Welcome to Slam Theater.
I've just started on this, trying it out over the last couple of weeks. The real point of it is a competition for new playwrights. They are charged with presenting their plays to a panel of judges. To do this, they get five minutes and a bucket with a bunch of names of actors who happen to be in the audience. As an actor, your name is called, you walk onstage, get handed a script, are told what part you have, are given maybe two sentences of direction, and then you get to perform in front of the audience.
Basically it's a mix of a cold-reading audition, charades, and the newlywed game, watching the writer bite his or her nails as his or her work is exalted/mangled for a live audience and a panel of judges. It's good fun.
At the particular place I'm doing it (The Tank on 45h st) we get a few people who are casting shows. I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure my getting cast in my latest show was at least partially thanks to my participation in Slam.
I've met some really cool actors and actresses, playwrights, directors, etc. at this event. Nobody there is famous (yet) but just about everybody there is very talented and fun to watch and work with.
I think this is a format that should be able to gain some traction anywhere there are new playwrights, not just Times Square. I'm going to try to suggest it to my friends in Seattle and Chicago- it's easy and cheap to do. As a suggested prize, usually the judges pick a few plays to go the second round, and then the final winner gets the performance space for a night so that the full production can be performed. But anyone else can adapt that how you will.
Oh and New Yorkers, if you want in, bring your plays and actors to the Tank (354 W. 45th) next Sunday, 7pm. Good luck to the playwrights, and break a leg to the actors!