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What opportunities are there for emerging directors in the East Midlands?

Session Called by: Beth Shouler
Those Present: Beth, Tilly, Nathan, Pete, Lawrence, Kate, Richie

Summary of Discussion:

Session began with those present discussing their experiences of trying to be or already being directors in the region. Various concerns and questions were raised:

  • What are artistic directors doing to ‘send the lift back down’ for those who are emerging in this field? Many directors used to be good at this but this seems to be happening less at the moment.
  • Many national opportunities are age-restricted – you either have to have just graduated or be under 26. This is problematic especially as many directors emerge later.
  • The role of the director needs to have leadership ability as well as creative vision, some of the skills required for directing tend to come with maturity.
  • As the director is potentially a hierarchical position with them in a leadership role it is difficult for new directors to broker new projects and there are issues with finding training opportunities – especially in this region.
  • You cannot direct by yourself. If you are a writer or actor you can practise these skills alone and keep getting better. If you are a director you cannot and so directors need support/opportunities from outside.
  • Assistant director roles tend to be unpaid which means either you have to be supported by someone else or you have to do paid work around this which is stressful. Therefore the industry is difficult for those who can’t afford to work for free.
  • How do you make the role of the assistant director meaningful? Some directors are very good at this while others really only allow the person to sit in on rehearsals. All of those present said that there was value in this as you learn a  great deal by observation however it meant there were limited opportunities for practice.
  • The role of directors is becoming increasingly elitist. Many of the attachment opportunities that some of the big theatres provide are already connected to postgraduate training programmes or only take on postgraduate trainees. The cost of doing such a postgraduate (usually in London) is prohibitively expensive for many people.
  • Some companies offer longer practice based training e.g. a week with Told By An Idiot – however these are usually in London and expensive. It is difficult to afford the training and stay in London for a week especially if you have work locally.
  • In the local region we had not heard of many opportunities especially places which offered space to practice. It is one thing to observe but at some point you have to get to ‘do the job’ and have space to fail and learn. With the current emphasis on product everyone is playing safe and therefore it is difficult to find a place to learn.
  • In Nottingham one of the big problems is the lack of a studio theatre where directors (and writers) can cut their teeth. There is no studio theatre attached to the bigger theatres for smaller more experimental work or allowing new directors to make work for a smaller audience and build up a track record with theatres / audiences.
  • It is difficult to build up a product based CV and build a track record for the industry to take seriously.
  • There are opportunities within the amateur sector but these theatres have a different agenda and there can be a stigma attached.
  • If we are not careful we will lose the talent in the region to other cities.
  • There was much discussion about the fact that historically several young directors had been given opportunities in Derby and had gone on to be artistic directors nationally before the age of 30. Theatres had been willing to take risks, look for talent and support those people. Somehow we seem to have lost this tradition.
  • Many of the directors talked about their passion for staying in this region and their commitment to local audiences and stories.
  • People are gradually making their way but it is very difficult.

What is needed and what can we do?

  • Opportunities for emerging directors that are East Midlands based that has nothing to do with age and is about taking talent in the region seriously.
  • Workshops (TWP had just done one with emerging directors and writers which was really useful – could there also be a programme set up that was similar to how TWP support new writers but with new directors?)
  • These emerging directors would like opportunities to see established directors at work, the opportunity to direct small shows/rehearsed readings and receive constructive feedback, perhaps being mentored by a more experienced director, opportunities to understand the role of a director on the more business side of things. How do you programme and produce? What are all the other bits of the job of ‘artistic director’? Everyone had a different story as to how they ended up a director. Is there a way of making the route more established?
  • Tilly used the idea of learning to ride a bike. First you watch someone (observing in the rehearsal room, being an assistant director with a small part to play), then you have stabilisers (taking more weight and responsibility in the rehearsal room, perhaps given overseen opportunities to direct bits or take the show on tour etc.), then there is someone holding onto the bike without stabilisers (given something small to direct by yourself with support around if you need it) and then the adult lets go (once trust has been built with an experienced director, an opportunity to direct a studio performance with feedback later on should you fall off the metaphorical bike and need help to get back on again) this should eventually and ideally lead to a relationship with a director / theatre which means someone can direct on the bigger stages.
  • Do we need to have a conversation with artistic directors in the region and ask about creating possibilities?
  • Pete Meakin offered to look at creating some workshops.


One Comment

  1. Carol Leeming
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I concur with much of the above as a BME Director in the East midlands region all of the applies and is is tripled ! More shadowing opportunties are needed , workshops , the development of the cohort of directors for the region. Identifying the different strenghts and specialisms identified e.g I am cross art from i.e. physical theatre , music , still and moving images and world theatre .

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