image

STUFF247

“Mick Cooper’s play could yet prove to be the 24:7 production this year that goes out into the world to proclaim very loudly what a unique and fantastic event 24:7 is, despite the woefully-misguided, terrifyingly unhelpful attitude of the Arts Council, who’ve just, scandalously, snubbed them again” – Manchester Theatre Awards.

If this is what happens, I’ll be very, very happy. We owe 24:7 a LOT.
24:7
The 24:7 Festival – which celebrated its 10th Birthday last year – is THE new writing festival in Manchester. Originally formed by David Slack, it’s developed to a theatrical mastodon which has a brilliant record for finding and developing work.
With STUFF@247 done, I thought it would be good to write out our own experience with the Festival. I’m going to write this very much as if you’ve never heard of 24:7, so if you have bear with me.
Entry & Judging Process
I’m not going to go into the full history of the Festival itself – mainly because they do a much better job of explaining it than I could. If you want to find out more about them though, click HERE for a link to their ‘about us’ page on the website.
After originally failing with 24:7 in 2013 (see previous blog), I re-entered STUFF into the 2014 festival with renewed hope. One of the many things that is great about 24:7 is that they actively encourage the development of the scripts throughout the process.
After the 1st or 2nd round of selection, I was given the opportunity to meet with an established writer to iron out some of the issues with the script before developing further. At the early stage, I had a meeting with Ian Winterton – a local writer whose plays I’d seen previously. I remember really liking Ian’s play “Baby Jesus Freak” (I actually auditioned for the 2nd version of it – unsuccessfully) as well as liking his play “Sherica” which had performed well at 24:7 previously and went on to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Early in my meeting with Ian, he said “I could give some advice that would improve the play in its current form and it would be easy to do. Or I can make a suggestion which would be a lot harder work for you, but would make an even better show.”
“Go on?” I said…
“Turn scene 1 into the full play. Keep them locked in the room.”
That a moment of utter clarity. The original version of STUFF was far more chaotic and covered 9 months of Jess & Toby’s lives. Boiling it all down to just one hour in real time would involve massive changes, and I only had a few weeks to re-do it. I was hoping for some basic structural advice, maybe some spelling mistakes. Not ‘write a new play’.
But dammit, he was right.
So I tore the play up and started again. Out went my “pin the tail on the baby” party game sequence which I really liked. Out went Jess presenting Toby with a “Who Da-Daddy?” T-Shirt. And in came a new play. But there was still work to do.
Skip forward another judging session and I received a call from the boss himself – Mr David Slack – to say that STUFF had been selected for 24:7! I was delighted. He then explained that 24:7 would be providing a dramturg to work with me (and all the other writers) on developing the script even further. I was already happy with the advice Ian Winterton had given me, so was open to more ideas. That’s when I found out that I would have Martin Jameson working as the Dramaturg on STUFF, and again – I was delighted.
Martin – an experienced TV/Radio writer (look him up) - had just co-writing the previous year’s “hit” for 24:7. Written with writer/actor Rob Ward, the play in question “Away from Home” had picked up numerous awards and praise. I’d seen it myself and had loved it. In fact, I actually loved it so much that the opening of STUFF (where 2 characters run on stage half dressed following coitus) was a direct homage to the opening of “Away from Home” (I don’t think I ever told Martin that…)
"Away from Home" - Jameson & Ward

“Away from Home” – Jameson & Ward

Martin – like Ian – was great to work with and offered loads of advice which formed various parts of the script. I highly recommend Martin as a dramaturg to any writer, but be prepared to have a thick skin. Brutal explanations that “the ending is shit – write something else” were repeated until I got what we have today. I’m also not allowed to write the word ‘just’ in anymore. But it was totally worth it.
(Martin also thinks I work for Doritos. Long story)
So, with a now completed script – assisted by 2 writers whose work I enjoy – we went on…
Casting
Choosing a director was easy. Gregg Scott had directed the first incarnation of STUFF and I was delighted to have him back. A Manchester Drama Grad, and ex-member of the Workers Theatre Company at The Lowry, Gregg is also a good friend and was exactly who we needed.
Casting however was hard. We were one of very few 24:7 shows to hold open castings and ended up doing 3 days of auditions to get the perfect team. We quickly realised that we needed actors who could compliment each other. Toby had to be the same age as Jess. Jess and Xav had to look like a couple. Toby and Xav needed an abrasive, yet friendly, chemistry.
By pure co-incidence, we ended up casting one actor on each day. First, was Danny Ryder as Toby. On the second day was Karl Greenwood returning as Xav and finally Eve Burley as Jess. Each decision was genuinely hard and we could have cast 2-3 versions. But I’m convinced we got it right. They were brilliant (see reviews)
STUFF PROMO
Marketing
24:7 and a company named Holden & Sons also provide support. This was an area I was – to be honest – far more questionable about. I thought MBH were producing great posters and advertising and was convinced we could do it again. However, what I hadn’t realised was that each show would form a part of a wider campaign, so having the ads done centrally not only allowed this to happen, but also gave invaluable advice to anyone producing a show.
I enjoyed the collaborative nature of the marketing side – Holden & Sons were instantly passionate about the show and were really open to ideas.
It meant that – with 24:7′s backing – the marketing was on a different level to what I’d experienced previously.  We were everywhere!
For me personally, the highlight of the 24:7 Marketing Campaign was the press night at The Comedy Store one hot June evening. Every show presented a trailer and then we did “networking” until the early hours of the morning.
Team STUFF247 performing their own "Oscar Selfie"!

Team STUFF247 performing their own “Oscar Selfie”!

Show Week
24:7 ran from July 18-25th. It was an incredible week with events organised and lots and lots of quality drama. It was so rewarding to see the previous weeks and months of work pay off in the form of some fantastic audiences and sell-out shows.
Sold Out Crowd for STUFF247

Sold Out Crowd for STUFF247

I have no idea if this was the case in previous years, but the nicest thing about the show week was that all the various teams got along well and were genuinely supportive of each other (and continue to be).

As the week went on, we started to pick up some really kind reviews and went into the final night pleased with everything we’d done. 24:7 organised an “awards evening” which were voted by the audience. Whilst it was a bit disappointing that neither Danny or Karl won “Best Actor”, it was great to see ex-MBH Alum John Weaver pick up the award for his performance in “Afterglow” by Julie Burrow.

We might not have won the individual awards that night, but we did win “Audience Favourite Show”! I missed the reaction as I had my back to him, but I was later told Gregg’s jaw hit the floor when it was announced.

And like that, it was over…

So, what next?

Well… you’ll see :)