There are many ways to become a director says Susan Elkin, as she speaks to directors, lecturers and course tutors about the options available for those who want to study directing, at whatever stage they are in their careers
The pathway to becoming a director is not fixed. “There is no single route” says Sue Emmas, who runs the well established Regional Theatres Young Directors Scheme, which has helped launch many careers including those of Rupert Goold, Vicky Featherstone, Nikolai Foster and Natalie Ibu.
The three options are – broadly – to participate in a placement scheme; study directing at a drama school or university, usually at post-graduate level; or strike out and do it without formal training, learning as you go along.
“There are different strokes for different folks,” says Julian Chenery, director of touring production company S4K International. “Some would prefer to be grounded in theory and understanding of technique by doing, say, a master’s degree before taking the helm. Part of this must depend on one’s self confidence and experience and expertise gained over the years.”
Director and choreographer Chris Cuming, who trained at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and is now an established director of plays, musicals and youth and community theatre, says: “It’s very important for young people to do what’s best for them and not always think they should follow a certain path. Drama school will be the right setting for some and a more traditional university will be better for others. The key ingredient is being passionate and extremely driven.”
RTYDS became an Arts Council England national portfolio organisation in 2018 and the funding has allowed it to expand its activities. In addition to offering 18-month training placements – quasi apprenticeships – in the regional theatres it works with, there is a new partnership with Sheffield Theatres offering, for the first time, an 18-month assistant director position.
“We also have four opportunities for people with disabilities in partnership with Ramps on the Moon,” says Emmas. “It’s a hard career path for anyone, but there are additional specific challenges for minorities.” The three month introduction to directing opportunity is successful too. “Overall, we reach about 350 participants a year, one way or another, and for 140 of those it’s detailed contact.”
Many theatres, organisations and venues run directing placement schemes – for example, the Furnace Programme at Leeds Playhouse or the BBC Continuing Drama Directors’ scheme, which assigns trainee directors to shows such as Holby City and EastEnders.
Any course in directing will include opportunities for practical work such as directing or assisting on shows at the institution or, sometimes, being assigned for short placements to external theatres with which the course has links.
Anyone considering these courses should look carefully at the syllabus and ask questions about the nature and quantity of practical work, especially in universities. There is £10,000 student loan funding for master’s degrees for students who meet the eligibility criteria. Master’s degrees or postgraduate diplomas in directing are offered by various drama schools including Mountview and
Bristol Old Vic.
Or if, for whatever reason, you’d prefer a university, there are options at, for example, London’s Royal Holloway, University of East London and the University of Wales in Cardiff. Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, south-west London, runs a master’s degreee in directing in collaboration with St Mary’s University, Twickenham. The course is taught entirely at the Orange Tree, with input from St Mary’s, so there is no doubt of its ‘learning by doing’ approach.
“These MAs can be a very useful year especially if you’re changing career,” says Cuming. “It can be a great way of networking and opening contacts. But if you can’t afford it then none of these options are the be-all and end-all of directing.” And it’s a case of buyer beware. “Some MA courses are really good and some are not as useful,” he adds.
Or if you just want to dip a toe in the water – and earn your living at the same time – consider the part-time course in directing that is taught two evenings a week at Central.
And if you haven’t been to university at all yet and think you want to, there’s a BA (hons) in directing at the University of Plymouth and one in theatre writing, directing and performance at the University of York.
“See as much theatre as you can, especially the shows you would rather not see.
“Start doing your research. Theatre is a close network in which directors – and other creatives – are very open to helping the next generation.”
“Use the many schemes that provide cheap tickets for under-26s and steep yourself in theatre.
“Join the Young Vic Directors’ Programme. It’s free and nationwide. It provides regular activities, support and mentoring and there’s help with travel if you need it.
“Contact RTYDS. There are digital learning options on our website, such as 10 tips.
“Most participation schemes are publicly funded. Don’t ever think they are not for people like you. They are. And they want you. So bang on the door.”
“Start learning the craft at school. I learned most of what I still use from Mr Rees at school who directed me in a production of Oklahoma!. Then try to get involved in directing or assisting directing local amateur shows.”
For more information go to: getintotheatre.org