It's just past 10 o'clock on Saturday night in a Winter Park auditorium, and theater producer Beth Marshall is on the verge of delirium from sleep deprivation after being awake for most of the past 24 hours. That may sound like an extreme length to go to for a performance, but it's all part and parcel of the annual Play in a Day event, which Marshall has been a key part of for the past 19 years. As usual, Marshall's frequent collaborator Rob Ward was on hand (as his outrageous Pepe alter ego) to emcee the evening, which saw nine teams working overnight to create original 10-minute plays in the span of a single day.
But 2019's PIAD was unlike any before it in one significant way, because of the 107 participating artists, 82 of them – including every playwright, director and stage manager – were women. In addition, each team was assigned a title under the umbrella theme "Men," which Marshall claims was "a fluke" that her husband came up with.
Marshall says her bold plan to upend the theater's typical gender balance for at least one evening was "a super easy decision. It's something that I've wanted to do for a long time."
Over the years that she's been organizing Play in a Day, the project has "morphed and evolved," transitioning from a curated show using out-of-town-writers from Orlando Shakes' Playfest to a lottery-based system blending community members with professionals. PIAD has grown over the decades to the point that, according to Marshall, "so many people want to be a part of this event, and only so many can be every year, so I try to ebb and flow who's in and out of it. Now we've got a system in place where you have to go through a little bit of a process to even be considered."
Thanks to all those eager volunteers, Marshall was finally able to fulfill her goal of assembling a female-focused event that offers "representation of anybody who is under-represented," an objective that she says felt especially urgent now: "The whole #MeToo movement really put me in the mindset that this has to happen this year."
Even so, Marshall says "putting everybody together is easy on one hand, and challenging on another." While recruiting female actors and stage managers isn't difficult, "getting female representation in the world of directing is more challenging, and in the world of writing, even more challenging," Marshall says. Moreover, Marshall wanted to ensure ethnic diversity as well, saying "it was really important to me to have representation of different shades and colors of skin, in all aspects."
In addition to male directors and writers, another element was missing from this year's Play in a Day: me. After several years of serving behind the judges' table, I stepped away this time to watch from the audience. For one, I didn't think the artists needed another token straight guy telling them his opinions. That slot was already ably filled by writer Andy Haynes, who was joined in deliberations by Center executive director George Wallace and educator Kristen Neander.
More importantly, my wife, choreographer Genevieve Bernard, and her company Voci Dance were participants this time around, and I didn't want the adjudication impacted by my conflict of interest.
"I wanted dance to be a big part of this," said Marshall, who assigned the subtitle "Our Bodies, Our Choice" to the troupe. "I knew I wanted to have 'choice' represented through a visualization of dance. With Genevieve being the choreographer, and her body of work which I know well, it's out of her wheelhouse, and I wanted it to be challenging for her, and I know it was." The resulting piece won "Best Ensemble" for Sarah Lockard, Katrina Soricelli, David Gabriel, Rokaya Mikhailenko and Adrienne Nichols.
"It's kind of what I try to do with all the writers every year," Marshall said following the awards presentation, during which Best Show was presented to Tracey Jane's "Family Dinner Conversation," with its co-star Melanie Leon picking up Best Actress. In addition, BeeJay Aubertin-Clinton won Best Actor for a second consecutive year with his drag turn in "A Meeting in the Ladies Room," and Jessica Hoehn was named Best Director.
"I give them something that's in their wheelhouse, as well a something that's a stretch, but will still showcase them strongly." By the end of the night, Marshall and her team were exhausted, but they nearly doubled their original fundraising goal for the Beth Marshall Presents Scholarship Fund. "I think it was a success this year, and I'm really proud."