CJ Silverman wins two-hour playwriting exhibition with his play ‘The Haunting of Halloween 2020’

Shirley Liu

CJ Silverman ‘22 won the Alpha Psi Omega (APO) Theatre Honor Society’s Two-Hour Playwriting Exhibition last Thursday with his short play, “The Haunting of Halloween 2020.”

“I came up with it moments before I had to introduce the play,” Silverman said of the overtly on-the-nose title, laughing. “Give me another two hours to come up with a better one.”

Quick decision-making is necessary for all participants in the Two-Hour Playwriting Exhibition. Competitors were given a list of Halloween-themed words (tusk, incantation, twitches, spirit, TikTok, get out, conjuring, ghoul, banish, clown), which they then had to incorporate into a three to five page play. The catch? Participating playwrights only had two hours to write the entire play.

“It was very intense,” said Silverman, contrasting his experience in this year’s Two-Hour Play Exhibition to last year’s 24-Hour Play Contest, also hosted by APO. “While [the 24-Hour Play Contest] is stressful in its own way, there’s still some amount of time to go back, look it over, and make changes. But to make a five page script in two hours, a lot of that has to be cut out.”

Silverman’s “The Haunting of Halloween 2020” was a comedic play about three friends celebrating Halloween virtually who accidentally summon a ghost into their Zoom call. The judges, Theater Professor Suzanne Westfall and English Professor Walter Wadiak praised the play for its cleverness and meta-theatricality, saying that they appreciated how the script “embraced the Zoom.”

“We all feel trapped in these little boxes,” said Westfall, referring to a quip made by the ghost in the play.

The judges observed that this year’s batch of plays were “less impactful in terms of social questions” when compared to the scripts of last year’s 24-Hour Play Contest. This year’s plays also included a story about a mammoth tusk spirit who could only be sealed away by participating in a TikTok and a team of cheerleading witches whose star flier turns invisible hours before a big competition. They speculated that this trend was because of a reluctance to comment on heavy topics in a political and social climate that is already saturated by anxiety-inducing news, and commended this year’s playwrights for effectively incorporating humor and levity into their plays.

“I needed a laugh and these all provided it,” Westfall said.

In addition to the two hours allotted for writing the script, playwrights were also given about five minutes to go over their finished scripts with their assigned actors, who performed the scripts in a virtual reading on Thursday night. Silverman praised the actors’ performances, citing the actual performance of the scripts as his favorite part of the event.

“All of the actors did such a great job with [the script], even though they were possibly reading it for the first time or the second time, right then and there,” Silverman said. “It was so incredible to see something that didn’t even exist two hours ago now being fully read, acted very well, just right there.”

Anna Zittle ’22, president of APO, wrote in an email that all the actors would be receiving personalized thank you notes for their time and participation, as would the playwrights who did not win. Silverman received a $20 gift card to the college bookstore for winning.

Although Silverman described the experience as “amazing,” he also expressed a longing for a return to in-person theater at Lafayette.

“The virtual productions from the theater department and APO, they’ve been very well done,” Silverman said. “It’s just missing the magic of it being there and in-person.”

Silverman is part of the production team for “Monkey,” which will premiere virtually this March.