“Strong As A Bull” at Mill Mountain Theatre, Roanoke, Va.

In front: Martha Boswell (left), Shay Mullins (center) and Rebecca Osborne (right.) In back: Mike Allen, Wendy-Marie Foerster, Kevin McAlexander, Kyle Mason, Dwayne Yancey. Photo by Deborah Seagle.

For the third time in about five years, I was invited to be one of the playwrights in the 24-hour play challenge at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Va. (The “Overnight Sensations” program is coordinated through the MFA playwriting program at Hollins University, and draws from many of its students.)

On a Friday evening in July, all the participants gathered for a reception in the lobby and, after some ceremonies, the drawing begins. First, each of the writers draws a director from a hat. I drew Rebecca Osborne of Texas, one of the Hollins students. She drew a pre-selected cast. Then we drew a genre (I got “horror”), a location (I got “cemetery”) and a theme (I’m momentarily forgetting what mine was; I think it was “slow but steady wins the race” but maybe that was another year.”)

At that point, the writers withdrew to the library at Hollins to begin writing; by the next morning, we had to have a 10-minute script turned in. The cast showed up at noon, rehearsed all afternoon, and on Saturday night, six new shows were produced on the main stage at Mill Mountain Theatre.

With horror and a cemetery, everyone was expecting me to produce something about vampires or zombies or such. Instead, I surprised them with dark piece about baseball and steroids — in the 19th century.

The basic plot of “Strong As A Bull”: A mining company fields a baseball team (they really did that back then.) But when one player’s performance declines, the boss threatens to send him back to the mines. Rather than face a fate underground, the player tries a magic elixir from a travelling medicine man — which makes him strong as a bull. In fact, it starts to turn him into an actual bull.

You can find more photos from the event here.

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