The creative chaos plays out in time for Saturday night

`The 24 Experiment' is an artistic `free-for-all'

Stage: theater, music, dance

February 24, 2005|By Claire Wang | Claire Wang,SUN STAFF

Looking for something to do this weekend? How about writing a play? Or starring in one? Maybe directing?

The 24 Experiment might be the answer. This weekend, the theater group Company 13 and its home theater, Top Floor, are presenting this event, a spinoff of a project known as The 24 Hour Play in New York.

During an intense 24 hours (starting tomorrow night), a group of people put together six original plays, conceiving them, writing them, memorizing them and producing them in time for a performance Saturday night. People can volunteer for any capacity in theater production: scriptwriting, acting, directing or design. Or they can show up Saturday night to see the results of all the creative chaos.

"It's the most popular thing we've ever done; it's ridiculous how well it caught on," said Sarah Washburn, production manager. "Artistically, it's a free-for-all, and we have no idea what's going to happen until people show up to do it. But it's gotten more defined each time, and now we have guidelines."

Subject material from past shows is varied, but according to company member Jen Hoopes, 90 percent of the plays are comedies. "The audience loves it," she said. "Part of the funniness is that the audience knows this was written last night and that they're tired. When they miss a line, that's almost as funny as what's written."

In a way, the adventurous theme of The 24 Experiment echoes the spirit with which Company 13 and its theater were formed. And, like the company itself, the play has been successful, drawing crowds that stretch the theater's 50-seat capacity to standing room. It is the most sold-out performance of all the shows the company has produced since its inception in 2001.

Company 13 began four years ago as the brainchild of several theater majors at Towson University. It and its home theater - the Top Floor, at Harford Road and Hamilton Avenue - have far exceeded their members' expectations and become a focal point for the arts in Hamilton.

The company has since produced a variety of work, from popular pieces to original plays by local artists.

But perhaps no other show is more original than The 24 Experiment, in its sixth run at Top Floor.

Company member Jamie Sinz noted autonomy as a major reason for Company 13's inception. "We wanted to produce a show without parameters," he said. "When you submit a show somewhere, they are rather restrictive with what you can do and what you can't do. We all met ... and decided that we should start producing something."

After its first two shows at Towson University, the company decided it needed a more permanent home. "One of the Hamilton businessmen offered this space when he heard what our predicament was at a very reasonable rent price. ... He knew we were starving actors," Sinz said. In 2003, the Top Floor opened to friends, well-wishers, theatregoers and the curious.

"We were lucky enough to use the Courtyard at Towson twice, but we wanted to have a stage," said co-founder Zak Jeffries.

According to company members, the community has been incredibly supportive of the Top Floor. "Everyone who has come up here who lives in the area has been thanking us for bringing theater to Hamilton," said Washburn.

One unique feature of the theater is its unusual seating: a motley assortment of couches, chairs and loveseats. The idea of a simulated "living room" atmosphere caught on and has quickly become Top Floor's trademark. "We have people who come for several shows and request a specific sofa every single time, no matter where it is in the theater," said Hoopes.

While acknowledging that it would be nice to get paid, company member Steve Thomas said, "I'd like to make the Top Floor a focal point for honest, visceral and engaging storytelling in Baltimore. If we can keep doing that while keeping the comfy couches for the audience, then so much the better."

Sign-ups for "The 24 Experiment" are at 10 p.m. tomorrow at The Top Floor, 5440 Harford Road. The show is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday. Mature audiences only. Admission $5. Reservations recommended. Call 443-691-7040 or visit www. thetopfloor.org for information and guidelines.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 32.

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