JMK Assistant Director Blog – Heather Carroll

"This bursary, and being an Assistant actually, is all about learning and collaborating. People won’t lose respect for you if you don’t know something but will if you just bulldoze through regardless."

Heather Carroll reflects on working as the JMK Leverhulme Assistant Director on Future Bodies - a HOME Manchester and Unlimited co-production in collaboration with RashDash...

Why did you apply for the JMK Trust Assistant Director bursary?

I applied for the JMK bursary because I didn't know where to start as a director getting my first in-house regional theatre credit. I trained as an actor at ALRA North and have been acting for about 7 years but really found a passion over time for directing and creating work. From that I started directing pieces of script in hand work and Fringe theatre, trying to build up a CV and connections but without formal training didn’t know what my next step could be. Why would anyone hire a trained actor as a director for their work?... JMK gave me my first chance and without it I don’t know how I would have made that next step up. I now feel like I can apply for directing jobs and be taken seriously.

What surprised you about this production?

Future Bodies was a multi-sensory assault that covered so many things – AV, live music, movement, script, captioning, scenes in BSL... You name it we had it so I was constantly being surprised when another element was added during the process because the show would get bigger and bigger. I also really enjoyed how clear Abbi and Helen were on making sure that Future Bodies was a true reflection of a variety of bodies in our community and the movement was about those 6 bodies being in the space, how they reacted with one another not what RashDash could choreograph. This didn’t necessarily surprise me but did make me look at my own practise as a director, to truly collaborate with the people in the rehearsal room – actor, creative and technical team.

What were your favourite moments during the rehearsals and run of this show? 

One of my favourite moments during the whole process was the BSL integrated show. I had been given the job of directing Karl, our BSL interpreter into the show... before this project I had never worked with an actor who was Deaf or on a show that had an integrated performance so was quite anxious about ‘getting it wrong’. I’d only seen or been a part of productions that stood the Interpreter in a spot in a corner (which thinking back is shocking!)... I spent a lot of time working with Karl, and Lara (one of our cast members who is Deaf) to make sure that the integration would work for both BSL-using audiences and the performers. I wanted to make sure that the BSL integration wasn’t an afterthought but truly part of the performance. The show went amazingly well, it was one of those shows you could feel a true electricity between the cast and audience and I learnt so much. Another favourite moment was the opening night at the Northern Stage in Newcastle. I grew up in Newcastle so to have the chance to take Future Bodies home was a real honour.

If you could only pass on one key thing you learnt from the experience, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or not know the ‘right’ answer. This bursary, and being an Assistant actually, is all about learning and collaborating. People won’t lose respect for you if you don’t know something but will if you just bulldoze through regardless.

How will you, and your future projects, be influenced by this bursary?

My future work will be heavily influenced by what I learnt during my time with the JMK, RashDash and Future Bodies. One major thing I will change in my practise is accessibility to my shows and rehearsal rooms. I’m planning to take a BSL course so I can be a director who can communicate directly with more of my actors in a rehearsal room and make my work more accessible to the Deaf Community. Also, to not be afraid to ask questions of your actors/team when you don’t know the right answer in terms of accessibility: people are willing to help you just have to ask. Working with RashDash has also given me a lot of confidence in my own voice as a female director... Abbi, Helen and Becky aren’t afraid to make bold choices for fear of people not liking their work; they truly believe and stand for what they create and to be in a room with them really inspires you to use your voice too. I also want to integrate more physical elements into my future work – the body and ‘movement’ shouldn't be an afterthought, it should be a starting point.

What excites you most about theatre?

One of the most exciting, and terrifying, things about the theatre is it being live with an audience sat there interacting with your work and ideas in the moment. Theatre can never be identical night in/night out and that’s what's so brilliant about it because great work is honest and true to that moment. There is something truly beautiful about an audience's part in theatre. I also love that it gives us a platform to spark change... I’ve always been a strong believer in using your work to do something – whether that be provoke, entertain or move and after working on Future Bodies I believe now more than ever that I can use my voice and work to do just that.

This JMK Assistant Director bursary was kindly supported by the Leverhulme TrustFind out how you can take part in our National Programme at your nearest partner venue here.