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James McAvoy, Taran Killam Talk 24 Hour Plays' Challenges, Rewards

24 Hour Plays H 2013
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James McAvoy, Taran Killam, Thomas Kail, Mickey Sumner and Jonathan Marc Sherman at Monday's 24 Hour Plays.

The actors were part of the star-studded cast of the 13th edition of fast theater, presented on Monday night in New York.

Stars including James McAvoy, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and SNL cast members Taran Killam and Jay Pharaoh took the stage at Broadway's American Airlines Theater Monday night to present a series of short plays that were all created within the previous 24 hours.

It sounds like a daunting concept, but the one-night-only benefit for education charity Urban Arts Partnership has been going on for 13 years, and the actors who took part in this year's edition said it wasn't that much of a challenge -- apart from the whole putting-on-a-play-in-24-hours thing, as McAvoy noted.

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"It's not really a challenge," the X-Men star told The Hollywood Reporter at the after-party. "You've got an audience who are willing to go with you, you've got writers who are writing stuff that's easy to learn, you've got great people who are good at improvisation. If you mess up, the audience will like it even more. As far as an actor, the key is, don't get too afraid, enjoy yourself."

Rizzoli & Isles star Sasha Alexander said letting go was a big issue for her play about assassins at a book club, co-starring Zachary Levi, Josh Lucas and Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer.

"We had a very absurd play, very Monty Python-esque, so [the biggest challenge] was really letting go of any desire to have it make sense," she said. "[In the play] I'm a woman pretending to be a man who then busts out into some Serbian language…. You just had to sort of let it go and have a good time."

Michael K. Williams, who starred in a play about an accounting firm's annual party and the nerves of two newcomers, played by Ferguson and Smash's Krysta Rodriguez, echoed those sentiments.

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"The biggest challenge is not taking yourself seriously," he said. "If you're a perfectionist, which I consider myself, I'm my worst critic, you've just got to let it go and welcome the mistakes and use them and make fun of yourself. It's not about me; it's about the kids. That's what the cause is for."

The event, Montblanc Presents The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway, is designed to benefit the Urban Arts Partnership, which provides arts education programs for underserved public-school students.

UAP CEO Philip Courtney said The 24 Hour Plays' 13-year existence helps the organization amass an impressive roster of talent each year. He noted that there is a core group of returning performers, and new participants come on board via word of mouth. For McAvoy, this was his Broadway debut, Courtney pointed out, saying that the event helps people get involved with theater without having to make a huge commitment.

But McAvoy already seems committed to UAP's cause.

"I grew up in a place where people didn't have a lot of dreams, and I know 24 Hour Plays reaches out to people who are in a similar position," he explained. "There's always a lot of talk about organizations helping people achieve their dreams. That's what 24 Hour Plays does. It reaches out to people who don't even have a dream, and that's really sad, so giving people the ability to project and hope and have a dream, whether they f---ing achieve it or not is up to them, helping people develop hope and imagination is an incredible thing. And that's what art education does more than anything else, I think."

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Alexander said she also believes strongly in what UAP is doing.

"I went to a public school in Los Angeles, and if it wasn't for my drama teachers, I don't know that I would be pursuing this or doing this for a living," she told THR.

Alexander also seemed excited about Rizzoli & Isles' new showrunner.

"Jan Nash has a phenomenal reputation. She seems to be an amazingly smart, creative woman who will continue to grow the show, and that's what we want, so we're really excited about her," she said.

Killam told THR that these plays pose a particular problem for people used to SNL's cue cards. But he agreed, it's not really that hard.

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"You show up at 8 a.m. and you rehearse it over and over again until 6 p.m. So if you don't have it by then, there's something wrong with you," he said.

Killam also did the show during a work week for the second year in a row, which he said "seemed crazy, but it's so much fun."

This week, SNL is new with host Josh Hutcherson before a December full of as-yet-unannounced but "booked" and "exciting" hosts, Killam said.

He also assured us that there would be some Hunger Games parodies Saturday.

"Oh, there've gotta be, right? Like Hunger Game Night?" he said, making a face. "I don't know. That's just off the top of my head."

It was only Monday, and he'd just spent the past 24 hours putting on a brand-new play.