“I learnt the importance of relationships across the creative team, and that whilst directing can at times feel like a lonely and pressurised job, it takes a village to make it work.”
Katherine Nesbitt describes her JMK Assistant Director bursary, assisting Orla O’Loughlin on ‘Swallow’ at the Traverse Theatre in 2015, and how the experience continues to influence her directing projects…
“It’s an interesting time to reflect on my bursary with the JMK Trust and how my work has developed since August 2015, as Orla O’Loughlin announces she is stepping down as Artistic Director of the Traverse. Not long after the bursary, a new job for my partner meant relocating to London and away from my adoptive Scotland where I lived for 9 years. I’m currently at home in Belfast, directing Jade City by Alice Malseed at City of Belfast Boxing Academy as part of the EastSide Arts Festival.
It would be hard to summarise what I learned assisting Orla on Swallow, but I can see echoes of those rehearsals throughout my own projects since. It is one of the best rehearsal rooms I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in, making a show we all knew was very special and the kind we wouldn’t get to work on often in our careers. The combination of care, attention to detail, openness and rigour from the whole company is something I try to emulate. I learnt the importance of relationships across the creative team, and that whilst directing can at times feel like a lonely and pressurised job, it takes a village to make it work. I felt such a part of the Traverse team throughout rehearsals and the run, and learned a lot about how the building operates.
Swallow was also the first time I worked on a show with movement directors, with Edinburgh company White and Givan. My understanding of just how important their work was in shaping that production has fed into my relationship with the movement director on my current show, David Quinn of Amadan. If you’re reading this as a director who is just starting out, I urge you to find a way to get into a rehearsal room and learn more about a way of working that doesn’t come naturally to you and pushes you outside your comfort zone. It has so many rewards and you’ll be a better director for it.
I originally applied for the JMK bursary because, despite being out of education for around four years at the time, it was still only the second rehearsal room I had been in as an assistant director with financial support. Working at the Traverse and being a part of the JMK programme has lead to so many more opportunities for me. I developed relationships with directors on the regional programme training week, have had the continued and generous support of Jo, Katherine and former Regional group liaisons Justin Audibert and Lisa Spirling for my work, and made connections with fellow emerging directors around the UK. I still work as a script reader for the Traverse. Reading scripts is such a brilliant way of developing your critical skills, improving how you give feedback and helping to understand what your own taste and biases are. Even if you’re not directing, script reading is a way to flex that muscle.
The bursary is so important for developing directing talent outside of London – I loathe thinking of theatre as London and non-London, as there are so many distinct theatre scenes, but economically it’s just the case that there are many more opportunities in London and at the beginning of your career you can feel that it’s all happening somewhere else. Since moving to London, I established View From Here, a festival which platforms work of emerging and established playwrights from across the UK and has so far celebrated work from Scotland, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland. Thanks to relationships established through the JMK network, some of this work has been directed by directors group members from Edinburgh, Bristol and Leeds.
It’s through directing a new work-in-progress by Alice Malseed at View From Here that I’ve come to direct her play Jade City, which we’re staging in a boxing gym in east Belfast. It’s a punchy and hot-headed new show exploring the dark, toxic and tumultuous friendship of two lads in east Belfast, trapped by a damaging and violent past event. Alice has such a strong sense of place in her writing, and it’s a joy to work with dialogue that feels so authentic, and that I can hear come off the page in a voice like my own. Being part of telling stories about Northern Ireland, about Belfast as I know it, have become increasingly important to me, and it’s a privilege to get to be a part of such an ambitious project.
I cannot encourage people enough to apply for the JMK Assistant Director bursary. It allows you to strengthen your work in your own region, but at the same time it will connect you to fellow directors across the country and open up opportunities for you further afield because of the reputation of the JMK Trust.”
Jade City is produced by EastSide Arts and funded by The Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund, with support from British Council Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The initial development was supported by a Jerwood Performing Arts Micro Bursary.