Lou Stein: 5 tips for directing a diverse cast
Lou Stein became artistic director of Chickenshed in 2016. He was founding artistic director of the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and the Gate at the Latchmere (now Theatre503). He was also artistic director of the Watford Palace Theatre where he commissioned new plays and brought in a number of West End transfers. His son, Ethan, now 11, has Down’s syndrome and is a veteran performer at Chickenshed, having joined when he was six. Rapunzel is Stein’s second Christmas show as artistic director.
1. Embrace the diversity of the company
Make diversity a key feature of the show. Chickenshed is a rich and diverse inclusive performing arts community – probably the most diverse in the world. Each performer brings their own differences to the show and in some way changes the story and its presentation. Flexibly allowing them to define the show is an important aspect of its final character. I like to think of it as allowing them to “become the show”.
2. Create a strong vision for the show
With such a wide range and number of performers, each contributing their own voice to the story, it is extremely important to keep the overall vision of the performance at the front of your mind. It is unlikely you will see the show run together with everyone until a few days before the first performance, so holding the whole thing in your head from the first day of rehearsals is crucial.
3. Make every performer feel valued and respected
It is important to make each performer feel that they are noticed and heard when you have such a diverse and numerous cast. I try to remember everyone’s name as early on as I can, and certainly know the individual attributes of each cast member. I seek their opinions and ideas no matter how young or experienced they are.
4. Build a team of collaborative team leaders, choreographers and creators
Carrying out a show on this scale means that I have to inspire, lead and empower a small team of creative directors, each of whom has a very specific area to deliver according to my overall vision. Regular meetings ensure that we are all on the same page and that as new ideas emerge, they are in concert with the direction of the whole production.
5. Plan meticulously
The key to successfully mounting a new production with 800 children in four rotas is to plan with military precision. Since every rehearsal needs to adapt to so many different time schedules and abilities, months of forward planning is a must. I map out the strategy leading up to opening night with my team many months before rehearsals even begin.