A crisp Sunday morning on The Cut saw the arrival of the 31 actors and seven producers, writers and directors who will make and shape The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices 2011. They met at the stage door of The Old Vic, where they will take to the stage this weekend. IdeasMag reports back…
At 8.45am on Sunday morning, The Old Vic’s historic Samuel Morley rehearsal room was filling up.
It was an early start for the 31 actors arriving at the theatre to spend the day performing the awkward act of “bonding”. As actor Meghan Treadway told me, “I’m more nervous about today, about the bonding bit, than I am about the real thing. With the real thing you know you’ve got to show up and just do the job and get it done whereas today is actually about releasing your inhibitions a bit.”
This is the day when all those who have made it through to The 24 Hour Plays: OVNV 2011 meet each other for the first time and come together as a company. As actor Eleanor Fanyinka said, “Steve always talks about it being a bit of a family, you know.” This is Steve Winter, head of OVNV, who started the day with a two-hour workshop with the actors in the rehearsal room where – as OVNV project manager James Quaife assured me – Olivier himself rehearsed.
“Strangely I was a bit nervous,” said actor David Ajao. “I didn’t think I would be but, you know, coming down to The Old Vic and thinking, wow I’m going to be doing a workshop in this room! And then soon I’m going to be on the stage. I don’t usually get nervous but this was quite overwhelming.”
A few trust exercises, focus games and headshots later, the actors went downstairs to meet the directors, producers and writers, and the whole troupe gathered on stage, behind the safety curtain, about to experience the big reveal. The curtain lifted. For the first time the actors gazed into the auditorium; the directors considered the space they’ve got to work with and presumably the writers slipped into dark corners while the producers assessed the seating capacity…
But let’s hear what they were really thinking.
I asked director Tom Attenborough what he’d liked best about the experience so far: “I guess the adrenaline of it [the audition] and actually getting a load of people where suddenly ego and the desire to try things and express yourself just suddenly went out of the window and everyone just went, ‘Let’s do it, whatever works, let’s do it’.”
Writer Shereen Jasmin Phillips also looked back to the audition as a taster of what is to come: “The rehearsal process was exciting – it’s interesting to see how people interpret your words and the way that you’ve written something.” Shereen hadn’t liked the 10-minute play she turned in at the end of a gruelling timed exercise, but said that, “When they had it up, with the actors and stuff, on its feet, I started to like it a bit more because you could see what the director was doing with it.”
“I think it’s really important for directors especially to get to know writers and producers at a similar stage in their careers,” said director Tinuke Craig. “Because as a director you meet actors quite regularly, but to find a writer that you’re really excited by, or to find a producer who really gets how you work, I think is quite rare. So it’s a really good opportunity to meet those people that are working at the same time as you and in that sense it’s great for expanding your network.”
“I think as producers a lot of us were quite nervous about being thrown into a zone where there are lots of very, very confident outgoing actors, writers, directors,” producer Ollie Jordan told me “It was really nice to see all the producers come up to that level as well and sort of really engage. It was electric – it was one of the most extraordinary theatrical experiences I’ve ever had.”
I asked director Charlie Westenra, who has helped on the casting of the 24 Hour Plays for the past five years, what she and Steve were looking for as they whittled down the 1,717 original applicants…
In Focus: Auditioning for The 24 Hour Plays
We know very much when we get into the interview what it is that we’re after. And I don’t think it’s easy to pin down what it is that we’re looking for because it’s a combination of lots of things. We obviously want people who are very good actors. We want people who are good company members, so that’s about looking at how they worked in the workshop and at how they were listening to each other. We want people who’ve got a certain something, a little bit of star quality. We’re really looking for people who can be part of the company – all different shapes, all different sizes, different backgrounds. Obviously we’ve got a cast of 30 actors and we need that difference, so that the writers have someone to write for.
I think the writers really shoot themselves in the foot if they come in with a preconceived idea, because they might not get the actors who fit that idea. I have always noticed that the weaker pieces are the ones that try and crow-bar actors into roles that are not meant for them and the strongest pieces are always the pieces where the writers gone, “I’ve got that actor, I can see what that actor’s skills are. Let me write a piece for them, to show off their skills and to show off my writing.” Because fundamentally what the writer wants is someone who can do the greatest justice to their voice and that’s why writing for the actor – pairing up the right actor with the right character – is going to show off their writing to their best ability.
Click here to find out more about The 24 Hour Plays.