This Sunday, before most of us have even had our morning caffeine hit, a company of 52 young theatre makers will, in the words of the Head of Old Vic New Voices Steve Winter, be creating “adrenaline fuelled theatre” in a process that lasts 24 hours. Welcome to the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays.
Winter describes how, at 8:30pm on Saturday, a group of 31 actors, seven directors, seven writers and seven producers will meet at Ideas Tap, the 24 Hour Plays HQ. Here they will bond as a company and begin setting in motion the writers, who, at 11:30pm, go into a meeting with the producers to decide on casts. At this point the directors and actors go home to bed. Writers and producers pull an all-nighter, creating seven short plays by 6:00am. At 8:30am on Sunday, the directors and actors return to rehearse until 5:30pm. At 7:30pm an audience of 1,100 is let in and the show begins. The pressure is well and truly on.
Trying to do anything for 24 hours is a marathon test of endurance; trying to put on a play in this time frame – at the Old Vic no less – is also a test of sanity, confidence and, ultimately, theatrical talent. The whole 24 Hour experience is the culmination of four or five months of work including administration, publicity and the mammoth task of sorting through the applications. Every actor who applies gets the chance to audition, but for the other disciplines there’s a highly thought out selection process. Winter confirms that directors need to prove that they are “diplomatic, strong willed” and have a “clear view on what their work will look like”. They’re directing for the esteemed Old Vic stage after all, so vision is key. Writers are chosen for their previous experience and recommendations but primarily on the merits of the written work submitted. They need to be “someone with something to say”. As for producers, they are chosen for organisational ability but also on their ability to be commercial; to become those people who can push new work forwards in the future.
In fact the whole 24 Hour Plays venture is really a showcase of the young voices out there today; a glimpse of how the theatre world could look in a few years’ time. Now in its sixth year, the 24 Hour Plays has become an opportunity as priceless as a Willy Wonka golden ticket for young people trying to establish themselves in the theatre world. It opens a door to continued support from the Old Vic, and a whole host of networking and professional development opportunities. Testament to this is the 24 Hour Plays Alumni, including an impressive selection of today’s hot young theatrical talent, Mike Bartlett and Bryony Hannah both took part (as a writer and actor, respectively). Winter, however, is quick to point out that the event is “not necessarily a showcase, but it is a project that will change your career… possibly in ways you didn’t expect”.
If there are surprises in store for the participants, what about the audience walking through the doors of the Old Vic theatre on Sunday night – what can they expect? “Adrenaline fuelled theatre” is how Winter describes it, enjoyable for all those who value theatre that’s full of “energy and surprise” along with some exciting twists. A favored genre is often tongue-in-cheek comedy, but the serious works equally well and no past showcase has ever been all the same in terms of style. The event looks set to be unexpected and of course new, which is possibly the most important thing.
Kevin Spacey, as Artistic Director of the Old Vic, is determined to nurture young emerging talent. As Winter rightly notes, it would be “naïve of established venues [such as the Old Vic] to think they don’t need new voices”. It can sometimes be the case that this need is forgotten and this is why the most exciting part of the 24 Hour Plays – from the audience perspective – is the opportunity to see fresh young talent, to hear what the young voices of theatre have to say and to support them being given the chance to develop that voice.
It will fall on some of those involved in the 24 Hour Plays company, and those in years to come, to take British theatre in new and exciting directions. There may be less money in theatre now, but Winter believes there are “more ways for getting work seen”. He talks of digital media, online platforms and found spaces as being the future.
Not that it’s just down to the select 24 Hour Plays company. If you didn’t get selected this year there’s no need to feel as though this golden opportunity is slipping away from you. Old Vic New Voices offers a vast range of projects, workshops and development opportunities to get involved with throughout the year.
On Sunday it may all be about what’s on the Old Vic stage, but in reality the 24 Hour Plays encapsulates more than that. Audience members may be there to experience the real thrill of a theatrical event with a heightened sense of ‘liveness’ due to being so under-rehearsed in comparison to the norm. There have been occasions where actors have forgotten their lines entirely, or bumped into each other, or had set pieces fall on them – and perhaps this element is part of the attraction for some.
Hopefully, however, the real rush for the audience comes from seeing something truly fresh and getting a sense of young theatre makers today. What do we expect them to be saying? Well, part of the thrill is that we just don’t know, and until 6:00am on Sunday neither will they… Winter has guessed that we may see some plays addressing topical issues, such as the recent riots or the upcoming Olympics. For anything more tangible we’ll just have to wait until Sunday.
Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays will be taking place this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are now sold out, but you can follow the events over the full 24 hours with AYT’s Editor on AYT’s 24 Hour Live Blog.