What We Did
“We were educated, we laughed, we were shocked and disheartened about what we heard but also provoked and inspired by the discussion, our investigations and our colleagues in the industry we were lucky to work with.
Aside from the practical actions we can and should take to support and improve the trajectory of emerging directors, we learned that the RSC should be more transparent about what we do currently and what we’re going to do. We should consult and involve industry colleagues in our work with directors and our planning for the future.”
ERICA WHYMAN, DEPUTY ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, ZOE DONEGAN, PRODUCER
AND CLAIRE BIRCH, ASSISTANT PRODUCER
To investigate our question – along with Tonic Theatre we undertook the following research:
Meetings with industry colleagues
RSC Assistant Producer Claire Birch and Tonic Director Lucy Kerbel met with:
- Amy Hodge, Associate, NT Studio – to find out how the NT works with Staff Directors.
- Chris Haydon, Artistic Director and Clare Slater, Executive Director at The Gate – as a smaller, ‘entry-level’ theatre for directors.
- Mark Rosenblatt, Associate Director at West Yorkshire Playhouse – in addition to his work with directors at WYP, Mark is Amy Hodge’s predecessor at the NT Studio, and heavy involved with the JMK Directors Award.
Claire Birch, Lucy Kerbel and RSC Producer Zoe Donegan also met with:
- Vicky Featherstone – Artistic Director of the Royal Court.
- Sue Emmas – Associate Director at the Young Vic who looks after The Young Vic Directors Program.
- We updated our alumni assistant directors list and contacts to start from 1993.
- We put together an online survey using RSC software to capture quantitative data to include statistics on: volume of assisting and when, continuing to work as a director and or assistant director, not working as a director and doing other work, work alongside directing, income related data and directing qualifications and awards. The survey could be completed anonymously if preferred. This went out to the RSC alumni list and many of the other members of Advance sent it to their alumni assistant directors. We had 68 responses.
- Tonic ran four focus groups with RSC alumni covering recent female alumni (in the last three years), less recent female alumni (in last 5-7 years), male alumni from over a range of time and female alumni who are well established directors. As some were unable to attend the focus groups Lucy held one-to-one interviews in order to hear their feedback.
- We put together with Tonic’s help a list of all directing training, schemes and awards.
- Tonic supplied us with recorded interviews of directors at different stages of their careers.
- We discussed our question informally with Advance members at away days.
What We Learned
- Over the last 10 years the route for a director has changed significantly.
- The industry has changed due to many factors including the financial climate: companies across the industry are reluctant to take risks and it’s now often prohibitively expensive to produce plays on the fringe.
- There appears to be many more emerging and early to mid-scale directors, perhaps due to the increase in training opportunities eg: university and drama school places and directing being seen as a viable career choice.
- Further to the point above there are very few directing opportunities for freelance directors and this is due to companies being unable to take risks and the majority of plays being directed by artistic or associate directors often to save money. This has contributed to the large numbers of early to mid-scale directors who are unable to progress.
- The majority of the emerging directors consulted felt that assisting was the best way to further their career.
- Gender – there is some positive discrimination but the most important thing is to get the right director in, on the right project, and some positively discriminate more consciously than others.
- Women have an additional hurdle (that rarely affects men) in mid-career pregnancy, some women directors choose not to have children, have stopped at one child or have been unable to return to work. This is due to a number of reasons including: monetary constraints, having been unseen for a period of time and unable to ‘get back’ into the industry. Those that do return to work often feel compromised in work and at home.
- Some female directors but also some male directors reported challenges in terms of ‘selling’ themselves in meetings and in pitching opportunities. This can be considered wider than a gender issue with economic background, ethnicity and education being other contributory factors.
- It was felt that the RSC could do a lot to progress our assistant directors and indeed emerging directors and prepare them for their professional lives as a director.
What we want to do in response to what we learned
To enable the directors that come through the RSC;
- To develop and widen their skills in their art, artistic interests and ambitions.
- To take full advantage of the opportunities the RSC can offer them.
- To understand the industry with its current issues and opportunities to make relevant decisions on their careers.
- To equip them to be able to navigate the industry in an informed and pertinent way.
- To empower them as directors in their own right.
A Step Towards a Bigger Goal
- Ensuring that RSC assistant director alumni are regarded highly and are sort after within the industry.
- Establishing a successful RSC assistant director creative alumni fellowship that is seen as a bench mark within the profession.