NEW YORK — Live theater is stressful for any actor, so just imagine how crazy it can be if you've been handed a script only a few hours before having to go onstage.
That's what's facing about two dozen brave stars on Monday night at the 15th annual benefit "The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway," which asks actors, writers and directors to come up with six original short plays over the course of a day.
"The biggest lesson is to have fun and not take yourself too seriously," said Jason Biggs, the "American Pie" star. "You're going to look like a fool — that's the point."
Biggs will be joined by performers Sasha Alexander, Geoffrey Arend, Lorraine Bracco, Tony Danza, Edie Falco, Ashley Fink, Ari Graynor, Kesha, John Krasinski, David Krumholtz, Margarita Levieva, Adrienne Moore, Diane Neal, Rosie Perez, Phylicia Rashad, Molly Ringwald, Julia Stiles, Amber Tamblyn, Tracie Thoms and Vanessa Williams.
"Saturday Night Live" will be well represented by Taran Killam, Jay Pharoah and Cecily Strong and Rachel Dratch — a nod to that show's ability to nurture people fast on their feet.
Biggs and Stiles are repeat offenders at "The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway" and call it a highlight every year, even though there's plenty of sweat and stress getting ready.
"There's a weird addiction to it where you keep wanting to come back to it every year even if you were panicking leading up to a performance," said Stiles. "There's something so great about seeing how much can get done in 24 hours."
Biggs agrees: "At some point during the day before the performance, we're like, 'Why do we do this? Why are we here? Why do we agree to keep coming back? It's like a monkey touching the electric fence."
Directors this year are Andy Fickman, Thomas Kail, Leigh Kilton Smith, Patricia McGregor, Kathy Najimi and Eduardo Ponti. The writers include David Lindsay-Abaire, Rachel Axler, David Cross, Dael Orlandersmith and Jonathan Marc Sherman.
The whole thing works this way: The playwrights will gather at 10 p.m. on Sunday and will write a short play by 7 a.m. the next morning. As one might guess, they can get very silly indeed.
The celebrity actors — who, to help the process, have brought in a prop and a costume, as well as reveal a skill and a secret desire — are cast and then rehearse the work for the next 12 hours.
"The actors have it tough," said Biggs. "But at least we've gotten some sleep the night before. These writers are there all night long, under the gun, trying to come up with funny jokes and characters at 4 o'clock in the morning. I'd much rather be the actor in this scenario."
Then, at 8 p.m. on Monday, the plays will be performed for a live audience of over 1,000 people at the American Airlines Theatre. The one-night-only show benefits the Urban Arts Partnership, an organization that brings arts education into New York City classrooms.
"There's no way to prepare for it, really. The only thing you can do is try to get a good night's sleep," Stiles said.
As for what prop she will bring, Stiles is leaning toward bringing along something that is cluttering up her home.
"I've been thinking about something I want to get rid of because oftentimes you forget to pick it after the show," she said, laughing.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits