Making the 24-Hour Musical: a behind-the-scenes look

September 13, 2019

Allow me to clear up some technicalities for you sticklers out there. No, “The 24 Hour Musical” is not literally made in 24 hours. That isn’t the point. Loads of time and labor are put into simply organizing the show weeks before the start date. Without that preemptive bureaucratic infrastructure, all but the most powerful volunteers would be dead four hours in. 

That said, everything the audience sees during the show (including the set, the acting, and even the programs) is produced within the 24 hour pre-debut. It can be difficult to fully appreciate the sheer collective effort that goes into a standard multi-month production, let alone one as dramatically rushed as the 24-Hour. To someone like myself with nearly zero experience on the production side of theater, this musical was a fabulously terrifying crash course in the art. I undertook the task of documenting the whole deal for the sake of posterity, and perhaps to convince a few of you wayward bodies to give it a try next year.

Prospective volunteers began to crowd the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) around 6:30 p.m. for staff introductions and a safety walkthrough, but the musical itself would not be announced until 8 p.m. In a typical Brandeis production, each administrative position is filled by a single person. One director, one costume designer, one stage manager. To avoid utter chaos, 24-Hour necessitates the employment of three directors, three assistant stage managers, two choreographers, two assistant choreographers, two music directors, etc. The scope of the project was already beginning to wear on my mind. It was a sensation not dissimilar to the nausea experienced when beginning an essay the night before it is due, except in this case, the commitment is an inescapable 24 hours.

Despite my mounting terror, the staff did well to present the positive philosophy of the production. Haia Bchiri ’20, president of 24-Hour, kicked off the night with a proud speech declaring 24-Hour a “musical made for musical fans.” It is theater without the competitive edge. All volunteers that wish to be on stage will be. No cuts. Alina Sipp-Alpers ’21, co-costume designer, would later put it another way: the 24-Hour Musical aims to provide all students with “a comprehensive theater experience.” 

After the safety walkthrough, there was an opportunity for non-acting volunteers to meet with the production heads of the various departments that make up the backbone of the show. This period is a microcosm of the academic shopping period. I opted for costuming, but more technical volunteers could choose valuable hands-on introductions to lighting, set building or sound design. 

At around 7:50 p.m. the introductory content was complete, and it was finally time to reveal “Legally Blonde” to the hungry masses. It was long rumoured that this year’s musical would be “Shrek,” but Ben Greene ’21, co-vice president, revealed that this was misinformation. It should be noted that he was wearing green face paint throughout the entire introduction. 

By 8:20 p.m., the musical and cast list were announced, and the cascade began. The central atrium of the SCC immediately filled with actors desperate to learn their lines and stage directions. Myself and a number of students interested in costuming were handed a pile of pink sweatshirts. I believe it was at this point that we were told that our department possessed no art supplies beyond a packet of 700 sequins and also that the musical was apparently already seriously over budget. We didn’t even have glue. While I must assert that no theft occurred during the production, expeditions into the Student Union office resulted in useful loans of hot glue and paint. Our task was to produce the nine glamorous sweatshirts that together spell “ELLE WOODS” during the final song of Act I.

The entire process of sweatshirt crafting took about four to five hours. All those hours invested in a few moments of glorious stage time. That is the power of 24-Hour. The first signs of exhaustion-induced mania began to show around this time. I had the pleasure of speaking to Zack Garrity ’20, a co-director, at around 1:30 a.m. He explained to me why he enjoyed theater: “I like doing the same thing over and over again and following directions,” he said. The SCC theater looked like a shipyard. Wires and lights hung about the stage while set builders scrambled about the wooden husks of stage pieces. Yet more students clambered along the catwalks that cling to the roof of the auditorium. Would I call the scene apocalyptic? Maybe.

The costume designers and many members of the ensemble cast went to sleep at this point, since work would not resume for many until 11 a.m. (quite a few folks got the full eight hours of rest). By the time I made it back to the SCC in the morning, the place had been cleaned up and the husks were fully assembled and the brick set pieces were painted. 

I dropped my costume responsibilities and joined the stage crew, where I was given a 10 minute tutorial on how to operate the rigging lines. All told, the quality of this year’s production seemed a magnitude above last year’s in sophistication, and it was all run by a couple of sleep-deprived stage managers with dysfunctional headsets and troops of inexperienced volunteers.

Seeing the show from the stage is a real treat. At 4 p.m. the full cast attempted a test run, so fans of “Legally Blonde” had the chance to experience it twice. I’ll never get these lyrics out of my head.
It was a lot of fun though.

Editor’s note: Aaron LaFauci is in a relationship with Amy Ollove ’21, who was an assistant stage manager in the 24-Hour Musical.

Allow me to clear up some technicalities for you sticklers out there. No, “The 24 Hour Musical” is not literally made in 24 hours. That isn’t the point. Loads of time and labor are put into simply organizing the show weeks before the start date. Without that preemptive bureaucratic infrastructure, all but the most powerful volunteers would be dead four hours in. 

That said, everything the audience sees during the show (including the set, the acting, and even the programs) is produced within the 24 hour pre-debut. It can be difficult to fully appreciate the sheer collective effort that goes into a standard multi-month production, let alone one as dramatically rushed as the 24 Hour. To someone like myself with nearly zero experience on the production side of theater, this musical was a fabulously terrifying crash course in the art. I undertook the task of documenting the whole deal for the sake of posterity, and perhaps to convince a few of you wayward bodies to give it a try next year.

Prospective volunteers began to crowd the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) around 6:30 p.m. for staff introductions and a safety walkthrough, although the musical itself would not be announced until 8 p.m. In a typical Brandeis production, each administrative position is filled by a single person. One director, one costume designer, one stage manager. To avoid utter chaos, 24 Hour necessitates the employment of three directors, three assistant stage managers, two choreographers, two assistant choreographers, two music directors, etc. The scope of the project was already beginning to wear on my mind. It was a sensation not dissimilar to the nausea experienced when beginning an essay the night before it is due, except in this case the commitment is an inescapable 24 hours.

Despite my mounting terror, the staff did well to present the positive philosophy of the production. Haia Bchiri ’20, president of 24 Hour, kicked off the night with a proud speech declaring 24 Hour a “musical made for musical fans.” It is theater without the competitive edge. All volunteers that wish to be on stage will be. No cuts. Alina Sipp-Alpers ’21, co-costume designer, would later put it another way: the 24 Hour Musical aims to provide all students with “a comprehensive theater experience.” 

After the safety walkthrough, there was an opportunity for non-acting volunteers to meet with the production heads of the various departments that make up the backbone of the show. This period is a microcosm of the academic shopping period. I opted for costuming, but more technical volunteers could choose valuable hands-on introductions to lighting, set building or sound design. 

At around 7:50 p.m. the introductory content was complete, and it was finally time to reveal “Legally Blonde” to the hungry masses. It was long rumoured that this year’s musical would be “Shrek,” but Ben Greene ’21, co-vice president, revealed that this was misinformation. It should be noted that he was wearing green face paint throughout the entire introduction. 

By 8:20 p.m., the musical and cast list were announced, and the cascade began. The central atrium of the SCC immediately filled with actors desperate to learn their lines and stage directions. Myself and a number of students interested in costuming were handed a pile of pink sweatshirts. I believe it was at this point that we were told that our department possessed no art supplies beyond a packet of 700 sequins and also that the musical was apparently already seriously over budget. We didn’t even have glue. While I must assert that no theft occurred during the production, expeditions into the Student Union office resulted in useful loans of hot glue and paint. Our task was to produce the nine glamorous sweatshirts that together spell “ELLE WOODS” during the final song of Act I.

The entire process of sweatshirt crafting took about four to five hours. All those hours invested in a few moments of glorious stage time. That is the power of 24 Hour. The first signs of exhaustion-induced mania began to show around this time. I had the pleasure of speaking to Zack Garrity ’20, a co-director, at around 1:30 a.m. He explained to me why he enjoyed theater: “I like doing the same thing over and over again and following directions,” he said. The SCC theater looked like a shipyard. Wires and lights hung about the stage while set builders scrambled about the wooden husks of stage pieces. Yet more students clambered along the catwalks that cling to the roof of the auditorium. Would I call the scene apocalyptic? Maybe.

The costume designers and many members of the ensemble cast went to sleep at this point, since work would not resume for many until 11 a.m. (quite a few folks got the full eight hours of rest). By the time I made it back to the SCC in the morning, the place had been cleaned up and the husks were fully assembled and the brick set pieces were painted. 

I dropped my costume responsibilities and joined the stage crew, where I was given a 10 minute tutorial on how to operate the rigging lines. All told, the quality of this year’s production seemed a magnitude above last year’s in sophistication, and it was all run by a couple of sleep-deprived stage managers with dysfunctional headsets and troops of inexperienced volunteers.

Seeing the show from the stage is a real treat. At 4 p.m. the full cast attempted a test run, so fans of “Legally Blonde” had the chance to experience it twice. I’ll never get these lyrics out of my head.

It was a lot of fun though.

Editor’s note: Aaron LaFauci is in a relationship with Amy Ollove ’21, who was an assistant stage manager in the 24-Hour Musical.

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