23 May 2024

24-hour theatre challenge stages expansion from the Illawarra to the Philippines

| Kellie O'Brien
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24 hour theatre illawarra

Cast members during one of the 24 Hour Theatre Illawarra challenges. Photo: Supplied.

As Luke Berman looks to put Illawarra’s actors and scriptwriters through their paces in yet another 24-hour theatre challenge in June, he’s also expanding the popular concept into the Philippines.

Registrations are open for new and established actors for Black Box Productions’ next 24 Hour Theatre Illawarra challenge on 14-15 June at the Bridge Street Theatre, Coniston, where participants are tasked with putting on a short play in one day.

Luke, who is Black Box Productions artistic director and 24 Hour Theatre Illawarra producer, first encountered the concept as an actor at Wollongong Workshop Theatre when it was run by his good friend, Dr Lajos Hamers.

“It was run in the traditional sense, and I loved the challenge and the self-belief it gave me as an actor,” he said.

“I have fond memories of improvising our way through lost lines, unexpected prop malfunctions and last-minute actor call-ins when someone didn’t rock up.

“The adrenaline of the show was next level, and as an artist was something I thrived off.”

After it fell away, Luke gained the blessing of Dr Hamers to produce the concept himself, trialling his own version in 2014 at the Tap Gallery in Sydney as a fundraiser for Black Box and the Illawarra premier of TRAINSPOTTING.

“Since its success in Sydney, I decided to launch it into my hometown in Wollongong where it’s become a cult favourite for actors and writers who keep coming back for more,” he said.

“I’ve also linked 24 Hour Theatre with my other festivals such as Short+Sweet Illawarra and Short+Sweet Sydney – where many have gone on to be award-winning plays like Time Squad, The Quality of Life and Keep which all made the Sydney Gala finals.”

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Having just flown to the Philippines, Luke said it was time to expand it further.

“We are finally signing off on taking our 24 Hour Theatre production overseas to Cebu in the Philippines in a partnership with the University of Cebu,” he said.

“That’s where I am right now, negotiating how it’s all going to work over here.”

He said he was also looking to return 24 Hour Theatre to Sydney in 2025 and would be looking for more regions to expand to over the next five years, including possibly Sydney’s western suburbs, Canberra, Melbourne, the Sunshine Coast and Vietnam.

Luke said the challenge involved registered writers and actors being cast in secret into groups made up of a mix of established and newbie actors to ensure each play’s best chance at success.

“No-one knows who is with who or what the short plays will be about until 24 hours before the show opens,” he said.

Luke said writers were given several stimulus topics and a chance to meet and get to know their actors.

“Once they’ve had a bit of a brainstorming session on the Friday night briefing, the actors go home to bed and the writers stay at the theatre and write their original short plays – with their deadline 4 am,” he said.

“At 9 am the actors get their scripts and have just that one day to learn their lines, block their plays and perform to a live audience that night – scripts down.”

He said those involved gained confidence and self-belief as they were tested in a supportive environment.

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“Any writer or actor that gets through 24 Hour Theatre walks away knowing they are capable of achieving great things in a short deadline,” he said.

“For our actors, they may be more willing to step in to save the day if a local show loses an actor close to a show.

“For our writers, they often report that in the fast and furious rush to complete a script, many ideas they may have edited out of their scripts might actually make the page – and the stage – to surprisingly positive effect.”

He said the plays were as open and versatile as the writers and actors that participated in them.

“We’ve had moving dramas that have made our audience collectively reach for their tissues, outrageous comedies, satires, physical theatre pieces, performance poetry and much more,” he said.

Luke said 24 Hour Theatre showed participants they should be comfortable with taking artistic risks, admitting performance art should never “play it safe”.

“We should always be looking to grow, to challenge ourselves and to challenge how we tell stories,” he said.

“While it’s a nervous experience, our writers will always try to write roles that perhaps the actors have always dreamed of playing but may not yet have got the chance to try out – or perhaps even incorporate some hidden performance skills they’ve been hiding away.

“This production is equally rewarding for new and established actors – it’s the perfect platform to take a risk in a safe space.”

Actor registration is now open for the next 24 Hour Theatre Illawarra on 14-15 June at the Bridge Street Theatre, Coniston. The Saturday night performance is a ticketed event at 7:30 pm. Learn more via Facebook.

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