like going into the witness protection program for two days. You're so busy that you have no time for contact with the outside world. My solution is to imagine every single thing I might need and stuff it in my car. I have feather boas, rope, slide whistles, a black cape, and every Christmas CD I can find. And a seltzer bottle--I keep hoping for a reason to use it. What I can't find are the sound-effects CDs I used last year and foolishly told everyone I would bring tomorrow.

Dawson Nichols: 1:15 a.m. I'm coming to the end of the play. The damn thing switched in the middle, so the end isn't for the play I started. I'll have to go back and rewrite the beginning. Despite a blooming headache.

2:15 a.m. Productivity low. I hate my play.

3:26 a.m. Just finished. Will sleep while printing. Already asleep really. I feel like I have thrush.

Nichols: 9:10 a.m. Turned in play. Directors and actors are randomly assigned. My director isn't here yet, so I take Hannah, my daughter, into a waiting room to draw with some crayons I scrounged up. I leave word where we will be, so that when my director has read the play we can talk about it.

Katz-Carey: 9:30 a.m. Each director draws a play from a pile of unmarked envelopes, then pulls the required actors at random from two more envelopes. I have drawn Valentine's Day by Bret Fetzer and Juliet Waller. Bret apologizes for the play in advance. I assure him it will be fine. I and Kathryn Rathke, my randomly assigned designer, sit down to read the play.

9:50 a.m. It takes place in Seattle, Las Vegas, Mazatlan, and the Galapagos Islands. The lead actress will have to parachute out of an airplane and read a long message spelled out in stones on the beach as she falls. She then returns to Seattle, where she is eaten by homicidal tropical flowers in a greenhouse. Kathryn proudly announces that not only does she have a basement full of flower heads that will solve the last scene, she has an eight-foot-wide painted drop that features the face of Tom Jones.

Nichols: 10:45 a.m. Hannah and I go in search of my director. Downstairs we are told that the director gathered the actors and left to rehearse quite some time ago. None of them are in the building. None of them asked me anything. I have left word that I am happy to be called at home with any questions.

Katz-Carey: Noon. [Actor] Brian Neel is the funniest iguana I've ever seen.

Nichols: 12:30 p.m. As no call comes, I realize that they are already rehearsing my play. They have undoubtedly made decisions and committed themselves to interpretations. And I have had no input. I'd feel better about it if I'd had time to put in the sorts of stage directions that would point the way, but I didn't. It would be easy to make the characters absurd--to encourage the audience to laugh AT them. This is my fear. I may write strange characters, but I never want them to be laughed AT.

Beckett: 3:00 p.m. No time for journal entries. Gotta memorize lines. Now. Oh My God. I could easily make this sweet 10-minute play into a weird three-minute play just by putting a little line in the wrong place.

Katz-Carey: 4:40 p.m. Tech Time: My head spins like Linda Blair's as I try to oversee light, sound, set placement, and band cues, all happening at the same time.

Beckett: 8:00 p.m. They've called places for the first show. There hasn't been much time to think about motivation or actions or what I'm doing at all. Intention: I intend to say everything at the right time. Oh Dear Diary, please let that happen.

Nichols: Midnight. Because I am so exhausted, I could only stay for four of the eight shows, which is disappointing. I did see my play and I was fairly well pleased. The actors were committed and mostly on target. Had I a chance to speak to them or the director before they went into rehearsal, I would have begged off some of the campier physical schtick. Still, it was a legitimate interpretation followed through with detail and conviction. "Instant Karma" is tonight's theme. I think I got an idea on the drive home.

1:15 a.m. Last night was like pulling teeth; tonight is going much better. I'm hoping to be done in an hour or so.

3:00 a.m. Finished. No headache or dread. Now bed.

Nichols: 8:30 a.m. Shit, I just woke up. Gotta print and run.

Katz-Carey: 9:15 a.m. This time I draw Dawson Nichols' play, Night Vision. At first glance this play looks MUCH easier. It's three locations: a truck, a diner, and a motel. All seem doable, and our designer has some great ideas for the truck.

Nichols: 12:10 p.m. This time I had an opportunity to speak with the director, the designer, and the entire cast. I was there for four readings of the script and was able to ask and answer questions. God, it felt good to be a part of the process. I think I was able to give some positive input and energy, too. Now a nap--if my daughter will let me.

Beckett: 1:00 p.m. After not quite enough sleep, we're back. Another play by Heidi Heimarck, the same playwright I had yesterday, but yesterday's play was a somber "Homeless for the Holidays" piece and today's is a rock musical with a messiah (or pied piper, we haven't decided). I play a bimbo. I wish it were a stretch, but it comes uncomfortably natural. Not as many words to learn today, just lots of giggling.

Katz-Carey: 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Who knew it could take four-plus hours to work through eight pages of text?! The play has turned out to be denser and more nuanced than it first appeared. I'm nervous--because it's about the relationships, not the action, the actors are going to need a few moments to get their heads together before the lights come up. This doesn't usually happen in the white-knuckle ride that is 14/48.

4:40 p.m. The tech people and I try to figure out why all the light cues are sooo dark. Fifteen minutes into our designated 20, we realize that one whole set of lights has been turned off and we will now have to rewrite every cue in under five minutes.

8:00 p.m. The shows begins. I can no longer form complete sentences, but for a while, no one will ask me to.

8:40 p.m. I now realize that Dawson and I heard the play differently. To me it was the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, and I think Dawson wanted something else.

Nichols: 11:00 p.m. Just back from the theater. What struck me most was the audience. The whole atmosphere was joyously festive, and the live music really kept that buoyancy going. Each time the lights came up on the next piece, you could tell that the audience was there to support the performers.

I don't want to be melodramatic, but I can't help thinking that this is where the genuine theater in town is happening. There is none of the overwrought earnestness, self-importance, or purchased and imported "culture" of the theaters that bring "art" to Seattle; there is the more honest and celebratory enthusiasm of people who believe in their art, and audience members who are anxious to hear a story. First of all because it's entertaining, but also because there is always the chance of sharing some insight or poignancy with a community. Our community.

Katz-Carey: 2:00 a.m. Finally leaving after working 48 hours, seeing 16 plays, and having had the pleasure of an experience where more than 70 people are willing to work their asses off--always saying "yes," "how can we make that happen," "what can I do to help you," "please," "thank you," and "good work" for NO MONEY, just so they can make good art.

Beckett: Noon. The party after last night's shows helped me understand why people do a thing like this. If I went into this with any concerns (and I did), my fears were put to rest immediately when I saw the people in the theater. These were people I've heard about and seen perform for years, and I finally got to play with some of them. I admire these writers, designers, musicians, directors, stage managers, and actors. I felt proud to be a part of a generous community with such heart. Many of them are pretty smart-assy and would make some kind of joke about that. That's okay. I had fun and Dina Martina thought I was good. Yay.