David Slack is founder of the 24:7 Theatre Festival, now in its tenth year. He can always be found milling around, helping with front of house, meeting and greeting the press and, generally speaking, being a darn enthusiastic and present director. In fact, he’s so darn enthusiastic, he even made an appearance in 2011’s Manchester Theatre Award-winning, Sherica by Ian Winterton. He took time out from last minute preparations to talk to Northern Soul and lift the lid on all things 24:7.
What is your involvement at 24:7?
I’m now in the exalted position of executive producer of the festival. This means I have to make sure there’s some money in the coffers.
What was the thinking behind the festival? The mission, as it were?
I wrote the plan for 24:7 in Edinburgh when I was working on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2002 and commuting back to Manchester to film some scenes for Cold Feet. I’d graduated from drama school in 1999 but managed to find no paid stage work. Having been involved in a number of loss-share productions (similar to profit-share, but not quite the same), I was a little disappointed. I’d worked on some TV shows – Corrie, Emmerdale, Touch of Frost, Cold Feet – but wasn’t really happy with it.
I was sitting in a park in Edinburgh when I had the blinding idea of setting up a showcase festival in Manchester. It would be similar in format to the Fringe, with just a few venues but back to back shows. Having a cluster of productions would make it easier for talent scouts to see a lot of people. I persuaded Amanda Hennessy, a friend and actor, to be a collaborator.
We decided that, as the show times would only be an hour long, we’d better call out for some new shorter plays. This had its advantages (a shorter prep time) but, more importantly, there would be no interval for industry people to leave at. We set up a blind adjudication process so that scripts had to jump off the page regardless of who might have written them. Reputation meant nothing.
Over the years this has continued to work well, so much so that there’s a theory that this is a new writing festival. Depends on your point of view. What is true is that it serves writers, actors, directors, technicians and production staff. It is indeed a festival of theatre-making.
The festival’s become part of the Manchester theatre landscape. What’s in store for the next few years?
I never expected it to become as popular as it is. When we started up, there was very little interest in new one-hour plays by unknown writers. Now you can’t move for call-outs. So what we’d like to do is move beyond the black box concept. Can’t say more, or I’d have to kill you.
Any surprises this year? Are you trying anything new?
This year we have a devised piece – The Young – which has been developed from an idea by a group of actors and recorded by a writer into a script. Let’s see if it works, then we’ll do some more.
We were also in the process of supporting a new play to be performed this weekend in a working fire station. But, due to the untimely death of a firefighter attending a fire in a Manchester, we and the company involved felt it best to cancel the production out of respect for the family and the Fire Service.
How has the Arts Council funding helped the festival?
The Arts Council has awarded us £70,000 a year for three years, which has enabled us to employ a couple of part time people through the winter period to prepare for the festival and subsidise the company productions and audience tickets.
Can you tell any budding playwrights out there how they can apply for the festival in 2014?
All submissions must be original works, never performed before and under 60 minutes long. The festival venues are all non-theatre spaces (bars, nightclubs, conference rooms) so our technical abilities are limited and the unique rotating performance times in our schedule means that productions get just 15 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to clear the stage. You have to make your story and your actors create the atmosphere – not the set or special effects.
There is a £27 fee to submit (£30 if you send us your submission on paper) which is used to meet the administrative costs of the process – dealing with applicant enquiries, assigning and distributing scripts to readers and covering their expenses. All submitters get feedback on their piece from more than one adjudicator, and all our adjudicators are theatre professionals used to working with new writing.
We are a platform for new work, we will help you to produce your own show, but we don’t take the script from you and produce it ourselves. Our aim is to empower theatre makers to be able create more of their own work all year round.
Interview by Lucia Cox
Where: venues across Manchester
When: until July 26, 2013
More info: www.247theatrefestival.co.uk