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Abbey Theatre

Can these famous names help write and perform six plays in 24 hours?

Oh yes they can.

25.2.2009 To Russia with Love. Pictured is Keith Duffy at Irish charity, To Russia with Love's fantastic gala evening in the National Concert Hall with Gay Byrne in aid of abandoned and orphaned Russian children. All performers gave their ser Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

KEITH DUFFY, YASMINE Akram, Peter Coonan and Caroline Morahan are all known for their entertainment and acting chops. But can they help produce and present six short plays in 24 hours for the Abbey stage?

They’re among a large cast (including Sarah Greene, Reeve Carney and Jonny Beauchamp), who will perform in The 24 Hour Plays at the Abbey Theatre tonight.

The writers include John Butler (The Stag), Róise Goan (Ros na Rún) and Michelle Read, while the directors are Oonagh Murphy, Dan Colley and Gerry Stembridge.

This is the fourth 24 Hour Plays in Ireland, and all the money raised goes to Dublin Youth Theatre – it has raised €25,500 for DYT over the past four years.

IFTAS Awards Sam Boal Sam Boal

So, how does it work? Well, six short plays will be written, rehearsed and presented all within 24 hours by the voluntary team (who are helped by over 20 theatre technicians, as well as producers from The 24 Hour Company in New York).

The show is now sold out. The 24 Hour Plays originated in New York in the mid-90s and was brought to Ireland by producers Philly McMahon and Eva Scanlan in February 2012.

Unusual and difficult situations

Scanlan tells that as “a nerd for logistics and making things happen in unusual and often difficult situations”, she relishes the challenge of the “mayhem” of pulling the 24 Hour Plays together.

Although it’s a 24-hour long production for the cast and crew, the two producers work on the concept for six months of the year.

It’s finding the right mix of actors and directors across ages and experiences. We have some new actors and experienced people in the cast.

While the backstage crew were “terrified” at first, by its second year they were “comfortable – they feel a little less scared”, says Scanlan.

“You don’t have the luxury of time to dwell on little decisions. You say yes and make it happen, or say ‘give me 10 minutes’ to come up with answer and hope they forget,” she laughs. “We advise that it’s advisable not to promise anybody anything in the room. I’m very much a believer in if someone really, really wants to do something they will try to make it happen by hook or by crook.”

Just as time is tight, so is the budget. Each show gets €20 for things like extra props and costumes. It’s about “thinking on the spot and improvisation”.

How it all works

RELEASED Irish Heart Found Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

The clock starts on the Saturday night with a meet and greet. The actors present themselves in turn with a prop and a costume, and tell the team what their special skill is.

The props and costumes are gathered, and the playwrights get thinking. “We ask them to come with no preconceived notions and ideas,” says Scanlan. They have from 11am to about 6am to write the plays, which are 10 – 12 minutes each.

Rehearsal goes from 9am to 6pm, and then the Abbey curtain goes up at 7.30pm. This year, the musical guest is Jerry Fish.

“It’s blink and miss it,” says Scanlan. The show isn’t recorded or filmed. It all just happens right then and there.

“We do get quite a theatre crowd, but as well people who might not have been theatre ever who would come for the more famous TV names that they might only know as TV actors,” says Scanlan of the audience. “It’s always exciting to bring people into a theatre who haven’t been.”

“It’s fun live – it’s terrifying and absolutely anything can go wrong,” adds the producer. She won’t name names, but says that “when actors corpse [break character or laugh etc] on stage is pretty much my favourite thing in the world”.

Read: Arts Council doles out €30m among 200 arts organisations around Ireland>

Read: This old lady is 110 today and she has some stories to tell>

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