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Contemporary Theater Company recently announced it will start its 2022 schedule with the return of several crowd favorite productions, including the 24-Hour Play Festival pictured above, which is set for February 5.

WAKEFIELD, R.I. — As the COVID Omicron virus spreads through the state, the Contemporary Theater Company is taking some precautions in delaying the start of some winter productions.

“We have decided to push back the start of our 2022 season to try to avoid the worst of this wave,” the theater said in a recent announcement.

Wakefield Idol will now start on January 27, The 17th Annual 24-Hour Play Festival is scheduled for February 5  and “Whodunit? An Improvised Murder Mystery” comes back February 12 to the stage on Saturdays.


Wakefield Idol

Wakefield Idol, running January 27 through April 14, is a karaoke-style singing competition where local singers compete for a $1,500 cash prize. In the final rounds as the competition heats up, the audience votes to see who goes on.

Strutting your stuff and teasing the crowd with your talent — even when there’s little to none — still invites a strong audience to see brave local souls parade through Wakefield Idol every year.

This usual 12-week show has the enduring attraction of “reality TV” in live theater that draws capacity-crowds. It also captures contestants’ embrace of praise, criticism and vulnerability in their quest for recognition when seeking Wakefield’s own gold ring in this imitation of television’s American Idol series.

“It’s really about people who have extraordinary talent, even just extraordinary passion, but who have other jobs. This is the chance for them to show their musical talent on the stage for their neighbors,” said Chris Simpson, CTC artistic director.

Even though the raw talent can sometimes bring even a blush to the faces of understanding viewers, it can be a launching pad for the undiscovered or a venue for people to let escape a pent-up performer inside themselves.

“Come out, be a local or from the region, or whatever, come out, share you skill, your talent, your passion…other local folks want to experience what you have to offer,” he said, hawking the program in his other role as promoter-in-chief at the theater.

Maggie Cady, the theater’s general manager, said. “In our seven seasons so far, we’ve had people who have never sung in front of people before alongside people who sing every day. The audiences are so welcoming that even people who are eliminated early have a great time!”

The show often sells out, so many people get Season Tickets for the whole run, she added.

“It’s great seeing people who come every week,” said Cady. “We have couples, groups of friends, and parents with their children who make it a night out together each week.”


24-Hour Play Festival

The 17th annual 24-Hour Play Festival launches February 5 with five plays and five writers who in a 24-hour period pull 15 actors fully rehearsed into these productions as the deadline looms.

“The 24-Hour Play Fest is one of my favorite days of the year,” says CTC Artistic Director Tammy Brown. “We get to remind ourselves that what seems impossible is within reach!”

Maggie Cady, one of the directors for this year’s festival, said, the 24-hour design to performance brings pressure on everyone, including the need to stay awake for some of the time to get the work done.

“In the morning, the writers are either frantically trying to finish, or they’ve fallen asleep,” she said.

“It’s exciting to get the first peek at these plays that didn’t exist six hours ago and then at the show that night see how the production teams have taken them in directions I never could have imagined,” she added.

Last year the festival was virtual  and the 24-hour clock started behind the scenes, showing more of the prep because of livestreaming.

A persisting pandemic kept the main theater closed. So, CTC is tried something different by going with livestream in this show designed around writing, casting and producing six original 10-minute plays created and performed in one day.

There were scrambles, rambles and brambles entwining the 40 writers, actors, directors and technical staff. They will pull together six original 10-minute presentations to be livestreamed starting at 6 p.m. Saturday night and concluding at 8 p.m. for the 24-hour round-trip of production.

This kind of performance involves 10-minute plays and has steadily grown in popularity. They have appeared in schools, community theaters and professional productions during the last 30 years across the country.

The 24-hour plays have also long been known in the Broadway and off-Broadway circuits. The hallmark is their incredible work bringing together artists to create time-limited theater.

Generally, a rehearsal process involves picking apart each moment and questioning every blocking choice, every gesture. In 24-hour theater, there is no time for questioning.

Each person involved must make a choice and stick with it because by tomorrow, the play will just be a memory. This makes these kinds of performances especially fun to watch unfold.

Actors are trained to remain in character and keep the audience oblivious to dropped lines and flubbed blocking.

When the rehearsal process has barely allowed the actors to memorize their lines, let alone fully digest the character, the audience is better able to see the all too human moments of imperfection.


Whodunit? An Improvised Murder Mystery

This annual classic starts Saturday, Feb 12 and runs through April 9. It centers on “whodunits” with a twist: it’s all improvised. The actors weave webs of secrets, deception, and mystery through a different murder each week.

The program has always brought laughs, surprises and amusing intrigue to the audience. “WhodunIt” is a murder mystery with over-the-top characters and personalities vying for your attention.

In 2020, right before the pandemic cut-short the production’s indoor run – returning now for the first time in two years – it brought a few bootleggers, socialites, prohibitionists, spiritualists and servants making up an entire play on the spot.

It was the year to look back and bring back the 1920s with all the all the glitz, glamour and pizzazz that came along with it.

The goal is for the audience to draw their own conclusions on who the murderer in the group is and watch as the story twists and turns to its climax.

So who is the target audience for this show and for improv in general at CTC? Don’t ask Cady as she’s learned over the years that all kinds of audiences flock to the theater to see where the night will take them.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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