Starting a career as a theatre director is like embarking on a thrilling journey filled with creativity, but it can also be daunting. From the intricate process of casting to the exhilaration and anxiety of opening night, the director’s path is rife with unique challenges. To provide invaluable insights and inspiration to the next generation of theatre directors, I had the privilege of conversing with five seasoned (and newbie) directors during the Reboot Festival in London. I asked a deceptively simple yet profoundly insightful question to them: “What is the one thing you wished you knew before you started working on your first play?”.
Thinking of all of the students, future directors and those who are just starting thinking of embarking on this journey – I hope the answers below will help you at least just a little bit 🙂
What is the one thing you wished you knew before you started working on your first play?
Hannah Gooden: Embrace the Swift Passage of Time
How quickly the time goes! My production has 5 roles which took a hot second to cast and organise, and then trying to get everyone in the space within 6 days of opening night was indeed a challenge! We had just over 2 hours all together as a cast, but I could not be prouder of the show we have produced. Flash forward to show week, again I cannot believe how fast the shows are passing! Relish in that time of laughing and playing with your cast, and indulge in the pleasure of watching your show grow each night.
Hannah Gooden is a dramaturg, actor, and theatre marker. She recieved an MA in Dramaturgy at Birkbeck, University of London where she discovered her purpose to continue to push boundaries with her art and passion, to inspire, educate and instil happiness.
She is the co-founder of Phab Theatre, a collective specialising in dramaturgy consultation, theatrical practioning and wellbeing. With a background in dance and acting, this marks Hannah’s debut both at Reboot Festival and as a professional director.
Instagram: @hannah.gooden and @phabtheatre
Pamela Farrugia: Groundwork and Collaboration are Key
As a dramaturg, I always put in that groundwork before starting to work on a piece. I spoke with John Mabey about their inspiration for Little Black Dress and began to understand where the characters Doug and Zoey came from to begin to create their world in my mind and then realise it on the stage. As a creative, I always need to remind myself of why I choose to take on a role in a show. This time, I wanted to direct to use of my dramaturgical practice to create a collaborative environment with Erica and Emmanuel and therefore realise the piece together.
Little Black Dress is a tender and vulnerable piece of writing and I wanted to honour this by directing it with wellbeing at the centre of my practice. I often remind myself that as a practitioner it is about the connections with people, my cast and the audiences that fuels my fiery passion for theatre and storytelling. It’s a reminder of how privileged and wonderfully lucky I am to do what I do and have people come to support me.
Pamela Farrugia is a multi-talented theatre maker, dramaturg, and a work-in-progress writer. With a foundation in devised theatre and ensemble performance, she honed her skills through training at East 15 on BA World Performance. Recently, she completed her MA in Dramaturgy at Birkbeck, University of London, with a special focus on playwriting and the development of her own dramaturgical practice centered on wellbeing and thoughtful creation.
Pamela, a co-founder of PHab Theatre, and plays a vital role in this vibrant dramaturgical collective. Together, they write, direct, perform, and, of course, dramaturg. Their mission centers on creating nurturing spaces that prioritize the well-being of all participants and building a collaborative network of like-minded artists, fostering an authentic theatre community.
Sebastião Marques Lopes: Clarity and Confidence are Vital
As a director, your job is to serve the play, not your ego or your self-doubt. Phrases like ‘Maybe that could work’, ‘Uhm, I never thought of that’ or ‘I don’t know’, should not be part of a director’s vocabulary. As human beings, we are all crippled with doubts, but directors should know what they want. Actors may disagree with you, but if you are clear with your direction they will follow you. Getting side-tracked by reciting stage anecdotes you read about and trying to make actors laugh does not ingratiate you to your cast. It’s simply a waste of time.
At the end of the run of the first play I directed, one of the cast members told me they just wished they had known exactly what I wanted. As crushing as that was to hear, I realised that came from a lack of confidence and decisiveness. Having a clear vision, knowing the script back to front, trusting myself to make quick decisions, and allowing experimentation in the rehearsal room but not being afraid of shutting things down when they don’t work, helped to fix the problem. That and the bible that is Russell Reich and Frank Hauser’s Notes on Directing. Read it!
Sebastião Marques Lopes is a London-based playwright and director. He studied at Queen Mary University and has recently completed an Mst in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.
His work has been staged in Oxford, Edinburgh and London, most recently Son of Man and Not Helping both at the Baron’s Court Theatre.
Sharon Willems: Embrace the Conversation
When we first begin directing, I think there’s a natural gravitation towards wanting to be correct. Getting the text ‘right’ so you can be validated by others that you’re a good director, get jobs and establish yourself as you gain experience and confidence. The same can be said for how we hold our power in rehearsals. There’s safety in being correct or in charge. But often there’s no magic in it. It’s a closed system.
I wish that I’d understood that directing is a conversation. Between you and the text, you and the actors, you and the audience, and the humanity shared in the offering of the play.
Directing is about the space between the ideas onstage and your audience and the alchemy of these two things. If I present a concept or text without being curious or leaving space for the audience, then I create a distance that I don’t want. Essentially, I can start the conversation, but I can’t control where it goes. Not entirely. Not if expect it to become a fully dynamic, living thing with an impact that lasts after the end of the show. This is true throughout the entire process from working with the writer, rehearsals, to performance. You’re a guide.
Ultimately, I wish that I’d trusted that I didn’t need to have all the answers. That I never would as audiences are individuals as much as a community.
Sharon Willems (she/her) is the artistic director of Barons Court Theatre and Kibo Productions. She is also a freelance director and dramaturg. Recent projects include curating this year’s Reboot Festival, Queering the Canon later this month, and reading for the RSC’s 37 Plays Project.
She’s also a community organiser and developed Community Creates, a resident-led arts program and partnered with Hampstead Theatre to employ local freelance artists to deliver free arts workshops to her community in 2022-23.
Come say hi when she leads the Barons Court Theatre’s monthly scratch night with a difference, The Sunday Fix on 24 September, 5:30pm.
Jagoda Kamov: The Power of Effective Communication
I wish I had known before directing my first show of clear effective and confident communication with the cast and crew. In my early days as a director, I worked on a production that featured a complex and intricate light. While I had a vivid vision in my mind of how everything should come together, I failed to confidently communicate it clearly to my team. This resulted in misunderstandings, delays, and a lack of synergy during rehearsals and tech rehearsals. This experience taught me that the director’s role is a communicator and leader and a learning rock to everyone in production. I realized that as a director, it’s insufficient to have a vision; you must effectively convey that vision to your team.
This involves clear and concise communication, active listening to their feedback and concerns, and fostering an environment of collaboration and trust. After that, I have made an effort to enhance my communication skills as a director. Regular meetings with the cast and crew became standard practice to ensure everyone grasped the vision and their roles. I welcomed open dialogue and valued input from my team, recognizing that their creativity and insights could elevate the production.
Jagoda Kamov is a theatremaker and the founder of Art’Morte. Her work often explores themes of absurdity, surrealism, human-animal transformations, and a continuous exploration of death, drawing inspiration from her personal experiences.
As a theatre maker, she has an impressive portfolio, including her role as the founder of the Young Vic Director Program. Her notable works include “Art’s Death” in 2011 at Kalvarija Riteatar, “Puggo’s Dream” in 2019 at The Gate Theatre, “Sales of a Deadman” in 2021 at Camden People’s Theatre, “The Dumb Man” in 2022 at Cockpit Theatre, and “Coco” in 2022 at Camden People’s Theatre.
In addition to her creative endeavors, she has also served as a guest lecturer and mentor at the University of West London and the University of Roehampton.
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