After a year of virtual shows, the Performing and Media Arts Department’s fan-favorite event — Festival 24 — recently made an in-person comeback. At 7:30 p.m. this past Saturday, students returned to the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts to wait in line in hopes of securing a seat for this live theater event.
Festival 24 is a 24-hour event that is held each semester by students in the PMA Department. Starting at 7 p.m. the night before the performance, students write, direct and act in short plays, all within the span of 24 hours. Festival 24 is always organized around a theme and a twist — this year, the theme was “luck” and the twist was “logic.”
This semester, students were especially eager to get back to in-person theater. “I really loved being in the space with everyone else,” said Arin Sheehan ’22, the producer of Festival 24. This was the PMA Department’s first in-person event this semester.
However, some complications arose the day before the event when Cornell moved into alert level yellow. The organizers decided to limit seating for Festival 24 to prevent overcrowding in the theater and take extra precautions to keep everyone safe. “Putting on live theater shouldn’t come at the expense of the health of the cast and audience,” said Sheehan.
Demand for attendance was high, with the line stretching out of the building and up to the street. Sadly, most of the eager viewers had to be turned away. That also used to be the case in pre-pandemic years, with students getting in line early to claim a spot in the theater, but COVID-19 precautions meant that seating was even further limited. To make up for this, on Sunday the organizers streamed a recording of the show for those who did not get to see it in-person.
Despite the limited seating, the event was still a success. “We were able to get more people involved,” remarked Sheehan. “We had six or seven actors per show, which is way more than when we were online.”
For all of the students involved in its creation, Festival 24 is a unique chance to push themselves to create art in a short amount of time. “I think that level of time constraint is really conducive,” said writer Javed Jokhai ’24. “It was such a great production that happened almost immediately. It was just spectacular.”
The writers all took the theme of “luck” in various directions, from comedy to serious and heartfelt. First up was A Nation of Children written by Jokhai, which satirically depicted the American government recruiting a statistics professor to decide whether the country should go to war. Next was Arch House by Quinn Theobald ’22, a play about siblings who must resolve their differences while they live as housekeepers in a magical house.
Following was Are They Lucky or Am I Stupid by Stacie Dressel ’24, a comedic spoof on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? where the kids stage a coup mid-game show. Festival 24 also featured There is No Crying On the Boardwalk by Andrew Lorenzen ’22, a heartfelt and, at times, ridiculous story about friendship, involving a guy who flips a coin for a living and a half-hearted kissing booth. Finally, the show ended with The Most Dangerous Game by Millie Schwartz ’23, a televised rock-paper-scissors tournament featuring contestants with varied strategies, from using math to bribery.
Throughout each short play, it was evident that the cast and crew were all especially excited to perform in-person, and they all brought unique energy to the show. Festival 24 was an exciting experience for all those involved, both for the students who dedicated 24 hours to make it and for the audience who got to enjoy the crazy product.
As one of the writers, Jokhai’s favorite aspects of participating in Festival 24 were “the comradery of staying up late with a bunch of people” and “the small moments you share in a creative process together.”
Sheehan is hopeful that Festival 24 will be the first of many more in-person theater and arts events this year. As she described, “[Festival 24] really is an event that’s all about learning and meeting new people,” something that is much easier to do in-person.
“I’m just glad to be a part of it,” said Jokhai, “and I really hope to do it again!”
A recording of this semester’s Festival 24 can be watched on the PMA Department’s YouTube channel here.
Emma Leynse is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] She currently serves as an Assistant Arts Editor on The Sun’s 139th Editorial board.