Live Blog: Old Vic New Voices’ 24 Hour Plays 2011

What happens when you take 50 actors, directors, writers and producers and give them 24 hours to put on a play in front of 1,000 audience members at The Old Vic Theatre? Well, you’re about to find out as A Younger Theatre has full access to Old Vic New Voices’ 24 Hour Plays. Our Editor Jake Orr will be going backstage as the creative team of The 24 Hour Plays 2011 take up the challenge.

Want to know more about The 24 Hour Plays? See the Old Vic New Voices website.

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19:00
The doors are open and the audience are coming in. The 24 Hour Plays have begun… Begun the ending that is!

18:21
Box office is open to collect tickets and the doors of the theatre will open at 19:00. Currently the crew are preparing for the start if the show. The front of house crew are preparing for the audience and outside there is a crowd building already.

18:17
As the company leaves the auditorium, this marks the end of the blogging for The 24 Hour Plays. We’ve been here since last night when the companies met for the first time. The writers chose their actors, and spent the evening writing their plays. Finishing at 6am, the plays were sent across to The Old Vic, where the producers and directors read the plays and chose which to work on. 8.30am and the actors meet the directors and begin rehearsals. Come 17:30 we have plays ready to be performed. Now that is impressive.

18:16
The company are ready, just a quick bite to eat and then it’s straight into costumes and ready for the call of 7pm.

17:51
Full company call of The 24 Hour Plays to the auditorium.

17:37
Back into the theatre. The last company are just finishing their technical rehearsal and then the full company will be meeting to begin the final stages of the evening.

Not much anyone can do now but to get into the right frame of mind and go from there.

17:26
That’s it. No more rehearsing. We’ve just had a group hug and this marks the end of the rehearsing for The 24 Hour Plays. Next up? Curtain call rehearsals.

17:20
Here is a photo I took earlier from inside the theatre. Look at the wonderful chandelier that hangs in the Old Vic:
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17:13
The company have just done an excellent run through without their scripts. Full of energy and great projection. But it’s not rest for the weekend its straight back in for another run through. Keep the energy high.

17:01
The actors have been given their half an hour to learn their lines and they are now off the scripts. Time for more run throughs to tighten up the play. Last activity of the day before the show tonight? To learn the curtain call for the bow, a very important part of the evening!

16:35
“it’s a delicate piece, full of witty dialogue. I don’t want to lose it at the back of the stage” Kirsty on the staging of the play

16:06
The actors are now being given half a hour to learn their lines. Eleanor has offered to cut any lines or change them should the actors need to. This is clearly where the collaborating between writer and director along with the actors comes into play, as Kirsty spoke about before.

16:02
Throughout this process I’ve not really commented on the fact that this creative team is made up of solely females. Not that this makes a difference as such to the work, but I wonder how a male director would have worked with an all female cast. Although the characters in Eleanor’s play are so clear that I’m sure the same type of characters will have developed out of the piece.

16:00
3 hours 30 minutes until curtain up

15:57
Earlier I was worried about the directing process and how Kirsty was more focused on the actors learning their lines than drilling into the text. Now that the cast are close to knowing their lines she is really using the time to try to refine the moments within the script. There is no time for sloppiness and it’s clear that now is the time to really get into the characters and to refine them.

15:53
With the writer in the room, there is new edits to the script to assist the actors. Here is Eleanor Lawrence with Charelle Skeete:
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14:48
Cast members of Four Ladies and a Gluten Free Cake are as follows:
Hannah Dodd
Neusha Milanian
Dilek Sengul
Charelle Skeete

15:46
As we came up to the rehearsal room Eleanor spoke briefly about the play itself. It took her all night to write and the first draft was lots of monologues from the main character, but naturally she cut it back to give other actors and characters the chance to shine in the play. Now the play has a central ‘driving character’ as Eleanor described it.

15:43
We’ve now been joined by Eleanor Lawrence the writer of our play. As suspected the level of energy and excitement with having the writer in the room has changed the actors. We’re now back in the rehearsal room above the stage to continue rehearsals.

15:41
Technical rehearsal is done.

15:27
What is interesting in the technical rehearsal is seeing Kirsty fulfil her role as the director. She is direct, concise and knows what she needs and how to work with the Old Vic Theatre staff. It’s quite daunting coming into the theatre with the actors for the first time. A sense of this being real and that in a matter of 4 hours curtain is up!

15:25
One of the lighting cues is being done by a prop an actor has to bring on. Won’t spoil the surprise but it’s going to be quiet funny when it happens!

15:18
Currently we are moving from cue to cue in the script to ensure that all the technical requirements are noted and set up. The sound cues are being set, and as there are no lighting cues apart from lights up at the start Kirsty is focusing on the sound. Levels are also. Levels are also being checked. An announcement from a stage manager tells us we have 20 minutes left.

15:16
The technical rehearsal:
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15:10
We went backstage to get into the auditorium. Was surprised by how small the stage is. There is hardly any playing space and the stage itself doesn’t have much depth. Now happy to add The Old Vic Theatre to the list of stages I’ve been on in London. (Small pleasures!)

15:06
The stage management team are now running through the change over of the shows, striking the set and replacing it with the next one. In a few hours time this changeover will be essential to run smoothly.

15:02
The props are being set at the moment. The sound is being run through the PA system too. Director Kirsty is assisting the stage management with the setting of props. Phillips the prouder for this piece is assisting the sound designer.

15:01
We’re in the technical rehearsal for the company.

14:39
During a break I managed to speak to Kirsty about some of her directing approaches during the 24 Hour Plays. The priorities was to get the actors off the script as soon as possible. With the actors off the script you could begin to play with it. Kirsty is also keen to work with Eleanor on the script once she comes to rehearsals. Having previously collaborated with writers on projects, I’m pretty certain that things will really pick up in the piece with the added addition of the writer.

Just a quick line through now and it’s onto the Old Vic Stage for a line run through. This will really test the participants. Stepping out onto the stage will be an experience!

13:45
Some thoughts from the rehearsal room…

We’ve just had the first instance of some frustration from an actor about line learning coming through. As I’ve written about below, different actors use different techniques to try and learn their lines, but under these tight situations there is no choice but to plod through and hope they come. I guess most of the actors will be hoping for the lines to come to them through rigorous repetition of scenes.

However, Eleanor Lawrence’s script is excellent, and it comes across very easily to the cast – perhaps this is because Eleanor chose these actors to work with. It’s not often plays are written with the actors already in mind.

This play is very static, mostly because of the choice of setting, a group of chairs around a small table. I hope that on the large stage of the Old Vic Theatre, this works well. We’ll be rehearsing on the stage soon, so all will be revealed.

13:20
How do you learn your lines for a show? Some responses from Twitter:

@RobertHarper Good old fashioned by rote. Then picture the pages in your mind. Try monologuing your lines. Then line run with someone.
@alikichapple Pacing up and down in the kitchen, while cooking, with a sauce-splattered script next to the stovetop.
@TristanPate Dictaphone! Record all of your cues and then walk about having conversations with a recording of yourself!
@TheJohnPank Record all the other characters lines on a dictaphone and fill in yours as you listen back to them.

13:05
Now that the first run through has taken place it’s a great chance to see the shape of the play come to life. Certain moments will have to be worked upon but there are already some great instances of humour that will definitely get the audience laughing.

Questions at this stage include:
Where are the intentions of the playwright?
How do the characters progress through the scene?
Where are the finer details within the work? It’s only a 10 minute play, but you still need the journey of the characters to find themselves in this.
How do all the elements such as props, music and possible lighting work together?

This whole process is accelerated – its like cramming a weeks worth of rehearsals into 10 hours. Not sure how the actors are feeling but I’m nervous already and I’m not even performing!

12:56
Lunch is over and we’re back in the rehearsal room with the actors and the directors. ASM’s are ensuring that all props and costumes can be sourced along with the producers.

In terms of Four Girls and a Gluten Free Cake director Kirsty has blocked the whole piece. Blocking is where you roughly go through the script and figure out the movements of the actors in a given moment. It’s a great way to go through the script and allow the actors to get a sense of any big movements that they might have, and also to be a sense of the play as a whole.

Now the company are doing a rough stumble through the piece. Scripts are still in the actors hands but some of them are already using them left.

12:18
Not so much as a relaxed lunch as such but a working one as the costumes are discussed, and a great pep talk by our director Kirsty. With this play it is going to get quite a few laughs so it’s going to be important that the company of actors expects this. It will no doubt stretch out the running time a little but otherwise it should run for around 10 minutes. There are only 7 hours left until the show starts. The tension is mounting… Slowly!

12:11
The companies are breaking for lunch but there is definitely a clear purpose during this: to learn the lines!

11:54
Now that the company have started to get the play up on its feet I’m suddenly astounded to realise how much has happened in the last 12 hours alone. 12 hours ago there was no play, no characters or ideas. Now these amazing characters are coming to life and they are fantastic. These words are turning themselves into characters, and in 7 and a half hours time, they will be on the Old Vic Stage. I’m astounded. How the hell is this possible? Through sheer talent and determination.

11:38
The posters have gone up outside the theatre.
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11:30
It’s time for our group to move into the rehearsal room at The Old Vic Theatre. The rehearsal room is based at the top of the building, you come through Stage Door, and head up several flights of stairs. Also up in this part of the building are accounts, production offices, several dressing rooms and of course the stage.

On the floor is the playing space for the stage below. This gives the directors a chance to work in the right configuration and space. Their ideas might have to change if it doesn’t fit in the space they have.

11:01
The full list of plays and directors:

There is no Drama without conflict by Shereen Jasmin Phillips and directed by Hamish MacDougall
Zombie Nation by Alex Oates and directed by Edward Stambolloulin
Mae Maxima Culpa by Tobias Wright and directed by Oliver Rose
The Bearded Lady by Lee Sutton directed and by Tara Robinson
Four Girls and a Gluten Free Cake and by Eleanor Lawrence directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward
Buy Me Love by Rosa Connor and directed by Tunuke Craig
Oh, What A Super-Injuction by Gregory Skulnick and directed by Tom Attenborough

10:58
Rehearsing the play ‘Four Girls and a Gluten Free Cake’
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10:50
Already we are seeing some clear things coming out of this play. The need for energy and ‘passing of lines’ between the cast will be key as the dialogue has multiple exchanges at a given moment. The cast are also beginning to wonder about what has happened before the play, what were they doing an hour or two ago? Whats the context of the play? Makes me wonder if Eleanor knew this as she wrote. She was be of the writers who started making notes from the offset on pen and paper before using a laptop to write.

10:39
Now that the read throughs have commenced it’s straight into getting the play up into it’s feet. With scripts in hands the cast begin to play in the space, working on the first instances of characters and getting the lines flowing from the page to the stage.

10:17
Frantic call to the ASM. Director Kirsty has just spotted that there is a lighting cue that was earlier missed. Eleanor had written in that a Goose lights up on the stage, (The goose was a prop from one of the actors!)

10:07
In a line up of 7 different plays the question of how do you make your play stand on its own in such a strong line up is a task for the directors to solve. Using music as an intro, or perhaps a sound affect? What about the way the play has been written? Does it open with a bang? A dramatic scene or atmosphere? Is it about the characters being strong and standing out? I guess we’ll find out.

09:54
As there is such limited time a quick meeting about technical requirements for the show has taken place between Director Kirsty and the Assistant Stage Manager Hayley. They’ve managed to cover lights, sound including the cues and props in five minutes. Hayley is now off along with the other ASM’s for a production meeting. With so many plays along with casts and sets the running of the stage has to be as smooth as possible. I’m sure the production meeting will really be tight to make sure that everyone’s requirements are met as well as they can do.

Small note: No smoking is allowed on the stage as you have to apply for a smoking licence to do so. There just isn’t enough time for that to happen so tonight’s plays will be smoke free (and naturally we do not promote smoking on AYT).

09:40
The group of actors are already starting to be stuck into the characters. There is no chance to really sit back and relax in this process you have to throw everything into the mix. Accents have already been put on, although there is a chance that they will change during the process. My current worry is how the cast will cope with learning some of these lines, the dialogue is great, but there are a few large chunks that might get difficult to memorise before the 7.30 curtain up.

Meanwhile other casts are now starting the rehearsals in various locations around The Cut, including the Old Vic Theatre, National Theatre Studio and The Waterloo Bar and Grill.

09:23
Now that the read through has finished, it’s a question about what happens next. Kirsty is going straight for looking at each of the pages of the script to find out what happens and why. What are the characters up to on each page, and the setting? Writer Lawrence has managed to set the scene in the first page of the script, a gift to any director.

09:17
I’ll be following Four Girls and a Gluten Free Cake by Eleanor Lawrence. It is being directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward. The read through is done and there were plenty of laughs from the piece. Lawrence has written a very funny piece, looking at a group of four women meeting together to try and sort their local community out. They’re meeting in a Working Men’s Club in Kent. Director Ward called it a ‘State of the Nation’ play.

09:07
We’ve started the read through.

09:03
From this moment onwards I will be following the progress of one company as they undertake the 24 Hour Challenge. I’ll be reading the play with them and following the rehearsals.

08:55
Now that the plays have been announced the companies will be divided into separate rooms to start rehearsals.

08:52
Lots of whoops as the plays begin to get announced.

08:51
Hushed silence as the plays are announced.

08:50
The announcements are about to be made.

08:42
Across the road in The Water Bar and Grill the actors are finishing their breakfasts and the producers are preparing to make the announcements of who will be in each cast and plays.
08:37
Producers and directors are off to say good morning to the actors and to announce the plays and casts.

08:31
The directors are finding out what plays they been allocated. There were some big whoops as the found out. “I’m so excited” seems to be the general response.

08:24
Just finished reading the plays. Can’t quite believe that the writers ave managed to write through the night and produce some stunning bits of work. Most have gone for the rural setting that matches the current staging at the Old Vic Theatre. The directors ave read through the plays and have selected their too 3, now it’s a short wait as they see who gets what plays. Meanwhile the actors are meeting for Breakfast around the corner of the theatre.

07:32
The plays are…

There is no Drama without conflict by Shereen Jasmin Phillips
Zombie Nation by Alex Oates
Mae Maxima Culpa by Tobias Wright
The Bearded Lady by Lee Sutton
Four Girls and a Gluten Free Cake by Eleanor Lawrence
Buy Me Love by Rosa Connor
Oh, What A Super-Injuction by Gregory Skulnick

07:26
Good morning. So I’m back to continue blogging for The 24 Hour Plays. The plays have been written and are printed waiting to be staged. Currently the directors are tucked away in a meeting room reading through them for the first time. The producers are also reading through them for the first time… So… Next up? Get some actors and stage a play!
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00:53
As the writers get stuck into their plays, it’s time for me to get some sleep. The Live Blog will be back at 7am, where I will be joining the producers and directors at the Old Vic Theatre offices as they read the plays and rehearsals start.

00:07
Tip, tap, tip, tap. The sound of typing writers.

00:00
It’s midnight here at The 24 Hour Plays. There is only the sound of lots of typing from the writers. Most are in the main office of IdeasTap whilst a few of them have gone down to the Green Room to seek inspiration away from desks. Some of them are wearing headphones and listening to music, whilst others are nibbling on snacks.. And I’ve just spotted one writer (who shall remain unknown) is even dancing as they write, that’s quite a talent.

23:35
Now that the writers have begun we’re keeping our distance to let the creative juices flow. Some interesting things I can spot from afar:
Some writers such as Alex Oates and Eleanor Lawrence are using paper and pen to start their initial ideas, everyone else is using their laptops.

How do your write your plays? Responses from Twitter:

@JonBrittain In a panic, after months of procrastination, on whatever is nearest to hand
@jgunsun1989 Pen and paper first, always! I can’t focus on a laptop, that’s only good for copying initial drafts!
@mkmswain Laptop! Does that mean they’re going to physically write out multiple scripts for the actors? Because, you know, 24hr…
@trendy_geek I started with pen and paper but it got far too messy so moved to laptop.

23:13
I thought I would just take a moment to have a think about what I’ve seen thus far from The 24 Hour Plays. Undeniably having the full company together showed how much energy and talent there was in the group. From actors with beautiful singing voices to curious stories about the time they had brought with them. Once the writers and a few of the producers were left on their own, there was a real change amongst the group. It’s not about being competitive at such but more about wanting to get the best from the actors that they have seen.

They may not know yet what the outcome of their plays will be but there was a distinct desire amongst the writers to want the most from the experience. I was slightly surprised by the amount of knowledge the company had in terms of the actors, it became clear that the role of the casting director is a crucial one in the process of a show. From accents, skin tones, and versatility of an actor, all of these came into play during the final moments of selecting the cast. The writers were given facts, tips and general feeling towards certain actors that they had witnessed over the various weekend exchanges they have had. Based upon these annotates, the final cast were chosen, and not everyone was happy.

It’s fair to say that some of the writers really had an idea in their head about what might happen from the outset and were possibly knocked back because of it. But it’s these challenges that any writer or director has to face. The dream cast doesn’t always come true, and it’s a sign of being a good versatile person when you can change under circumstances. I just hope the writers see these challenges through and make the most of the talented cast members they have.

Curiously, I find it fascinating that the directors have no idea what play they may get tomorrow. They writers will work now until they have a play, and from here it’s into the unknown for cast, producers and writers.

22:42
So here is a roundup of what has happened so far. The actors have presented themselves to each other, along with the directors, writers and producers. The actors and directors have now left the building and the writers have chosen their cast. They’ve been assigned desks dotted around the IdeasTap office, where they will work until 6am to write their plays.

22:32
Just spoke to Eleanor Lawrence who is one of the writers. She had a determined look on her face and said: “I just want to start writing”

22:31
“One of the warmest audiences in London. Trust your voice. You are all here because of your unique voice. Use it.”

22:25
The writers are now finding out about the set that currently is on the stage at The Old Vic Theatre. Cloth at the front of the stage, of a mountain backdrop or the set of the pub. Certain props have to stay and certain doors can’t be used too much. A bench has to remain on the stage.

22:18
How do the writers feel? One writer is annoyed she didn’t get the full cast she wanted but their laughing it off. Another would love a bigger cast, they are now negotiating how this could work. Two writers are discussing the cast they have and trying to figure out if they can swap and work both of their casts into a stronger team. Real pressure to get the right team!

22:16
There is a real tough decision to make as we are down to the final few actors now.

22:08
There is a real struggle now. One writer is trying to decide upon a cast based upon the talent and skills. Which of the remaining can do London accents? Out the the remaining girls, the 24 Hour Company members are stepping in with further information about them, they give their skills and recall what they auditioned with and in the workshop weekend.

22:07
The writer each select an actor for their play, they take one actor at a time based upon what they just saw in the introductions. We’re in a meeting room and there is a real sense of anticipation and excitement in the selection process. Who is picking who and why? I’ll try to find out later for you… Now that there are fewer cast members the writers are taking their time to pick the remaining cast.

22:03
The writers are selecting their actors now.

21:55
Now that the actors, directors and some producers have left the building it’s down to the organising of the cast by the writers. The producers are not allowed into the room where the selection of cast happens.

21:35
The actors are now heading home. They’ll be back tomorrow at 08:00 to start rehearsals.

21:24
The company are still giving their introductions at the moment. Lots of props to inspire, and some special skills too.

21:04
Interesting props so far: Broad bean plant, a piece of hair, a rain stick, a small pumpkin, water cooler bottles, a lemon drizzle cake, a burger phone, some Winnie the Poo masks.

20:45
The company are now taking it in turns to say their name, their discipline, and the prop that they have brought with them. Each member was asked to bring a prop that is close to them, and ones that can be inspiration work for the writers.

20:38
The 24 Hour Company from New York are here to welcome to new UK company to the process. “There will come a point tomorrow when you will wonder why you did this” The company are warned. Future 24 Plays

James Editor of IdeasTap: Giving a speech about when Peter De Hann went to see 24 Hour Plays, and was inspired to support the work of young people. He is speaking about the work of IdeasTap and how they have funded for the first time this year the 24 Hour Plays.

20:35
Did you know that all the Old Vic Theatre staff at the actual shows tomorrow have given up their time for free to support The 24 Hour Plays

20:20
Just spent several minutes talking to some rather excited and nervous actors. At the age of 23 and 24, the opportunity to perform on The Old Vic stage is the big draw. Other highlights include meeting young playwrights.

20:00 – The Beginning
The 24 Hour company are currently meeting in the IdeasTap Green Room. Drinks are being served and there is lots of chatter and excitement. No one is asleep yet, no tears, but also no plays quite yet so we’re on top form (for an 8pm start). Joining with the action is Matt Truman who had also agreed to go through this madness with the company and report on it on the other side.
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Schedule:
A quick overview of The 24 Hour Plays schedule

Saturday 22nd Oct:
20:00 Full 24 Hour Plays company meet
23:00 Writers begin writing the plays

Sunday 23rd Oct:
06:00 Writers finish plays
07:30 Full company meet for breakfast
09:00 Rehearsals for plays start
13:00 Technical rehearsals on the Old Vic Theatre stage
18:00 Box Office opens
19:30 The 24 Hour Plays curtain up