NEW YORK CITY: Each November, “24-Hour Plays on Broadway” attracts some of the performing arts’ biggest names to create six short plays, literally overnight. Playwrights meet with actors, select their cast, then stay up all night writing; directors arrive at dawn to choose a script, then the actors come and have until evening to learn their parts. The shows are performed before packed houses (this year’s event took place Nov. 12), raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 10 years for an organization called Urban Arts Partnership, which brings arts education to New York City public school students.
In 2010, the playwright roster included Lynn Nottage, Theresa Rebeck and Elizabeth Cruz-Cortes; last year featured works by Terrence McNally, David Lindsay-Abaire, Doug Wright and Anthony Naranjo. This year will include Adam Bock, Jonathan Marc Sherman and Maynor Alas.
Wait a second. Who are those unfamiliar names tagging along behind the Rebecks and Wrights? Cruz-Cortes, Naranjo, Alas? Who invited them? In fact, these three share a common bond: They’re graduates of the Urban Arts Partnership’s theatre courses—living, breathing, writing proof of the program’s value.
“This shows that if you give opportunities to young people, they will rise to the occasion,” says Jan-Patrick Schmitz, CEO of Montblanc North America, which sponsors both the yearly main event and the Montblanc Young Writers Program, a competition in which short plays are judged by seven Urban Arts alumni, determining who’s heading to Broadway. UAP executive director Philip Courtney adds, “It’s a life-changing experience for the winners, a paradigm shift.”
Cruz-Cortes, who grew up on the Lower East Side and went to New Design High School (which UAP co-founded in 2003), says going from the cocoon of being with her friends at Urban Arts to backstage with Broadway’s biggest names was eye-opening. “I’m still speechless two years later,” she says. Her biggest thrill came after lobbying for cast members she wanted—she landed both Elijah Wood and Gloria Estefan for her play. (She even wrote a song for Estefan, since the singing superstar had never acted, and Cruz-Cortes wanted to “make her comfortable.”)
This year, Cruz-Cortes, who is taking classes at HB Studios, returned to the Montblanc competition as one of the judges. The winner was another New Design graduate, Alas, who wrote a surrealistic comedy called Astonishing Panorama of the End Times. Alas, who says he was “shattered” when he didn’t win in 2011, sees his selection as a triumph. “I’ve gone from low point to ‘just about to cry point,’” he declares. “I’m so excited—I’m going to Broadway.”