Since spring 2009, a singularly dedicated group of theater pros have regularly gathered to stage new, short works by local writers: all at the same time, all sharing a theme, for one night only. And they've done it six times a year. This string of bold, entertaining One Night Stands continues at the Vintage Theatre on Sunday, August 2, with a 36th production, One Night Stand in the Wild West. “We do the show for the audience,” says artistic director Jim O’Leary, who founded One Night Stand Theater with Beth Foster, Cindy Hall and Lorraine Scott. “We like to think – what kind of show would the audience enjoy?”
That's a unique mission statement for a playwriting workshop, since those are usually deadly, self-indulgent affairs fueled by grant money and pretension. In contrast, One Night Stand’s sprightly run of shows has put the spotlight on specific regional stage writers, restagings of radio drama and even Shakespeare — but by and large the group goes with multiple entries concerning a leading idea, spreading the word to those in the know. “We have a list of people we send it to,” says O’Leary. “We do word of mouth. We don’t want to take it national. We read everything we get, and we’d do nothing but read scripts all day.”
The result of all that reading resulted in lineup this round that includes work by Tami Canady (Custer’s Grave), Steve Hunter (Silverheels, Sand Creek), Patrick Dorn (Peacemaker), D.J. Jones (Calamity at the Mountain Boys Saloon), L. Jackson (Lost), Ed Ward (Robby Sly), Marcus France (Stagecoach Billy) and Linda Berry (Boot Hill to Goodnight, Texas).
In the past, themes have ranged from horror to travel to romance to sin to food; that last effort had a big crowd and a lobby full of edibles.
One Night Stand already has an October show in the works concerning pets “and other wild creatures,” and high on the collective’s list for future topics to explore are the Apocalypse and Victorian literature.
No matter how good the scripts, though, the plays still have to get up and walk out in front of a crowd. There’s no substitute for staging, and One Night Stand provides this sorely needed outlet for new talent and pros alike — essentially creating a clinic with customers. Once two hours’ worth of material is gathered, different directors are assigned; this time out, four directors will tackle nine pieces, using a total of eleven actors. After the call goes out for performers, the show takes shape over two intense weeks. The result: a juggler’s cascade of a half-dozen to a dozen pieces, bridged by O’Leary’s intros – “a vaudeville without music,” he calls it.
“It can be challenge, but it’s a lot of fun,” says O’Leary. “The material is just so interesting. We play around with the concept of how it’s read in performance. We know a lot of actors in the Denver area. The trick is to schedule properly; they are busy and we need to find a gap in their schedule. One thing we have with our acting pool is depth. It is hard for us to use actors who are just starting out – we need someone who can just jump in. We trust their ability to improvise, and their instincts.”
A healthy portion of the local theater community attends the evenings, checking out the new work and networking. Shows are usually scheduled for Sunday evenings, a traditional off-night for thespians. “There’s no party for the actors,” O’Leary says. “They all have to go to work Monday morning.” So do One Night Stand's organizers.
Given that One Night Stand — built to last for a single, unrecorded evening — is not a spectacular money-maker, why do they keep working on this complex, ongoing labor of love? It’s for the audience, O’Leary explains: “They can see something no one has ever seen anyone do before.”
Although the One Nighters have discussed recording shows, streaming the evening and other such media-platform exploitations, the ephemeral nature of live theater gives each incarnation a peculiar and irreproducible power. “Sometimes we think, it’s a shame we didn’t tape this, that it’s only one shot,” O’Leary admits. “But this is the only time. There is no coming back next week. You do things you might not consider doing onstage for a four-week run.”
You’ve got to start somewhere: After all, hit plays, great writers and stellar roles don’t materialize out of thin air. One Night Stand is all about the nuts-and-bolts of getting artists seen and heard, as well of the sheer joy of putting on a show. And who knows? It could be the birthplace of the next Great American Play.
One Night Stand in the Wild West will be presented at 7 p.m. Sunday, August 2, at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street in Aurora. For tickets and information visit onenightstandtheater.org.