“You’ve got to be reaching forward”: 24:7 Theatre Festival celebrates ten years

Kevin Bourke
24:7 Theatre Festival, Manchester theatre, David Slack

The festival stages eleven new productions over eight days – including a performance at Manchester Central Fire Station.

Manchester boasts one of the country’s most exciting new writing and fringe theatre scenes but that wasn’t always the case. The 24:7 Theatre Festival has helped the city’s theatrical ecology to develop in a forward-looking way and celebrates its tenth birthday this month with eleven new productions staged over eight days at 2022NQ, the Co-op’s New Century House and Three Minute Theatre, Affleck’s Palace’s boutique theatre. But back in 2003, actors David Slack and Amanda Hennessy decided that a hotbed of theatrical talent like Manchester deserved its own theatre festival. Tired of facing local theatres’ resistance to new writing, the pair sought to establish a festival that would nurture new writing, directing and performing talent. Every play would be new, every venue would be a non-theatrical space and every one of the twenty four productions would be staged within seven days. It was a tall order for a first time festival run by two relative unknowns.

Perhaps because of such high ambitions, the 24:7 theatre festival struck an immediate chord when it launched in 2004. Since then, it has staged 157 plays and become part of the national theatre landscape. It’s been instrumental in kick-starting the careers of numerous writers and creatives, including BBC Radio Four’s Sarah McDonald Hughes and Cathy Crabb, an achievement that would make even the most highly funded theatre organisation proud.

The festival has staged 157 plays and kick-started numerous careers

“It’s really important to us that what comes out at the other end of the 24:7 process eventually leads to something,” says Slack who is now the festival’s Executive Producer. “A writer like Sarah McDonald Hughes had her first play with 24:7 in 2006 and now she’s in great demand as both a writer and an actor. What I want out of this is to present and maintain an environment of some safety and security that’s still challenging.”

2013’s festival showcases another crop of talented new writers, actors and producers. 2022NQ will host parkour-infused drama My Space and youth theatre company Eve Was Framed present Blunted, a play that probes our relationship with violence. This year also features what could be 24:7’s most ambitious show yet as Manchester Central Fire Station hosts a production of Manchester’s Burning, complete with a live fire demonstration. “Having to work with real firefighters and actual fire in our Manchester’s Burning show is really exciting and something you can’t do in a traditional theatre,” says Slack.

Although 24:7 has always focused on this type of boundary-pushing theatre, Slack is just as keen to develop the talents of budding producers. 24:7’s “Foot in the Door” scheme offers experience to students with an interest in theatre production. “The aim is to try and give them a taste of helping something happen in Manchester whilst they’re still studying here so that they don’t just fly to London when they leave,” says Slack.

A knack for nurturing new talent, increasingly adventurous commissions and a ten-year heritage is enough to nudge 24:7 into the “theatrical institution” category by anyone’s standards, but Slack refuses to let the festival rest on its laurels. “You’ve got to be reaching forward towards that next phase,” he says. “I want us to be doing more challenging stuff. I want us to find and support work that’s not what we’ve done before.” With that sort of attitude, we wouldn’t be surprised if 24:7 was around for another ten years.

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