The director tells John Byrne how she began her career as an actor and explains the importance of looking after your team and creating a pleasant workspace
My first job was as an actor with an open-air theatre company. I had a wonderful hot summer working with some brilliant and experienced actors. My first directing job came about by accident. I was acting in Macbeth when the director was taken ill. I was asked to take over for the next couple of days. I loved the experience. It came at a time when I was contemplating leaving theatre altogether. It turned out that all I needed was a change of role.
I wrote to directors, shadowed them and bought books about directing. I took the plunge and decided to create my own work with my cousin, also an actor/ writer. We took it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe then toured as Distraction Theatre. It was an amazing experience but we made mistakes. Those helped to mould me into a better director.
After that, I started to reach out to clients in a variety of ways: standard applications, networking, and inviting people to see my shows. Building relationships with theatres is time-consuming, and sometimes draining. But it’s worth it when you get that one decent job.
I learnt huge amounts in my early directing jobs and am still learning and evolving my practice. One tip I learned early on is to know your play better than anyone else in the room. Be prepared to adapt your ideas, but stay true to your vision. And when the shit hits the fan, take a tea break.
Also, be human. Be yourself. Make your workspace a pleasant atmosphere – then people will create their best work. Be professional but laugh a lot – especially on difficult days.
Show respect and kindness; people remember that. Your team – actors and backstage – are your responsibility. Look after them and they will look after the show. It’s not your show, it’s our show; every job role is essential to making it happen. You don’t know everything, and that’s okay. Make mistakes, look stupid, laugh about it, learn from it and create better things because of it.
Training: Theatre and Performance, University of Warwick; various workshops with different companies and professionals
Theatre (as director) includes: Pride and Prejudice tour, Heartbreak Productions (2018); Jane Eyre tour (2015) and Sense and Sensibility (2014) and A Christmas Carol (2011) for Chapterhouse Theatre Company; Yes, Prime Minister and Communicating Doors, Leatherhead Theatre (2018); The 12 Days of Christmas, Buxton Opera House (2014)
Other credits: Creator and artistic director of Digital Midsummer and a theatre app due to launch in September 2020.