“When I was little I wanted to be a farmer because I had it pretty solid in my head that milking cows was what I wanted to do,” muses director Tinuke Craig. “My dad wanted me to be the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica.” Craig’s not farming and she informs me that she’d have to be the second female prime minister of Jamaica now. She is, however, the latest recipient of the Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic, an accolade that she describes as “a sort of launch pad for emerging directors”. Craig applied with Dirty Butterfly by Debbie Tucker Green and was selected from more than 140 applicants who all wanted the chance to be supported in creating a fully resourced production at the Young Vic. “I couldn’t say why but the shows that I want to do always seem to be a bit about shame, gender and being trapped”, Craig tells me. Dirty Butterfly is reflective of this.
Laughing at memories of “a lot of singing and dancing and jumping about”, Craig expands on how she moved from this to directing. “I was in a youth company when I was about 14. We were sent plays for the Connections Festival”, she explains, “so we’d read first drafts and the writers would talk to us about them. If I knew then that I wanted to get into it properly then it would have been really overwhelming because important people were visiting us, but at the time I had no idea who any of them were.” She liked the people that she was meeting, however, and asked dramatist April De Angelis how to become a writer. “After talking to April I did the Royal Court Young Writers Programme when I was 17 and kind of stuck around with those guys for a while,” Craig tells me.
She began reading a lot of plays whilst on the programme and was exposed to new material. “The first show that I ever directed was Blue Bird by Simon Stephens”, she remembers. “That was mainly because I wanted to see it and I figured that the best way would be to put it on. That’s still probably one of the better things that I’ve done actually which is a bit sad.” Maybe beginner’s confidence contributed to the standard of Blue Bird as Craig tells me how she didn’t know enough about it all to be daunted by it. “I was making stuff up but it didn’t matter because at uni everybody was. I do remember being very nervous of what people would think about it though. For a long time I was very aware that I’d maybe not done as much as other people my age in the field. The problem wasn’t so much catching up but getting over that and thinking ‘well what are you going to do, quit?’” she recalls. The anxiety hasn’t lessened with experience, though, and Craig admits that she’s probably one of the most anxious directors that she knows. “As painful as it is I hope that I don’t stop being relentlessly nervous. I think that if I do it will be a sign that I don’t care so much anymore.”
Craig tells me that directing more new writing, where the writer is in rehearsals to work with closely, would be a good thing to do next. After working with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a year she knows that this is not always possible, but says that “the Young Vic is brilliantly and beautifully committed to new writing and getting audiences intrigued with things that they don’t really know anything about. With the RSC they make great work but their writer in residence is long dead so what are you going to do?” I suggest that the RSC shoulders a lot of responsibility to uphold a tradition and that its audiences, in general, are quite set. “They’re not there primarily to take risks”, Craig agrees, “and that’s okay because other people do. Not everyone has to be that person. I learnt a lot by being around people who love Shakespeare and care about text and language so much. I think being around people who love something that much is really quite precious. The Young Vic’s love is maybe more for the craft and experiment of it all rather than tradition and text.” Craig also hopes to end up working closely with the designers of the plays she directs, something that she’s been able to do properly for the first time with Hyemi Shin for Dirty Butterfly. “Without that I don’t think I’d feel the same way about the play,” she explains. “I learnt so much about what it could be through thinking about what the design of the (characters’) world was.”
Before she has to return to rehearsals Craig offers a word of advice to aspiring directors: “See things in countries that aren’t England. See how they’re making theatre in, I don’t know, Istanbul. It can only be a good thing to see how other people are working. And see lots of things that aren’t theatre – dance, art. And don’t underestimate how acceptable it is to email somebody you admire and ask to meet up for a coffee. People want to help you if they can.”
Dirty Butterfly runs from 1-11 October at the Young Vic. For more information and tickets, visit the Young Vic’s website.