The Royal Shakespeare Company

The Royal Shakespeare Company. Photo: Stewart Hemley.

Founded in

1961

Artistic Director

Gregory Doran

Since 2012

Royal Shakespeare Company logo

Profile

Our job is to connect and help others connect with Shakespeare and produce bold, ambitious work with living writers, actors and artists.

We are an ensemble company so everyone here, from directors, writers and actors to production, technical and administrative staff, has a part to play in creating distinctive theatre.

We believe in taking risks and pushing creative boundaries – finding new ways of doing things and learning through action. Our audiences are at the heart of all we do and we want to challenge, inspire and involve them.

Our home is in Stratford-upon-Avon and in 2010 we reopened the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres after a £112.8m transformation to bring actors and audiences closer together. We play regularly in London, Newcastle upon Tyne and on tour across the UK and the world.

As well as the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we produce new work from living artists and develop creative links with theatre-makers from around the world.

We work with teachers to inspire a life-long love of Shakespeare in young people and run events for everyone to explore and participate in our work.

We commission and develop a wealth of new work. Our creative culture inspires writers to experiment with new ideas. It also allows us to investigate the classics with a fresh, inventive eye.

We encourage our playwrights to write large-scale, ambitious plays and to put death, beauty and metaphor back on stage.

+ www.rsc.org.uk

Company type: building based

Company Type

Building based

We tour work and perform in our own building.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre (1040 seats)
Swan Theatre (460 seats)
Courtyard Theatre (1060 seats)

Public funding graph

Public Funding

£16,035,801

Arts Council England subsidy for the 2013/14 financial year.

Location: Stratford upon Avon

Location

Stratford upon Avon

Productions

13

Opened in 2013

Staff

Over 1000

We employ just over 1000 members of staff, including the acting companies.

Our Question

What is the ladder of progression for an assistant director and is it different for men and women? What can the RSC do to change any discrepancy?

Prior to the arrival of the Advance project we had been actively analysing our relationships with our assistant director alumni. We are developing a creative fellowship for these alumni and had just started consulting with a small group of current and past assistant directors on what this might be.

Alongside this there had been discussion on women within theatre, inspired by or perhaps inspiring some of our current work including the Roaring Girls Season – strong significant parts for women in Jacobean theatre – often unseen on our stages due to the nature of the plays of Shakespeare, his contemporaries and indeed previous choices of programming. And Midsummer Mischief, a festival of four new plays all written by female playwrights with strong female parts and a predominantly female cast.

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

Investigation

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.

Alumni

  • 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.

Other

  • 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

  1. Over the last 10 years the route for a director has changed significantly.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The majority of the emerging directors consulted felt that assisting was the best way to further their career.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Watch the interview with Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

We thoroughly enjoyed working on Advance; the lunches on the away days were amazing! We loved having the group in Stratford upon Avon. 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.

It’s so rare to be able to take time out to think through and act on projects like this. Advance gave us the time and space and encouraged us to think. Through the homework it forced us to dedicate some time to think through the ideas of our alumni scheme but also to undertake in-depth investigation. At the away days we looked at our own question but were inspired to contribute to the other questions; offering insight, knowledge and experiences which we hope informed and benefitted their explorations as the fellow Advance members certainly did for us.

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

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