JMK Assistant Director Blog – Kayleigh Hawkins

"In the assistant role it can be tempting to keep quiet in a desire to avoid overloading the space with too many voices at once. Whilst it is important in any role in a process to filter and recognise when it is or isn’t time to contribute it is also important to be vigilant and remember the validity of your own voice."

Kayleigh Hawkins (JMK Leverhulme bursary recipient, HOME Manchester) describes her experiences as the Assistant Director on Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, written by Javaad Alipoor and co-created by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley. 

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

As an emerging artist it feels important to be immersed in new work which pushes boundaries, challenges traditional forms and opens theatre up to new audiences. Knowing their reputation as individuals and the success of Javaad and Kirsty’s previous show together, The Believers Are But Brothers, I was thrilled by the chance to learn from and be a part of such innovative theatre making.

I also wanted to do more assistant directing. We can train and read and hone our craft in workshops but that is nothing compared to learning on the job. A director’s focus must be on leading the room and creating a show so it can be difficult to have perspective on our own process in the middle of that. In assisting we can contribute to someone else's process, learn from them and also recognise more of who we are as theatre makers by watching how someone else does it differently.

What were your main tasks as the Assistant Director?

At the start of the process my main tasks included working with the rest of the creative team to interrogate the text. Whilst maintaining a clear idea of the show he wanted to make, Javaad’s approach to developing the script was collaborative. I learnt an incredible amount about dramaturgy from watching Javaad working with different members of the team at different stages in the process to refine the script. I assisted by acting as another sounding board, scribing, researching and updating new drafts etc.

With AV being an integral part of the show I spent time assisting the very talented guys from Limbic Cinema with content sourcing to find just the right images to tell the story.

Another large part of my role included exploring the potential of Instagram. What we imagine a platform can do is not always the same as its actual capabilities. I spent a lot of time working with other members of the team to find creative and digital solutions to make Instagram an exciting and vital part of the production.

What surprised you about this production?

‘The importance of uncertainty’. The rehearsal process began with an exciting draft of Javaad’s script. It also began with lots of questions. Hearing Kirsty talk about the importance of uncertainty was surprising and incredibly useful. So often in a process the director or writer is expected to have all the answers before real experimentation, discussion and collaboration has occurred. Being a less experienced director I have sometimes caved in and made a decision before I was ready to, resulting in a half baked idea, or at times when I have stuck to my guns and kept elements undecided I have questioned myself on my indecisiveness. Kirsty and Javaad have such a wealth of experience it was fascinating to watch when an element of the show would be purposefully and confidently left with a pin in it, unanswered for now. It makes complete sense that as a team work together, getting to know the show, those questions will be answered and all the pieces come together.

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

To be kind to yourself when entering new rooms. Having just come off the back of directing a production of Hamlet with a large cast and team, I was initially surprised by how intimidating entering a new room can be. It truly was an open, collaborative and supportive environment so there was very little reason to feel that way. However, the assistant director role is a bizarre one and never more so than when there are already lots of exciting creatives in the room. In the assistant role it can be tempting to keep quiet in a desire to avoid overloading the space with too many voices at once. Whilst it is important in any role in a process to filter and recognise when it is or isn’t time to contribute it is also important to be vigilant and remember the validity of your own voice.

What other projects are you working on, and how will they be influenced by this bursary?

I am in the early stages of developing a production called Outside Person : 外⼈ which combines live performance, digital art and gaming technology. Set in Manchester and Osaka, we are exploring what it is to feel like an outsider in your own country, find belonging in another culture and the dangers of ‘living’ entirely online. Working on Rich Kids has given me a great incite into the advantages and limitations of using digital technology when making theatre. I am excited about the transformative nature of AV and how it can create an immersive experience within a conventional space. I’ve always been interested in what an audience is participating in and what role they take on beyond spectator. Innovation doesn’t need to shock or alienate. In Rich Kids the audience take on many roles including one of an Instagram follower. This known experience is thrilling in a theatre setting when we are not expecting it. I will continue to consider the audience and how technology can allow new and layered experiences.

What challenge would you like to take on next in your directing career?

I’d like to challenge myself to put real time into continuing my creative development. It can be tempting to put on show after show with a focus on the end product rather than devoting real time to developing your own practice. It has been fantastic watching Kirsty and Javaad collaborating. They bounce ideas off each other so quickly and you can tell how much they believe in each others’ work. The nature of a rehearsal room is important to me and I want to continue exploring different collaborations and team structures within a creative process. I want bring what has solidified and opened up for me in this project back into a process with a published text. I am reading a lot of plays at the moment!

I also plan to continue assistant directing and move into associate roles. I want to continue being inspired by the varied and dynamic work being made and supported by NPOs and independent companies around me and learning from my peers and more established artists. I’m so excited by the bold work I have seen in the last couple of months in Manchester and Edinburgh. 

Why is it important for theatre directors and makers to be supported through the JMK bursaries and National Programme?

Producing a piece of theatre can be expensive, complex and time consuming. Many established artists, venues and companies will have the desire to support emerging directors but may not have the funds, time or administrative capacity to organise an assistant in the role. The JMK enables a brilliant partnership: the production gets an extra pair of creative hands, the venue gets to support emerging artists in their area and the assistant gets to learn and contribute to a process that might otherwise have been inaccessible for them.

Rich Kids is a Javaad Alipoor and HOME co-production, which is also co-commissioned by The Bush and Theatre in the Mill. The production previewed at HOME, ran at the Traverse during the Edinburgh Fringe, and returns to HOME in October.

This JMK Assistant Director bursary was generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust. You can find out more about our National Programme here.