Features/Q&A/What to SEE/Theatre

From go to whoa in 24 hours

24 May 2023

Imagine writing, rehearsing and presenting a play in just 24 hours. It sounds impossible, but that’s exactly what young members of WA Youth Theatre Company will be doing this June.

24Hour Play Generator is what is just says on the box. Presented by WA Youth Theatre Company (WAYTCo), the intitiative sees a group of emerging writers, aged 15-26 years, mentored by experienced dramaturgs to write a short new play in just 12 hours.

Next a judging panel selects six plays, to be issued to six professional directors, who then work with six casts of WAYTCo members for one day, to rehearse the works. At the end of that day, the audience arrives and the plays are presented, as piping fresh as its possible to be.

Run annually, 24Hour Play Generator is just one of the reasons why WAYTCo is considered to be one of our state’s most innovative theatre ensembles. Chatting to long-time WAYTCo member and emerging theatre maker Lily Baitup, Nina Levy found it easy to see what a critical role the company has played in her development as an artist.

Nina Levy: Lily, how old were you when you first joined WAYTCo? What had your experience of performing arts been, prior to joining?

Lily Baitup: I started Sunday acting classes at WAYTCo when I was twelve. I’d done various classes at other youth companies prior to WAYTCo and been involved in primary school productions – I’d boldly decided on a career in the arts after my first drama class in Year 1 and never really veered off that course!

A headshot of a young woman. She is wearing a casual khaki tank top but her hair and makeup suggest this is a serious shot.
Lily Baitup. Photo: supplied

Nina Levy: What drew you to WAYTCo? And what kept you there?

WAYTCo gave me the opportunity to explore classic texts, practitioners, and train with working artists in Perth with their own practice and industry insights. After high school, I returned to WAYTCo to be a part of the Senior Ensemble under James Berlyn as artistic director. I’d worked with James on various projects, as a student at Mt Lawley Senior High School, and appreciated his distinct directing and devising style, and his generosity, patience and willingness to listen to the creative ideas of overenthusiastic thirteen-year-olds!

WAYTCo was a pivotal place for me to collaborate with a wide range of established and emerging artists. WAYTCo’s professionalism, variety, and the sense of community it has built over the years has made it a company I return to often with the same enthusiasm I did when I first stepped into the studio at King Street Arts Centre.

NL: Your first major production with WAYTCO was the award-winning REST at Fringe World, an interactive work set in East Perth Cemeteries. What was that experience like?

LB: REST was such a life-changing experience for me; the process was extremely demanding and the expectations on us young performers was high.

The location was initially confronting, and a show that revolved around death was especially poignant for me as I’d recently lost my dad very suddenly to cancer – and spending nights in a graveyard meant a lot of time reflecting on not only the show but my own relationship with grief and loss. The ensemble, many of whom I’m still friends with, really came together to support each other.

It wasn’t my first show with interactive elements, but it was my first navigating a site-specific space and the first show that I wrote for. Writing is now such a massive part of my practice and REST influenced the direction of my career in the arts from strictly an actor into a multidisciplinary artist.

NL: You were also completing WAAPA’s Bachelor of Performing Arts course at this time, and graduated in 2020. How did you manage the juggle of being a WAAPA student whilst also being a member of WAYTCo?

LB: Being a member of WAYTCo allows you to take part in as much or as little in the year as you can balance. As my studies became more demanding, I was able to pop into WAYTCo’s studio for the workshop I was interested in or a pathway panel meeting, whenever I had free time. Projects like the 24 Hour Play Generator allowed me to have my work produced for an audience before I got that chance at WAAPA.

NL: And what were the benefits of doing both?

LB: I was able to keep up my connections and meet other emerging artists outside WAAPA, so on graduation I felt I had a broad network of awesome collaborators in Perth.

It also prepared me well for juggling life beyond WAAPA – I often have multiple projects on the go and choosing what to say yes to and how much I can balance were important skills to learn.

NL: Next on the agenda for WAYTCO is 24Hour Play Generator, a project that is very close to your heart. Firstly, talk us through what this project involves

A young woman sits on the edge of the stage, at a 24Hour Play Generator Rehearsal. She looks away from the lens, as though deep in thought.
A moment of calm: one of the young participants in a previous iteration of ’24Hour Play Generator’. Photo: supplied

LB: The 24Hour Play Generator is a WAYTCo staple, and it’s changed significantly over the years. In basic terms, it’s exactly what is advertised; new works created over 24 hours with young people at the helm, offering a unique experience for the writers, directors and performer to produce a play in a single day.

NL: And what has your role been in its previous iterations?

LB: When I first participated as an actor, the process started at 7pm the night before we arrived at the theatre and the plays went up at 7pm that night. I remember thinking, those poor writers, only to put up my hand to be one of them in 2020!

I wrote my first ever play between the hours of 7pm and 7am – honestly it was a miracle it was even legible! – and got to watch it performed the next night. I enjoyed the challenge so much that I put up my hand to write and assistant direct the next year, taking part in the full 24-hour process.

In 2021, the project shifted to take place across two days, making it a more accessible experience for other young writers and allowing the overly ambitious to experience multiple roles across the weekend.

NL: From an audience point of view, what makes 24Hour Play Generator special? What will audiences experience that’s different to a show that has been rehearsed in a less short, sharp and intensive manner?

LB: Experience the chaos! As an emerging artist, the 24-Hour audience is definitely the most supportive audience I’ve experienced. However, I think our audiences are always surprised by the high standard of the works produced, given that they know the actors only got the scripts 12 hours before.

I’ve always been impressed by the variety of plays selected, from heartbreaking to hysterical, as well as the integration of sound and lighting from the hardworking designers who also work against the clock to create the atmosphere of each piece.

NL: You’ve written a play that will be premiering at The Blue Room in July, We’ll Always Have Bali, which is set “somewhere in Australian suburbia”. With themes about the power of nostalgia, this play sounds like it could be semi-autobiographical – what did inspire you to write this play?

LB: We’ll Always Have Bali is my first full-length play and I’m excited as anyone to see it performed. The Wainwright family from my play are not based on my own family – I’ve been very lucky in that department! – but I think it would be hard to write a play about coming home for Christmas that wasn’t a little true to life. The conversations that play out should be familiar to most, little digs and squabbles that always tend to happen when families get together on a holiday.

I was interested in creating a family dynamic that reflected the political divides between generations, playing a little into stereotypes like the radical arts-major daughter versus the conservative, traditionalist parents. I wanted to create a world that was uncomfortably familiar, condensing the wider political landscape of today into one suburban Australian family’s dinner table, while also exploring the way progress can be stunted by nostalgia, both in politics and relationships.

WAYTCo’s 24Hour Play Generator plays Subiaco Arts Centre, 10 June 2023.

Lily Baitup’s We’ll Always Have Bali plays The Blue Room Theatre, 11-29 July 2023.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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