In January 2015 I packed my bags and moved from Birmingham (where I was making theatre with Tin Box Theatre Company, working as a freelance theatre practitioner, yoga teacher and in a bar) to Salisbury to start an 18 month residency at Salisbury Playhouse. The Regional Theatre Young Director’s Scheme (RTYDS) places early career directors with a regional producing theatre for 18 months where they can learn how the building is run, get an insight into the role of Artistic Director, develop their practice and direct a show at the end of the residency.
It was such a privilege to be accepted onto this scheme and it has quite literally changed my life. What’s great about RTYDS is you have the freedom to get involved in the life of the building and the community it serves, and the 18 months gives you the time to plan projects for the following year and then see them through. Gareth Machin, Artistic Director at Salisbury Playhouse, has been incredibly supportive and has continuously given me exciting challenges. I have been programming the Salberg studio space, working with local writers, reading scripts, running rehearsed readings and R&Ds for local writers, working with local emerging directors, managing and curating Theatre Fest West, working on community and youth theatre projects, and last year I assisted on four Salisbury Playhouse shows.
The opportunity to work as assistant director was so inspiring and enabled me to see how different directors work at all stages, from casting to production. By programming I’m starting to get a sense of the kind of work Salisbury Playhouse’s core audiences love and which shows will reach new audiences without alienating the existing ones. And I’ve learnt how useful box office data is – I’ve been totally geeky about audience data and ticket sales, looking for patterns – which shows sell, who watches what. There are so many incredible resources at your fingertips. I am continually learning about how the building is run, how different departments operate and how valuable it is that communication happens across the board. Being part of a large organisation is a whole new way of working for me and I’ve learnt how important it is to delegate and appreciate the support that’s in place.
RTYDS also gives a bursary and learning fund which takes away money worries and gives extra headspace for creative practice – it’s so important to see lots of theatre, read plays and scout out opportunities for professional development (there are loads of fantastic workshops for directors on the Young Vic Genesis network – I’d really recommend signing up to this). It sounds obvious but just being in a theatre as much as possible is so useful; being where exciting projects are taking place and incredible creatives are working in the building on a daily basis. I have been meeting up with visiting directors for cups of tea, observing rehearsals, attending meetings and just trying to soak it all up. When you are early in your career as a director it is so important to build relationships, to chat to people who inspire you and find out about their practice.
14 months later, and I’ve just got back from directing This Land, a brand-new play by Siân Owen and a co-production between Pentabus and Salisbury Playhouse. I’ve been involved from the commissioning stage, working with Siân to develop the play and then rehearsing it at Pentabus HQ in Shropshire. I’ve gone out with it for the start of the village hall tour, and I’ll be seeing shows along the way on its national tour and while it’s at Salisbury Playhouse. Pentabus are a brilliant team of people with a fantastic ethos and I’ve learnt so much from working with them. Elizabeth Freestone’s, Pentabus’s Artistic Director, faith in me as a director and support with the production has been invaluable. The subject matter of the play – fracking – is a complex and urgent issue which we all need to talk about and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be involved in a project which is provoking those conversations.
This Land is at Salisbury Playhouse from 13-30 April, and on National Tour 9 March – 6 May 2016.
Image credit: Richard Stanton