On New Year’s Eve, a Madison audience will get to see a theater production that didn’t exist 24 hours earlier.
“Ball Drop Blitz 4” is basically a 24-hour play festival for its writers, directors and actors, and a one-of-a-kind performance for the crowd.
The night before the show, writers pull titles and themes from a hat and work overnight to create original plays. And the next morning, the actors come in and start rehearsing, bringing to life a group of unique plays that didn’t exist the night before.
It’s all about being “in the moment,” said Simone LaPierre, the blitz’s lead producer. “It’s the most fun that both the people who are contributing — the actors, directors and writers — will have during New Year’s Eve, but it’s also so much fun for the audience.”
LaPierre, of Know Better Productions, the show’s co-producer, runs the event. “I’m there from page to stage,” she said.
Mercury Players Theatre has a tradition of doing these blitzes that goes back nearly 20 years. They’ve been at it a lot longer than another talented local theater group, “Are We Delicious?” which is known to write and perform a series of short plays in 7 days.
“We do it in one day instead of taking a week,” said Bonnie Balke, who has been Mercury Players Theatre board president for 10 years.
The blitz is a huge challenge to pull off, Balke acknowledges. “There’s a team of producers that work on putting the show together the day of the show. It takes a village,” she said.
The writers write all night and submit their scripts to get printed by 6 a.m. the day of the show. After the writers leave, the actors and directors come in to start rehearsing.
Last year, about 30 actors took part. They come not just from Mercury Players, but from the entire local acting community.
“A lot of people are very attracted to the idea of it because it’s a one-day commitment,” Balke said. “So you can be in the show and only commit one day of your life as opposed to a traditional show where you’re rehearsing six to eight weeks and then performing for three weeks.”
While the blitz has a long history, this is just the fourth year they’ve done it on New Year’s Eve.
Balke, a Mercury Players veteran who has been an actor in Madison for about 30 years, notes that people can have a lot of fun at the show and because it’s over by 10 p.m., they can still go out and ring in the New Year.
The quality of the productions in recent years has been amazingly good, she said. “In the earliest years when we were blitzing, we didn’t quite have it figured out. Some of the productions were really, really good, some were moderate, and some were just a train wreck.”
The blitz consists of six, 10-minute plays broken up with live, local music, LaPierre said. “So the whole evening itself is less than two hours, maybe an hour and a half.”
LaPierre realizes a lot of audience members will leave for parties and do the countdown somewhere else, but they are welcome to stay and hang out with the cast. “That is also an option. It’s a really good time,” LaPierre said.
Proceeds go to the theater companies involved in the Bartell Theatre. “It’s a huge fundraiser for them,” LaPierre said.
Over the past four years the quality of writing and directing has been amazing, resulting in “well polished little jewels,” said Balke, whose first Mercury Players show was a blitz about 15 years ago. “It’s hard to believe that they didn’t exist 24 hours earlier. “