View single post by frogfall
 Posted: Sun Dec 27th, 2009 09:16 am
PM Quote Reply Full Topic

Joined: Fri Dec 25th, 2009
Location: Manchester ____, United Kingdom
Posts: 14
Hi Folks,
I really didn’t want this to be my first “proper” post on this forum – as this touches on a topic that obviously raises blood pressure around here.  However, I feel that in this particular case the reaction has been a little ill-considered – and I’m moved to offer some extra information that really needs to be pondered before you make judgement.
Firstly, I’d like to point out that I have no connection with the 24:7 festival. However I do have a number of friends and acquaintances who have been quite intimately involved with the festival over its past six seasons. And not only as writers, but actors, directors, readers, and volunteers.
The festival was started in 2004 by a group of Manchester actors who were sick of the annual trek to Edinburgh, and the huge loss making exercise of staging new plays at the fringe.  Of course the Edinburgh fringe is quite an institution – and has been the traditional way for small theatre companies to showcase their work for many a decade. However its size now means that it is failing writers, directors and actors – as shows just get lost in the melee.  Plus, audiences for individual productions are so tiny that nobody has any chance of covering the expense of travel, food, accommodation, venue hire, and production.
After one particularly bad year, some local actors got together to try to invent a model for staging new work that differed from the Edinburgh nightmare. The result was the Manchester 24:7 theatre festival (so named because it originally started on the 24th of July and ran for 7 days).
Of course Manchester has the highest concentration of jobbing actors in England, outside of London   And as July is traditionally a dark month for theatres, lots of actors (and directors) are willing to get involved in “profit share” productions during that time.  This makes it feasible to set up lots of temporary theatre companies for the duration of the festival.
The basic idea is this:
  • New plays are submitted to the festival by prospective producers. The producer is most often also the author of the work, but does not have to be (as long as the author has given their permission).  There is currently a fee for this (more about that later)
  • All plays are read, and written feedback is given.
  • A number of plays are selected for possible inclusion in the festival, and the author/producer of each is invited to discuss their proposals for staging the play. (nb. in 2009 there were 21 new plays produced)
  • Sometimes the author (or rather producer – which is what he/she becomes) has a director, and even a complete cast, already lined up.  However many do not – which isn’t a problem for this festival as there is a special mass casting-call organised so that actors and directors can put their names forward for auditions & interviews.
  • The productions are all staged in non-theatre venues (these have varied through the years to include such places as hotel function rooms, nightclubs and pubs). All are organised by the 24:7 management team, and are “hired out” to the producers of each show.
  • The 24:7 team handle overall festival publicity (high quality brochure, posters, website, press releases, media interviews, etc).  And individual producers can finance and arrange as much extra publicity as they wish (the minimum usually being flyers for the show).
  • All ticketing is handled by the 24:7 team – and each producer gets paid a portion of the ticket sales for their show (on a sliding scale – so that the larger the audience, the higher the proportion). 
As regards the financial aspects:
  • There is an initial outlay required from the producer of a couple of hundred pounds (if I recall correctly) to cover the hire of the venue.
  • There is the cost of printing individual show flyers.
  • There may be the cost of designing and constructing a set (which must be capable of being set up and torn down in under 15 minutes, as shows in some venues are only separated by 30 minutes).
  • Other costs could include costume, and special lighting/sound/projection equipment (basic lighting and sound equipment is provided as part of the venue hire fee).
  • Plus, of course, all the costs possibly incurred during rehearsals (venue, petrol, parking,. telephone calls)
However, in recent years audiences have been pretty high, so the return from ticket sales has been reasonable – and apparently it is quite feasible to break even.  (A vast improvement over Edinburgh!)
Now that damned 30 quid entry fee....
This has been a bone of contention for a while, even amongst festival “regulars”.  And, for those people who have had plays rejected, I can imagine it just feels like an added insult.
However, as you can see from all the above, this isn’t one of those “fire and forget” new writer festivals, where you send off a script and sit back with fingers crossed hoping that somebody somewhere might do something with it.  It’s a festival set up for you to come in and “make theatre”.   Given that context, 30 pounds is a nugatory amount to pay (and the festival has no shortage of submissions).
Now I don’t know the full reasoning, but I’m guessing the logic behind the fee (and especially such a large fee) is this:
  1. It helps to guarantee that anyone submitting is serious about taking part, and it should put off people who send unsuitable plays, willy-nilly, to any festival they see advertised. Hence it reduces the reader workload.
  2. If the author/producer can’t afford 30 quid to submit, how will they afford the many hundreds of pounds required to produce the play?
  3. The reading/feedback is contracted-out to various playwrights., actors and directors in the area – for which they get a fee (I think).  This would be an added cost, that would otherwise have to be found elsewhere (e.g. lower returns on ticket sales for writer/producers).
Anyway – sorry for this being such a long post.  I was unhappy about seeing the festival attacked, as the complexity of the situation won’t have been immediately apparent to most of the people on this forum.  Maybe the festival organisers will change their submission fee policy in future – who knows. But even if they don’t, I think the policy could still be justified on the grounds mentioned above.
The 24:7 theatre festival itself has actually been a fantastic success since it was founded in 2004. Plays from the festival regularly win awards, and many go on to have further runs in regional mainstream theatres (making more money for the author and actors) and some also go on tour.
The model has recently been praised by the Arts Council – and  so it might be applied in other areas of the UK in future.  (quite ironic really, since the Arts Council ignored the festival during the first few years of its life – maybe because it didn’t fit neatly alongside its sometimes bizarre socio-political funding policies). Whether the model would work elsewhere, in quite the same way, is an interesting question.  There is a particular Mancunian “can do” attitude that means that people in the city just make stuff happen without getting too hung up about it.
As for the policy of a blanket ban on mentioning any “opportunities” that charge an entry fee – I think that is probably still a good idea.  There are plenty of new writer scams out there – and always will be when there are lots of wannabees with unrealistic ideas about the nature of the industry.  Of course a ban isn’t a particularly subtle tool – and is occasionally going to censor news that might be quite useful for some members to read.  However, perhaps that is a worthwhile price to pay to keep forum members safe from scams.
Besides, not many of you are in a feasible position to come over to Manchester to produce a fringe play anyway – so there is little lost by not mentioning 24:7 here.
Kind regards,

Last edited on Sun Dec 27th, 2009 09:23 am by frogfall