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Blog: Young directors – The director/designer relationship

Posted on 16 February 2014 by Young Directors

“No man is an island.” John Donne

In terms of theatre making I would be inclined to agree with Donne, particularly when it comes to directing. In our weekly sessions, we have been talking about the different dynamics and relationships directors have e.g. the actor/director relationship or the director/new playwright relationship. One of the sessions that really interested me was the director/designer relationship as, for me, this is a fairly new relationship that I have discovered during my practice as a trainee director.

I recently scratched a show that I wrote and co-directed, 2:1, which was a physical theatre piece at RichMix. We worked very closely with a young graduate designer, Natalie Jackson, who we first met when we started R&Ding the work last summer. We had some ideas of what we wanted design-wise but no money and no idea how to realise our vision. So we sent an email out to the course director of the theatre practice course at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and two designers who had just graduated a few weeks previously got in touch, as they thought our project was interesting and wanted to come down for a meeting and to have a look at our rehearsals.

I felt very much out of my comfort zone having never worked with a designer before, and having no real idea about design as a concept. Luckily, having met our designers and talked through the piece, they had lots of ideas and concepts, which we actually began trying in the rehearsal process. Having so little money forced us to be creative and our designers were excellent at helping us create a visual world for the characters to inhibit whilst on stage.

As soon as we were able to get funding from Arts Council England to scratch 2:1, the first people we called were our designers. Natalie Jackson was available and we decided to continue working with her. Having experience of the show and the latest script, Natalie came to our first meeting with a strong design concept and a whole sketchbook full of ideas. After this initial meeting we decided on some set and costume ideas, and she then went on to create a model box. Then, as before, Natalie would come to some rehearsals to try out different design concepts.

Natalie was also able to introduce us to other creatives who she had worked with including our lighting designer, and a very talented carpenter and stage manager. I would say the experience of working with a designer is a very important part of the process of being a director.

Here are a few tips on developing the designer/director relationship:

– Develop a good relationship with drama schools and art schools. Go to design graduates’ final exhibitions, get to know the head of courses and keep in touch with them. This is a great way to meet new talent and nurture those relationships as early as possible.

– Bring your designer into the process as early as possible. Working with a designer really informed the way I worked with my actors, the actors were aware of the set and stage so worked in rehearsals with the ‘invisible’ set. As theatre directors, we tend to see things textually, so it is good to have an outside ‘visual’ eye as early as possible.

– Don’t leave you designer broke. It sounds obvious, but don’t assume your designer has money to buy materials. Whether the materials are £20 or £200, always communicate with your designer about whether they need to get money before they source materials and the same goes for their travel arrangements. Make sure this is discussed BEFORE they start working.

– Make a budget and stick to it. Following on from the last point, decide a budget beforehand and stick to it. Of course things sometimes change, but having a proper budget will keep you on track, no matter how small that budget is.

– Take on board your designer’s opinions. Really listen to your designer, and try and get them in as many rehearsals as possible. Let them get to know your actors and your creative team. Ask their opinion and take on board what they say.

Emma Dennis-Edwards

Young Directors

Young Directors

StoneCrabs Theatre’s Young Directors’ Programme is a platform for young directors, centred around production, project management and theatre directing. The programme culminates in February 2014 when the young directors will put on the Play-ground Festival at the Albany. The 2013-14 Young Directors are: Eleanor Chadwick, Hattie Coupe, Emma Dennis-Edwards, Jude Evans, Camilla Gurtler, Lynette Linton, Antony Nyagah, Mariana Pereira and Katharina Reinthaller.

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TheatreCraft 2013

Posted on 02 December 2013 by Lisa Carroll

Theatrecraft at the Royal Opera House.

On Friday 22 November, the Royal Opera House opened its doors to over 1,000 young theatremakers for TheatreCraft 2013. The event is tailored to those who want to work in theatre but not as actors, and there’s plenty on offer, from workshops to Meet the Experts sessions to networking hubs. TheatreCraft is the place to be to learn about the business, meet peers you may one day work alongside, and discover how best to go about pursuing your passion – so if you missed out on this year’s event, make sure it doesn’t happen again!

Everyone knows getting into theatre can be tough, which is why the event is such a great forum to bring together so many people and possibilities. When there are so many ways of forging your career, on top of there being so much competition, it can be hard to even know where to start. This is where many of the workshops at TheatreCraft came in. ‘On the Way to Directing’, led by Rob Hastie, Associate Director of the Donmar Warehouse, encouraged young directors to really think about what an assistant director brings to the rehearsal room. Moreover, Hastie was incredibly helpful in pinpointing how you can ensure that you are not only the best person for the job, but the best person at the job when you are hired. Equally, Greg Eldridge’s question and answer session was invigorating, with Eldridge encouraging emerging directors to get out there, pester people and make things happen – just as he had done two years earlier having arrived from Australia without knowing a soul (he is now a director at the Royal Opera House, so not a bad example to go by).

Between attending workshops, a great place to browse was the Marketplace, which was lined with stands run by various theatre companies, institutions and organisations. Many people these days are tending towards training before they work in the business, so this was a great way to talk to the people running the courses and find out whether they were suitable for you. Equally, theatre companies from Paines Plough to the RSC were on hand to discuss opportunities, making it a great way to really get to know these companies on a personal level and find out what exactly they do.

A highlight of the day was the Meet the Experts session, where participants got the opportunity to sign up with a specialist in their field and discuss their career path. I was fortunate enough to sit down with director, Abbey Wright, who gave me invaluable advice, as well as reminding me that forging a career in theatre is as much about holding your nerve as it is talent or experience.

TheatreCraft is a thoroughly worthwhile day, made all the better by the gorgeous surroundings at the Royal Opera House and the sheer enthusiasm of everyone in attendance. And while no one is there to give you the secret code to successfully making a sustainable career in theatre (I swear one day I’ll discover there is one!), and while no amount of good advice will necessarily make the journey any smoother or easier, it is always great to know that you are not alone in wanting to work in the creative arts and equally that there are plenty of pathways and possibilities there for you to grab with both hands.

Photo (c) Alex Rumford

 

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll graduated from University College Dublin in 2012 with a B.A International in English. She is also a playwright, script reader and director. @lisa_carroll46

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Feature: Pedro Ribeiro on opera

Posted on 30 September 2013 by Emily Webb

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An alumnus of the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, Portuguese stage director Pedro Ribeiro is paving the way for young people in opera. With a hugely varied list of work behind him, Pedro is now working with the Royal Opera House as he directs the UK premiere of rarely heard Spanish opera El Gato Con Botas. Penned by Xavier Montsalvatge and based on Charles Perrault’s fairytale, it tells the story of a wily cat who decides to transform the fortunes of his impoverished keeper.

But has he always loved opera? “No, no!” he tells me. “The first opera I saw was Nabucco and it was the most boring night of my life! It was really bad. It was this kind of classical production and I never thought about directing opera when I was seeing that.” This will be a familiar tale for many young people across the globe, who perhaps see opera as an art form that alienates all but a very select audience. And the result is that “we miss good productions,” says Ribeiro. “Especially new productions of new commissions and new music. That would be something I would like to do: contemporary opera. It is a really interesting area because you can start by singing musical theatre, then operetta and that can evolve into opera.” So is Ribeiro hoping to bring more people to opera in the near future? “When I started opera I started it as a challenge, as I realised it is the most difficult [type of] show to stage. It’s like reading a book. You start with children’s books and you develop the way you want to see and hear the story.” Even one of opera’s most exciting new stars wasn’t always completely enamoured by the art. Like any good story, Ribeiro’s love of opera has been a journey of discovery.

Having studied directing theatre at university, Pedro worked as an assistant for a Portuguese production company and found a new excitement for opera when working on The Enchantments of Medea there. “It was a discovery for me that it was a Baroque opera and everyone was completely engaged in the story. It was fun and the story was superbly well told.” His passion for directing opera grew rapidly, and a quick glance at his CV reveals he has worked on some of greatest stages in the world, and here in the UK, Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House itself.

The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is a development opportunity for emerging artists whose career has attracted the attention of the Opera House, and Ribeiro graduated from the programme this August. For some, returning to the Opera House as a professional in their own right might present a challenge, but not for Ribeiro. “It’s quite comfortable coming back to the Linbury [Theatre] and to the Royal Opera House because now I know everyone. In the beginning I didn’t know anyone and I was thinking, ‘Oh my god it’s the Royal Opera House!’ and after two years I got used to it. Even though it’s a big house, it’s weird; I think 800 people work here but there is some sort of family thing. We know each other; we speak with each other and a lot of different departments. It doesn’t feel like somewhere that isn’t home. The problem is going to be work outside!”

Ribeiro’s career is in full swing, but for aspiring performers, directors and the like, breaking into the opera industry may seem like an impossible task. I ask his advice: “When I used to be a teacher a lot of students would ask me this. Honestly, I would say to them, do you really love it, really really love it and cannot see yourself doing anything else? Are you sure you don’t want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or an architect?” It’s clear Ribeiro passionately feels the dedication and intense focus this career demands as he recalls these moments. “It’s a really hard career, really demanding and the only way you can stay in directing theatre or opera is because you love it and you cannot see yourself doing anything else.”

If you do have that burning passion for the art, however, Ribeiro enthuses that the UK is a great place to be. “You have so many shows premiering all the time in London, it was so good to be able to come here and see French shows for example. I was completely fascinated because we don’t have this kind of thing in Portugal. The way that London produces is very clever and it’s a complete world of things that come to you and you absorb. I don’t think there is a better place to be in the world for arts.”

Image of Pedro Ribeiro by Richard H. Smith

El Gato Con Botas plays at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House 16-18 October 2013. For tickets and more information visit the Royal Opera House’s website.

Emily Webb

Emily Webb

Emily is a graduate of Music and English Literature currently working in the music industry. She hopes to go on to study the benefits of music therapy once she has saved up enough money. She enjoys participating in amateur theatre, blogging and walking her dog

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Blog: An actor writes – Earning a crust

Posted on 30 July 2013 by Briony Rawle

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I recently met a guy who asked me, “Do you want to hear about the worst job I’ve ever had?” He’d once had a summer job in a tin can factory. As the tin cans came down the conveyor belt, the ones that were standing up would be picked up by the machine, but the ones on their sides would fall off the conveyor belt into skips. His job was to take the skips to the beginning of the conveyor belt and load these cans back on. He did this for nine hours a day, completely alone, in deafening noise, for an entire summer holiday.

“Must have given you lots of time to think,” I said.
“You weren’t there, man,” he growled back.

There are some truly crap jobs out there, and when your options are limited by the unfortunate inconvenience of being an actor, you often have to take whatever you can find – within certain parameters. An actor’s second job has to be insanely flexible, where hours can be chopped and changed like a bad haircut, often with a few days’ or even a few hours’ notice. We must also able to work around each new rehearsal schedule, not to mention performances.

But it IS possible. I work in a pub where the rota is done weekly, and because I work hard and am smiley and chatty and just about teeth-grittedly able to put up with a leery/rude/sexist comment or two from customers (direct quotes: “Oi”; “I’ve been looking at your body. Are you a dancer?”; “You’ll make a good wife”; “Like the way you’re cleaning those pump handles, love”), my boss is very lenient with me and tolerant of my ridiculous life.

I like to collect ideas for actor-friendly work and so I always ask actors I meet what they do to earn money. Obviously teaching comes up a lot, but one friend is with an agency whom he can ring in the morning of a free day, and they’ll give him the address of a classroom somewhere that needs a teaching assistant that morning. He also works at an LGBT helpline, which is just as flexible and very rewarding. Bar work and waitressing are actor clichés for a reason: an excellent pick-it-up-and-drop-it factor, and actually requiring an element of performance to do a good job. There’s always promotional work if you can stomach it (I once handed out free coffee to commuters dressed as a butler – me dressed as a butler, that is, not the commuters) and call centre work is good if you are able to dislocate your soul at will. One friend makes money from filling out surveys online, and someone else does online gambling, using his maths degree and the free money that poker sites give you to lure you in. More fool them.

Much as I like my bar job (despite the leering), my friend is currently helping to get me a job in her office. She works 9-5 in a large London bank, proofreading official letters. Initially I recoiled from this, thinking that taking on a 9-5 was what you did when you gave up on acting. But she is in fact playing Macbeth in the production I’m currently in, so it’s clearly not stopped her. Is it worth spending a few months earning the dirty city dollah so that you can afford to do more profit-share shows for the exposure? Will I sell out to the Man and buy a briefcase? How will this fadge? Watch this space.

Photo by Flickr user Charlotte under a Creative Commons Licence.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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