Why this programme isn’t just important, but essential.

By Young Director Matthew Iliffe

 Working in theatre is hard. Getting your foot in the door is even harder. Training courses for young directors are difficult to find and access, with high-profile theatres such as the National (course currently on hiatus), Young Vic and the Donmar all offering programmes aimed at a very specific type of young graduate. Furthermore, opportunities are limited to just a handful of places. This is where smaller companies, such as StoneCrabs working with The Albany, come in.

Having run their highly successful directors’ training programme since 2006, StoneCrabs typically invite nine young applicants to attend a series of workshops with professional practitioners in order to develop and hone their skills prior to producing a festival of one-act plays. This year, there are twelve lucky young directors. This demonstrates that despite financial constraints of a smaller theatre company and a community based organisation, with the will to provide accessible training for young directors the opportunities can be created and careers forged. The other thing – it’s free.

I am ashamed, yet beyond thrilled, to say that I’m the only one out of the twelve that you may class as an archetypal theatre director. Gone are the residues of white, middle class, male and Russell Group educated directors who still have far too much prominence in an industry, which should be celebrating diversity and eclecticism as the basis for a varied range of productions and creative ventures. The homogeny of the past is slowly dying, as suggested by Rufus Norris upon his recent appointment as new National Theatre Artistic Director, stating that ‘The simple fact is, lots of people who go to Oxford and Cambridge are very, very clever. That doesn’t mean they’re the only clever people’. Out of the last 50 years of National Theatre ADs, Hall, Eyre, Nunn and Hytner were all Cambridge Graduates, with Olivier and newly appointed Norris being the only two to buck the trend – an appalling record as far as equality, accessibility and equal opportunities are concerned. Our strong group is comprised of young people from varying social backgrounds, ethnicity, age and gender and are all evidence for this shift – and for the desire of more than a small percentage of society to work in the theatre.

However, access to training is essential in building skills, CVs and contacts. If we continue to discriminate in favour of an ‘old boys’ network, we will inevitably shoot ourselves in the foot. The best theatre I’ve seen this year? Work from Ivo Van Hove at the Young Vic, Simon Stone at the Barbican and Vicky Featherstone at the Royal Court. Artists, in the broadest sense, are shaped by their experiences and I for one am tired of the same perspectives over, and over again.

Only 29% of theatre directors working today are women, and they’re hardly the biggest names either. In comparison, women make up 66% of the young directors on the StoneCrabs programme, an undeniable indication that inequality is rife within theatre. In addition, 50% of our group are either foreign citizens or from an ethnic minority, who’re also clearly underrepresented in the current job market. But there’s hope; by providing training which is accessible, yes that word again, and which operates solely on the basis of ability, StoneCrabs are helping to bridge the gaps and fill the holes that should not be there in the first place.

Gobstoppers Young Director’s Festival is Wed 18 February – Sat 21 February 

To find out more go to http://www.stonecrabs.co.uk/ and http://www.thealbany.org.uk/ or @gobstopper2015

Matthew Illife is the youngest director on the StoneCrabs Programme, Matthew is currently on his gap year before reading Drama at university. He has reviewed for numerous websites over the last two years, worked on several productions for fringe theatres and directs whenever he can!