No current casting calls
More than 140 writers have had their plays produced at 24:7, gaining invaluable experience and exposure. In the last 12 years some have gone on to win Manchester Theatre Awards, been commissioned by other companies and local producers (including BBC Radio Drama, The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, The Octagon Theatre, Bolton), worked with several London houses, taken their work to international Festivals and won awards there, used their experience to support successful Arts Council funding bids, planned their own tours, gained commercial sponsorship and become resident companies in other venues.
We looked for scripts of the highest quality and potential. We used a ‘blind’ adjudication process to help us find the most vibrant and innovative new work out there – all read anonymously, ie. without any of our readers knowing the writer’s name, so giving everyone an equal chance. Certainly, having no reviews or track record did not stop people applying.
Our reading panels included artistic directors of theatres, established playwrights and actors, freelance directors, professional dramaturgs, writing development agencies and university course leaders, all of whom provided detailed comment and critique which was fed back to each submitter.
To ensure the adjudication process was thorough and as professionally run as possible, we asked for a small submission fee to cover the costs of the readings and providing feedback to ALL writers who submit their work.
At Stage One, in accord with standard industry practice, and except for the short monologues, the first 10 pages of each script would be read by small panels of working actors, writers and directors. These 10 pages had to draw us into your world, let us know your characters, and start us on the journey. The readers were asked to assess the scripts bearing the following questions in mind:
• Does the writer have an individual voice or style?
• Is the dialogue strong and are the characters authentic?
• Does the story engage you enough to make you want to read past page 10?
Based on this feedback we made a first cut – but we like to be sure that nothing is missed, so all the scripts rejected at this stage were independently reviewed by a writer working in the industry, who could put a script back into Stage Two, if appropriate.
At Stage Two, the scripts were read in full by at least two different readers independently. They were given a series of prompt questions including:
• How original is the writer’s voice and style?
• Does it make perceptive use of language? Do the characters have individual voices?
• Is the world created for the audience coherent? Is it imaginative in its setting, structure, content or staging?
• Does the writer understand the medium of theatre? Is this script intended to be a stage play or a TV/radio play?
• Can it practically be staged to a professional level at a typical 24:7 venue? (This last question is important because we work in non-theatre spaces with minimal technical facilities.)
After Stage Two, we drew up a longlist. The submitters were given their feedback and paired with an experienced mentor to help them develop their work. There was then time to make rewrites, before asking writers to re-submit their scripts.
The resubmissions were read by our high level panel of professionals, ensuring nobody who has read the script in Stage One or Two read it again in Stage Three. At a final adjudication meeting they led the debate and decision-making on which scripts were offered full production slots. Please note, at this stage, as throughout the whole adjudication process, the identities of the writers were still not known.
Although we were only looking for a limited number of scripts to take into full production, we scheduled others for rehearsed readings and sharings.
After the scripts were selected, we offered further development work with the writers. This took the form of dramaturgy support from experienced writers, directors or other creative professionals (depending on the ‘type’ and genre of play chosen). We would expect each writer to embrace this process, and work with us to shape their piece to the very best it could be.
In 2015 we also matched writers with directors and helped them to co-produce their play to the highest standard, working with them on casting, technical support, publicity, marketing and other parts of the creative process.
The 2015 family friendly show was our site specific production at the Museum – The Butterfly’s Adventure – for children aged 5+ and their families.
Due to limited time and resources in 2015, the devised piece was combined with the Family Friendly call.
In 2015, 24:7 co-produced each play with the writer.
This meant that writers got much more support than before, both in developing the script, and working together to find the best possible creative team.
We ran a series of workshops for directors, then matched them with scripts and writers.
Opportunities for actors on the chosen productions were advertised through our eNews. Again, we supported writers and directors in helping to find the best cast, as well as any other production support required – lighting/sound design, production assistant, stage manager, etc. In all cases we promoted “colour-blind” or “non-traditional” selection, where talent rather than ethnicity was key.
We hoped that the writers would use their imagination and embrace the opportunities (and pitfalls) that working in a festival gives. We looked for scripts whose words, characters and actions leapt off the page, not for plays requiring complicated scenery, multitudes of props and effects, and large casts.
All Festival productions operated profit share arrangements, based on an industry-agreed pro forma agreement because, when the work is new, obtaining funding for untested work by unknown artists is a virtually impossible task.
Any public funding we received was used to make the Festival platform the best and most affordable it could be; to ensure that the work we promoted was artistically rewarding; a real and useful way of making contacts in the local industry and other artists in the area; and that performing at 24:7 resulted in you being seen by genuine industry people who could give you a job. We worked very hard to build relationships with industry professionals, including providing them with complimentary tickets. We believe that participating in the 24:7 Theatre Festival is a well-respected credit on your CV.
We worked with our local Equity branch to make sure that actors, directors, technicians, etc. were aware of all relevant agreements and best practice, and ensure that the theatre-makers participating understood their obligations and responsibilities when working in this collaborative way. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to contact us and ask.
For the Festival Weekend, 24:7 directly produced other projects within the programme, such as rehearsed readings and workshops. We paid the actors and directors we used at least the National Minimum Wage. Again, such opportunities were advertised through our eNews, and actors submitted their CVs to us for suitable parts. We do not keep CVs on file.
Some comments from our readers/adjudicators appear time and time again in their notes, so we thought we’d offer them as advice to playwrights, not only for those submitting to 24:7, but we believe they will be relevant to other festivals and opportunities.
1. Know your play
Lots of our readers ask why the playwright is writing this particular play – what story is it they want to tell? Be absolutely sure you know this yourself, and make this evident in every aspect of your piece, including the title, character names, synopsis and story. It sounds straightforward, but many scripts appear unfocused and aimless, setting up jokes and situations, but no real sense of telling us an engaging and exciting story.
2. Make the first 10 pages count
Actually, make them really, really count. Any submissions process, including the BBC and regional theatres, simply do not have the resources to read every single script they receive all the way through. Make the opening the very best you can, to draw your audience and reader in. Does it introduce the main story? Are the characters’ journeys started? Have you found the best format/structure for your story? It really is no help if your script doesn’t come alive until page 11, or 27, or 54; set your stall out in the opening 10 pages, and draw people in.
3. Proof read and, while we’re at it, format your script
Some people believe that grammar and spelling don’t matter. And while a great story and brilliant characters will always rise to the fore, making it as easy as possible for the reader is essential. There is no excuse for slovenly presented scripts. Get someone to read them (even after auto correct – and make sure your settings are to UK English), think about the layout, don’t forget commas, and check the right characters are saying the right lines. Also, have a look at how scripts are laid out – make sure it’s obvious who is speaking and when there are stage directions. And always, always include a list of characters at the beginning, and scenes/location/period of time if necessary and appropriate.
4. Hear your script read out by friends, if possible
Get a group of people together, and ask them to read it out loud. This can be vital in not only hearing how the lines play out, but to see if everyone gets it and understands it. Sometimes, something you thought really obvious is overlooked; other times, you may have explained something too much. Be honest with yourself after this read through, and get your friends to be honest too. “Yeh, that was OK,” is not good feedback. Ask them why was it OK? What worked? What didn’t? And what is still missing from your script, if anything?
It is obvious with some of the scripts we receive that the writer has never heard their words being said aloud, because the dialogue can be unconvincing and stilted. So, even if you can’t twist your friends’ or family’s arms to read your script, read it out loud yourself – both to get an idea of how your dialogue sounds and to time your play (REMEMBER: the plays in this festival need to be between 40 and 55 minutes long)
5. Get on with it!
Although similar to the 10 page ‘rule’, this can still be an issue later in a play. Don’t take your time to get somewhere – get there. Make each line, action, scene or character drive the plot somehow or tell us something about the character or the situation, and don’t spend too much time on the set up.
6. Avoid monologues
Well, no, not really, but use them wisely. And let them show us the characters, not just tell us. Make them work for your play. If you suddenly need to have a monologue in a play where all the previous dialogue was conversation, perhaps the format isn’t right yet. If you are setting the play up as one driven by monologues, let us see why the characters have earned the right to speak. And always think about who the monologue is aimed at – whether the audience, another character, an inner thought – and make this consistent.
7. Think about setting
8. Think about number of characters
9. Think about scene changes
All these are connected, and lead to many frustrations; where is your play set and why? How many characters are needed to tell this story? And do you really need sudden and large scene changes with great amounts of furniture? Think about the festival, the length of play, and the budgetary constraints, and make it all as practical and accessible and NECESSARY as possible. If one of your scenes doesn’t work, get rid of it. Similarly, if a character’s function in a piece is as a mouthpiece or a plot device, ask yourself if you really need them. And think about a theatre piece as opposed to a film script, especially regarding length of scenes and sudden quick scene changes.
10. Show us, don’t tell us
Last on this list, but perhaps biggest of all, and a very common theme. So many writers tell us what we need to know, either in expositional dialogue or lengthy stage directions. Show us. Keep the characters real – don’t tell other characters what they already know just to inform the audience; don’t describe something in great detail – get on with the story; and be careful of too much use of overlapping dialogue or pauses – let the director and actors work this out. Make every word of your script count, and take out everything – and we mean everything – that doesn’t best serve your piece. Oh, and good luck!
The dramaturg cometh…
For writers who are passionate about their script, their baby, it can be daunting to be pushed into the (literary) arms of a dramaturg.
In the first place, the very nature of the arrangement suggests that somebody has dared to suggest that your baby isn’t beautiful and perfect, just the way it is now.
In the second place, you may have a fear that the dramaturg is out to get you, to dominate you, to mess with your mind or, worst of all, to steal your baby away from you.
These are all natural fears and they are all unfounded. Well, they are in my case, anyway. There may well be rubbish dramaturgs who do pose such threats…let’s be blunt – there are – but I’m not one of them, and if you ever do find yourself lumbered with one of those, feel free to fight back or even pick up thy babe and run! (In the case of this festival, please first of all run to your computer and send an email to let the festival manager know that there is a problem).
How it came to pass…
The good news is, if you’re being offered a dramaturg, somebody thinks your work has genuine potential. Sometimes, you’re being offered this support because several people think this (and, because I’ve yet to have a gun held at my head, literally or metaphorically, at script conferences, I will be one of those people). In other words, when you’re working with me, I’m already a bit of a fan of what you’ve written.
How we try to make it work…
A very talented writer friend of mine (Mary Cooper*) once told me that the writer faced with dramaturgical support needs to be like a well-set blancmange. That is, you need to be flexible enough to give when pushed hard, but solid enough to deflect or resist a certain amount of pressure whenever you feel you are being pushed in the wrong direction.
There are at least two kinds of (good) dramaturg. There are those who highlight weaknesses in the script and just say ‘fix this’. And there are those who point to the weaknesses and say ‘have you thought about trying this?’ I am one of the latter. My feedback will often offer ways of healing those elements of your script that I feel are endangering the health of the whole project. As a well-set blancmange, you have a choice of how to respond to that feedback.
The choice is yours…
You may, of course, ignore all that I’m telling you. If you decide to do that, we need to kiss, hug and go our separate ways. Tell me I’m not helping and we can ask the person who brought us together to find you another dramaturg, or to wish you well and wave you goodbye. I’m serious about this. I will work hard and conscientiously to help you write a better script, but I won’t take offense if you can’t work with what I’m giving you – just please, for both our sakes, say this as soon as you’re aware of it.
Right down the other end of the queue waiting to be named in my will, is the writer who does everything I suggest and, as a consequence, ends up with a brilliant script, for which she or he gives me a name-check when picking up that Olivier Award.
Most of my writers (yes, I do think of you in that soppy, paternalistic way) fall somewhere in the middle. Since you are likely to be one of those, allow me to offer you some further advice…
If feasible (mainly this is a matter of the time you have available) try to respond to every comment I make on your script. This does not mean ‘DO WHAT I SAY!’ It does mean, think about what I say (please).
If, for example, you think I have misunderstood what you are trying to do with your script, this might mean you need to redraft a little to make your intent clearer.
If, for example, you see what I’m saying but you want to do something different, tell me so, write it and let’s see how it works.
If, for example, you think my suggestion is brilliant but you have just thought of an even more brilliant idea (this often happens), tell me so, write it and let’s see how it works.
The force is always with you
The good news is that, because I’m your dramaturg (which means that my suggestions and ideas are inspired by your work), and because even if you pick up and run with my thoughts all the way, you will be running in your own unique style along a track you are constructing to your own unique specifications, this will still be your script, even if you follow all my suggestions to the letter.
What I’m saying here is don’t turn away from a good idea, just because you feel like it came out of my head (or anyone else’s head, for that matter). This is the nature of redrafting. This is the nature of that wonderful, collaborative art form called drama.
You’re in a fortunate place compared to many (aspiring) writers – you’re no longer alone. Make judicious use of my mind (I won’t hold it against you in the morning, as long as you leave me a ‘thank you’ note and promise to talk nicely about me behind my back). And when you reach the even more fortunate position of workshopping or rehearsing with talented actors and a talented director, be sure to make use of all their minds, too!
Always be ready to redraft if you can see a way to make your script better. You owe it to your audience. You owe it to those brave people who are ready to perform your work. You owe it to yourself.
A final word…
Throughout all of this process, there is every chance that your baby will get stronger and more beautiful. What’s more, it will continue, rightly and truthfully, to have your name after those two magical words ‘written by’.
Martin Thomasson – experienced 24:7 writer and dramaturg
… And a writer’s perspective:
SOME THOUGHTS ON WORKING WITH A DRAMATURG
by Thomas Bloor, writer of 24:7 play “The Night on the Field of Waterloo” – 2013
Getting a script to the point where it feels ready to be sent out and submitted to the scrutiny of strangers can be a long and torturous process. When I submitted Night on the Field of Waterloo to the 24:7 Theatre Festival 2013, it was very far from being a first draft. I had been working on the script for around nine months and had been thinking about the idea for years before that. I had already made a great many cuts, revisions and complete redrafts in the course of that process. So when, following the euphoria of being offered a place at the festival, the 24:7 team then suggested that I should consider working with a dramaturg on further rewrites of the script, I have to confess my gut reaction was one of dismay. It wasn’t that I thought the script was perfect, but I did seriously doubt my ability to make it any better in the time available. I had a very real fear that if I started breaking it apart, dismantling what I had thought of as a finished item, then I might not be able to put it back together again in time for the play to open in two months time. It also felt a bit like a step backwards, that having got through the submission process for once without suffering the anticipated pain of rejection, my script would now have to face yet another judgement, from an unknown expert who might casually reveal all my cherished work to be ill-conceived, a tottering house of cards that would have to be knocked down and reassembled from scratch. Looking at the situation rationally I knew it would be foolish to turn down the opportunity to work on improving the script, so I agreed to the suggestion. But I still experienced a considerable sense of dread at the prospect.
The first thing that eased my worries and made me think that working with a dramaturg could be a wholly positive experience, were the notes that Martin sent out on the subject. I was amazed to find that he knew exactly how I would be feeling, that all the emotions bound up in what is essentially the beginnings of the transition between working alone and working collaboratively, were quite normal. All writers, it seemed, tended to feel the same way. This came as an enormous relief to me. It was also reassuring to learn that, in Martin’s opinion, the role of the good dramaturg was not to take over the writing or have the script remade in their image. The script would remain my script, but with Martin providing a renewed perspective, a fresh pair of eyes. The dramaturg would act as a guide to seeing the wood for the trees.
Once the rewriting got going, I found Martin’s comments and suggestions to be very clear and specific, but also open enough to allow for a creative response on my part. I never felt I was merely doing what he told me to, the actual writing was still down to me. Martin highlighted issues with the script that inspired me with ideas of how to improve things. And he was able to avoid the vague, wafting comments that sometimes blight an editorial process. Because the rewriting never felt forced or gratuitous I was able to maintain a good working pace. We therefore completed a new draft in good time to hand over to our director and actors for rehearsals, the next stage of the play’s transition from page to stage. By rewriting with a dramaturg our show gained an improved script, and I gained a greater degree of confidence in my ability to work collaboratively.