Tag Archives: 24 hour plays

Fringe-24 – Creativity Takes Courage: Day 1

Challenge: To write and rehearse a new play in 24 hours.

In two 12-hour rehearsals, Fringe-24 aim to create a performance lasting 50 minutes, and it’s going in front of a paying audience on Saturday 4th April at the Etcerera Theatre in Camden at 3pm and 7.30pm (so no pressure then).  My role in all of this?  To blog their rehearsal process – process being the operative word.  To focus on the journey rather than the destination.  There will be an end product – it’s just that we’re not quite sure what it will look or sound like.  In some ways, it is a dangerous way to work – and that’s what makes it so interesting.

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I am hopeless with names, so when I arrive, I’m relieved that I’m only faced with meeting a small group of people to begin with (others arrive throughout the day).  Directors Jennifer and Ella, musician Ash, dramaturg Hannah, and actors Jennie, Faye and Bella.  When I walk through the door of the rehearsal space, all of them are sprawled on the floor, deep into a writing exercise; paper, pens, newspapers, magazine and cushions are scattered everywhere.  Sheets are covered in brainstorms, copious notes, lists and errant doodles.

They are working on something akin to a hybrid game of Consequences and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’s Cheddar Gorge, where in two teams of 3, they take it in turns to write 1 word, 2 words, 3 words etc. until they’ve come up with a stream-of-consciousness monologue.  The aim of this is to get the actors into a writing frame of mind and just committing pen to paper.

Jennifer put the actors through various improvisation techniques in order to get the creative juices flowing.  But by far the most interesting exercise was to put their written texts into unlikely situations – turning one into a shady transaction of selling a phone in an alleyway and the other into a political debate – by playing with words in this way, it forces the actors to use more physicality, intonation and change of pace in order to make the scenario believable.  Initially the words seem so out of place, but the more you toy with them, the more you find ways to make them sound relevant.

The speeches are flipped between the two groups, new situations assigned and rehearsed, but on performance (and without prior warning), other actors are assigned tasks to chip in with the scene. It requires a certain fearlessness from the actors to respond to whatever is thrown at them, all the while staying in character and sticking to the script.

As a rehearsal technique, it’s fascinating to watch – the importance of playing around with text, making the time for stress-testing, experimenting, screwing up and striking gold, because in the midst of all the jibberish, there’s something worth developing.  When so much theatre relies on financially breaking even (or making a profit), it’s tempting to plunge straight into rehearsals – so to witness a day of textual playtime is very refreshing.

But mindful of the deadline, the best part of the afternoon and evening was taken up with brainstorming ideas, themes and stories for the play itself – looking at current affairs, recent news stories, key anniversaries coming up in 2015, and exploring how these related to each other. Snippets of writing were done, but mostly personal reflection and memories rather than creating characters.

By breaking out into smaller groups and doing a bit of free writing, various members of the group were beginning to produce little bits of content.  Music and games provided stimuli, but mostly the group seemed to generate mountains of ideas.  One of the things I’ll be interested to see (if it goes ahead) is the concept of a play that is structured like a song (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus).

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As the evening wore on, it became clear that it was time to focus on just one or two ideas – there are many more, but if you throw too many themes at a show, it all risks becoming a little bit GCSE Drama.  Right towards the end of the first 12 hours, the group began to agree on some of the basics and what needed to be achieved in the next rehearsal.  We were tired…. but inspired and excited.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds…..

A full gallery of the photos I took can be found by clicking here.

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The 24 Hour Plays – Old Vic New Voices (Old Vic)

I’m a big fan of new theatre – and it doesn’t come much newer than taking your seat in The Old Vic to watch six 10-minute plays that have been cast, written and rehearsed in the previous 24 hours.  Old Vic New Voices has been running this project every year since October 2005; this year the panel had to whittle down 2,500 applicants to just 21 actors, 6 writers, 6 directors and 6 producers.On Saturday evening, everyone piles into the rehearsal studio to introduce themselves, then the actors and directors are sent off to get a good night’s sleep (they’ll need it), but the writers must divvy up the actors between themselves and they have until 6am to write a 10-minute play.  At 7am the directors choose the script they want and rehearsals start in earnest; producers beg, borrow and steal whatever is required, knowing that all 6 plays will be performed for one night only to an audience of family, friends and theatre lovers at 7.30pm.

There is a frisson of excitement as you walk into the auditorium, not quite sure of what to expect; the stunning set of resident play Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen provides a very gentile 19th Century backdrop for this evening’s proceedings – would the set influence the writers, or would they choose to ignore it?

Trapp is the first offering of the night, featuring a couple who’ve had trouble conceiving and instead of IVF, have decided a guided tour of the set of The Sound of Music should help nature take its course – but her husband (a vocal dead ringer for Jack Davenport) painfully points out that her desperation for a child has driven them apart. Next up, it’s Activate; four political revolutionaries are holed up in a stately home planning their next stunt, but Brie, the posh girl of the group, has purchased a gun on the internet and this threatens to give away their identities and their location to the authorities.  Some great characterisation as the class barrier proves that money cannot buy intelligence.

Having seen the 24 Hour Plays before, there’s always one ‘difficult’ piece and The Natives was it – a young unemployed man accuses the local Polish community of killing and eating the swans.  The story was not aided by the heart-in-mouth moment where he completely forgot his lines and walked off stage – there was a pained silence for a very long few seconds, but he returned and carried on, earning him a thundering round of applause.  The piece was redeemed at the end by a great monologue by the girl playing the Polish shopkeeper.

After the interval, we picked up again with Long Shore Drift – one girl over 3 decades and the conversations she has standing at the end of Brighton Pier.  The first with a teenage boy on a school trip who has been throwing oranges into the sea to study long shore drift, second with her best friend and thirdly with her husband – she is concerned that she is repeating the same mistakes her mother made, while her husband draws a parallel with the oranges experiment and insists that you can never end up back exactly where you started – a very subtle piece of writing.

Cinderland takes us post-apocalypse to a world ravaged with a highly contagious disease – 3 young men are hiding in a stately home.  In walks an attractive girl whose father is responsible for culling off the last few people with the disease to save the rest of the population – she insists she can get them to safety further north.  A wonderfully ambiguous piece which deals with how much you can really trust someone.

There is no shortage of laughs in the final piece, Friends with Benefits – the government are cracking down on child benefit payments.  Ms Jones has the difficult task of breaking the news to Deborah who, with her sprawling mansion, hot air balloon and observatory does not seem to be short of money, but insists that without these payments, she and her precious little boy (aged 30) will be left destitute.  The writing is a little contrived in places, but great fun to watch.

Now you will have missed this (unless you were also there), but if the concept appeals to you, then you may like to see ‘The Twenty Four Hour Musicals Celebrity Gala’ on December 9, 2012 also at The Old Vic – further details can be found here: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/the-24-hour-musicals