It saddens me to report that yet another businessman has hit upon the idea of organising a play festival and charging the writers to enter. These people want a £30 'reading fee' for every script submitted. The worst thing is that this festival is being sponsored by one of the most ethical companies in the UK. The fact that they are supporting the exploitation of writers just makes me despair.
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:
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.
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?
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 stageplays-forum.com 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.
Last edited on Sun Dec 27th, 2009 09:23 am by frogfall
Thank you for your post. I think that you should be congratulated for having the bottle to come on here and defend something that you believe in when you know the majority view of the forum. I respect you for that. However, you have not changed my opinion.
It is interesting that the festival was conceived by a group of actors sick of the expense and uncertainty of Edinburgh. How enterprising to set up a festival on their own doorstep to showcase their talents, at no risk to themselves because it is paid for by writers. How about I hire a theatre and put on one of my own plays and have this paid for by actors who will have to pay to be in it? I'm being flippant but the comparison is not unreasonable.
More worrying is the revelation that it is not just a £30 fee to enter, but the writer/producer is expected to meet the costs of the production. I know about the fee because I read the terms and conditions of entry - at no point does it mention that if I am 'successful' I will be expected to fork out several hundred pounds. Not only is this misleading I'm not even sure it is legal! I have to question what the organisers do with the sponsorship money from the co-op. I had assumed that this went to meet production costs but apparently not. The organisers are making money from the submission fee, a proportion of ticket sales and they get sponsorship. I am sure that this more than adequately covers the cost of their posters and website!
As to the original point of contention, the fee, I cannot accept the arguments that you put forward. There are many ways to receive worthwhile feedback on our writing. This forum is one of them and, in the UK, the BBC provide an excellent, free, service providing that the writing is of a reasonable standard.
It is true that if an author cannot afford thirty quid he will not be able to afford the several hundred of pounds required to put on a production. Unfortunately this information is not made generally available to the audience. They will attend the festival thinking that they are seeing the best new writing, not just plays written by people with plenty of disposable income.
This brings me to the final point about the fee. If you look around this forum you will read numerous success stories from the writers who come on here. Speaking for myself, I might not be the next Alan Bennett but I have had some success. In the last year I have been a finalist at three festivals and won two and I have never paid a penny to enter a festival. I am concerned that writers who do stump up the thirty quid will either be unaware that a fee is not the norm or they have never had any success submitting work to other festivals. If the latter is true then 24-7 is a festival of unsuccessful plays.
The shame is that this whole thing is a missed opportunity. Manchester is a vibrant, exciting city with many brilliant theatres and a public keen to support the arts. If this festival was run on equal terms so that everyone involved had the same risk and the same potential then I would be singing its praises. Unfortunately all the information that I have points to the fact that the limited company behind the festival are in it for the money first and for art second.
This isn't a personal attack on you David. As I said at the beginning, I admire you for standing up for something you believe in but I suspect that this is something on which we will never agree.
Thanks for your reply - and I appreciate that you are not having a go at me ;-)
I don’t really want to get too embroiled in this – as I said I have no connection with them. However, I do know that they are not the spawn of the devil. Their organisation has even had to go through the rigours of Arts Council assessment.
In fact I don’t particularly want to “defend” them, as such, as I don’t think there is anything there than needs defending. I do think you are right, though, that the details of the process are not obvious from the website – I’m only aware of them through casual contact with people who have been involved in previous seasons.
Plus I have not looked at this years rules and conditions in fine detail. I know that they are limiting production to 10 plays next summer, which may mean that they can take onboard more of the up-front venue costs.
Interestingly, I co-wrote a show for the Manchester “Not Part Of” festival, last July, in which we didn’t have to pay anything towards the festival, or towards the cost of our venue (a fully appointed 100 seater studio theatre on the Manchester University campus), plus we also received a portion of the ticket sales. However, even with all the actors, and director, giving their time and skills for free, we still just about broke even – so the overall economics were little different to those experienced by companies in 24:7.
Actually, 24:7 producers are perfectly at liberty to ask their actors, director, technician or whoever else is involved, for financial contributions. Indeed, some productions are very much consortia based. These are all “profit share” companies – sometimes more accurately known as “loss share”. Everyone is in it together.
Also, the point of the selection process is to make sure that the festival is NOT just about who can afford to fund a production. Normal fringes are like that – the element of selection was introduced precisely to add some quality control.
And the quality can be very high – which is why the artistic directors of major professional theatres in the region (such as Bolton Octagon and The Library) come along to see the plays, and select those that they would like to bring back for further runs at their own venues.
Last edited on Sun Dec 27th, 2009 02:59 pm by frogfall
As muncy said, I certainly respect your courage in presenting a defense for this festival’s policies. But I also agree wholeheartedly with muncy’s riposte. I’ll try to keep this brief:
While I appreciate your explanation of the details of the festival, many of which no one without a direct link to it would know, I’m afraid to say I think you may have got lost in them. Once you boil all of those details down to their essence, you are left with this: Group of actors get tired of shelling out their hard earned money to showcase their talents at Edinburgh, so they decide to create their own festival and have the writers pay for everything.
Your explanation was just that: an explanation…not a justification. It is not possible to justify playwrights being asked to shoulder all the costs of production for what is a “shared” opportunity. It is simply inequitable. And the £30 entry fee is quite simply insulting. If I charged an actor £30 to audition for me, only to have me say “No, sorry…next!” as I slipped the cash into my wallet, well…I think you know how the actor would feel.
As a playwright, I can, if I have the money available, opt to self-produce (which is what this festival is offering) at any time and at any place of my choosing. The only difference is I don’t need to give away an extra fifty bucks to be considered.
Thank you for adding to this discussion. You seem like a very intelligent, eloquent, and respectful person and I’m glad you’ve joined us.
Just a few thoughts. As my production company produces a fringe-ish festival, I have a few opinions. UNHINGED is similar to 24:7 in that although it is essentially set up as a Fringe, it isn't quite, and deals more with site-specific theatre...
It is not unusual for Fringe festivals to charge a submission fee. Usually, it's about $15.00. They'll call it a reading fee, or administration fee. £30 is really really high.
We do charge a fee, but not one up front. The fee is for plays that are in the festival. We get the venue, we deal with major advertising, lights, fx...tickets.
So similar, but no admin/reading/submission fee...and the artists get the entire box office.
Usually it is the playwright that sets about orgainizing the production, and creates a production company...but it shouldn't be the playwright that funds the event.
Frogfall, what a great first post. Good to discuss things even when there is a different view, but the conversation is civil.
So...all these words and I'm saying, I don't think you need to charge a fee.
Actually this thread may highlights what causes many disagreements on forums, and that is just differences between “frames of reference”.
And I think in this case, some of it can even be attributed to multiple meanings of the word “festival”. Different types of festival involve different economics.
Talking of festivals, I’ve googled UNHINGED and, Paddy, it looks wonderful. I’m quite fond of site-specific pieces – it’s a pity Kitchener is so far from the UK (although I occasionally cross the Atlantic with work, so I’ll bear in mind the dates if I have to make another trip to Detroit).
Yeah, Regretfully I speak from experience.... Once you proceed with said 24:7 Festival Manchester, the £30 (50$ US) becomes the least of your worries. As a previous participant I am still recovering from my losses never mind profit share. I just cannot believe it is actually a "Grant Funded Event"!!?? = ah well, you live and learn.
As a footnote; The poster below "Frogfall" who so defends the whole event is mysteriously called David from Manchester. So coincidentally is the organiser of 24:7 !? (Mmmmmm I wonder......)
I know it's a while since the last response to this but I came across this while research 247.
I don't understand why people have got an issue with others earning some money for their efforts.
Firstly, there are not many festivals and writing contests that are free to enter. There are a few small fringe festivals and some larger production companies that do not charge but, in the main, there will always be a fee. It costs you almost a hundred pounds to register just one show with the Edinburgh Fringe and they do practically nothing.
Secondly, the readers will not offer their services for nothing. It takes a lot off time and effort to read, score and critique scripts. Would you do it for free?
Then, of course, there are the other overheads - legal fees, accountants fees, insurance, venue hire, staffing, electricity, phone bills, travel expenses, publicity, etc.
I write as one of those evil business men who is, himself, setting up a similar festival in Liverpool -http://www.pagetostage.org.uk . Why am I doing it? Certainly not to become rich - I am going through the process of setting up a not-for-profit company; If I did not have other streams of income to support this venture, I wouldn't be able to do it. Yes, hopefully I will earn a little bit of money from it, but for the effort and time I put in it will be less than minimum wage. I've done my costings.
I am running the festival because there is a vacuum left by the Write Now Festival ending. Why did the director pull his festival? Simply because it was not profitable! I am providing a platform for writers to get their plays performed. I am providing an opportunity for them to learn how to stage their own plays (Oh, how I wish someone had give me such guidance all those years ago); I am providing up to fifty performances - opportunities for local actors to showcase their talents; I am making links with larger theatres who will be invited to performances to see new writing and local actors.
So please, please, don't criticise a group of non-profit oriented people for trying to provide a service to writers, actors, producers, theatre practitioners and actors.