Josh Roche’s blog

Applying for stuff is a big part of life as a theatre director. Applying for funding, applying for competitions, applying for jobs, the list goes on and on. Actors have to keep launching themselves into auditions, directors have to keep applying, keep pitching, keep offering themselves. It means that being bloody minded and obstinate can become quite useful, in its place.

For the JMK Award, this application process begins with a list of plays. The Trust puts out a list, and from the selection on offer you find one that sets your hair on end. The first application is an opportunity to talk about the elements of the play that most move you, and write about them as best you can. Trying to explain how you’d enable those elements, and amplify them. You get to dream big (which doesn't happen that often) so it’s worth enjoying that.

At the long-list stage you assemble a team and invite other minds into that mission, principally a designer and a producer who work together to make your vision seem attractive, dynamic and (crucially) affordable. If you reach the short-list, the specifics of your vision get tied down. What does the model box look like for your production? Can you justify each budget line? How do you work with actors? How does that complement the vision of the production?

The whole application process is about trying to convince a group of people that your show would be extraordinarily good. That’s ‘good’ in the context of other Young Vic shows, good in the context of previous JMK shows, just good, period. Being humble in the face of that mission is really, really important. Try to admit what you’re not good at (in my case, devising, movement and music), then tailor your application toward what you can speak about with confidence and clarity. Try to do simple, achievable things very well. Stack the deck in your favour.

For me, the JMK was the annual highlight in a calendar of applications. Every December I would read through the list of plays and every January submit my 1500-word application. I tried every different tactic, with a whole host of different plays, and every year until 2017 I was rejected at the first round.

Each year the rejection got much easier to handle, until it was just a feature of January. That’s when you know you’re hitting a groove, when the rejection washes over you and you look forward to the next thing rather than dwelling on the past. Go for a run, have a drink, whatever you do to lift your spirits, then move on. Cracking that, psychologically, is much more important than winning a competition or getting a good review.

When it happened, I had no idea how I’d won or why my production was chosen over others. If you win I’m sure you won’t know why either. So, the important thing is to speak clearly about what you believe you can achieve, and why you think it would be a powerful, moving production. After that, just keep applying.

Final Call Out – JMK Residency at Bristol Old Vic with Ned Bennett

Final call out for applications to our JMK residency with Ned Bennett at Bristol Old Vic - apply by 20 July. 

This JMK residency with director Ned Bennett (An OctoroonPomona) will take place on 27th and 28th July at Bristol Old Vic.

This workshop will encompass three areas:

1. The philosophy and practicalities that underpin how a rehearsal process is structured.

2. Practical exercises that examine ways of making work that is visually and sonically expressive through production elements and the ensemble. Techniques will include Viewpoints and Ideograms.

3. Activating relationships between characters to create visceral, spontaneous performances.

To apply to take part please send your CV and a paragraph on why you'd like to take part in this residency to dan.radford@bristololdvic.org.uk by Friday 20 July.

JMK Directors Group North West: The Relaunch

Sunday 8 July, 6pm to 8pm, HOME

Come and meet theatre director Liz Stevenson, the new JMK Director Practitioner who will be working with HOME to organise workshops, a two-day residency, ticket offers and social events for emerging theatre makers based in the North West.

Whatever stage you're at, whether you've been to a workshop before or not, we want the opportunity to get to know who you! Being a director can be a lonely and challenging job, and we want to know how we can help you to develop your skills, build relationships and access opportunities close to home.

In this first session, Liz will lead some creative exercises that will get the group working together to think about ways of developing ideas and bringing them to fruition. It'll be a fun and informal chance to get to know each other and to start a creative conversation. You'll also hear all about the opportunities the JMK Trust and HOME have in store for the year ahead.

*we will also be offering £5 tickets for Clown Funeral presents Things We Chose to Save at 8.30pm

The event is free to attend, to book your place please email  jennie.mccusker@homemcr.org

JMK Regional Blog – Holly Gallagher

Hello!

My name is Holly Gallagher - I'm a director, theatre maker, and facilitator based in Teesside in the North East of England, and I am the most recent recipient of the JMK Assistant Director Bursary in the region!

I was eager to take on the role of JMK Assistant Director for Mark Calvert's Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune at Northern Stage for a few reasons. Firstly because I've been a member of the JMK group in Newcastle for a few years now, however activity with the group has always been fairly quiet. So I was well up for the challenge of organising some activity for the group around the show! Directing is a lonely occupation, and I really think having a support system around who understand the work is important (I'm also very excited to see what happens with the group now that the excellent Maria Crocker is around!)

Secondly because I'm frustrated with the lack of paid assisting and directing work in the North East in general. Our opportunities to train beyond directing 10 minute shorts are few and far between - instead we must find writers, and produce shows off our own backs if we want to make work happen. There is a void in training in our region where directors have to move further afoot, most often not to another region but to London, to get the experience they need to push their practice to the next level (and to be paid whilst doing it). The JMK Trust is a godsend to directors like myself who are desperate for more paid work, and more opportunity to observe, develop, and grow as practitioners by seeing how other directors approach work.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly as an assistant, because I love Mark Calvert's work. His work at Northern Stage with The Letter Room, Theatre Hoodang, and of course his Christmas Show Extravaganzas are always engrossing, visually stunning, and a great watch! Mark is also a pillar within the North East for developing new companies and emerging artists. He is at the helm of NORTH, Northern Stage's emerging actor/company training programme, and he programmes some of the most exciting work to come to the region in the building's Stage 3. He believes in helping artists to grow and develop within the region, and I knew that he would bring this same mindset and ethos to directing with an assistant in the room.

Taking on this mammoth text with Mark gave me insight into how he approached work far more text-heavy than the work he would typically select (and if I'm honest I'd still love to see how he takes on a Christmas show - full of imagery and on an epic scale!). As a director and theatre maker I love text: digging into it, understanding its logic, considering how an audience will read a scene and what this means in a wider context of 2018. So I brought this skill-set into the room to assist Mark as best I could with the challenge ahead of us.

We focused on the debate at the heart of the play: Can you fall in love with someone in just one night, without knowing them? Knowing full well that our audience would be on the side of Frankie, and Johnny had to achieve the virtually impossible.

We looked at how to stage a piece of intimate work, a two-hander, in the largest space at Northern Stage. We worked in traverse and had a constant eye on sight lines for our audiences. We worked as a small company, and took care to ensure our actors remained refreshed and working to their best standard on longer days - knowing full well the amount of energy a text like Frankie & Johnny requires.

We looked into the text and some of its trickier and more problematic content: going in we knew that the text didn't strictly translate well into 2018, and we had to really consider the nuance needed for Johnny's performance to navigate this.

We worked collaboratively: Mark is a generous director, and ensured that my voice was valid and listened to within the room. He gave excellent, hands-on experience to me as an assistant which I know I am lucky to receive, and helped to build my confidence within a rehearsal room to new heights! It's really refreshing to me as an artist to see a director work non-traditionally and truly collaboratively: our entire creative team had a voice and it made the atmosphere in rehearsals all the better for it.

I was given the kind of insight into a rehearsal process that you miss when making small scale touring work. I had access to a full creative team, to production meetings with dozens of people in the room, to costume fittings, to set familiarisation, to a tech run, and previews, and press. I got to see Mark work on a text which he hadn't personally selected, and how this challenged him to use a process outside of his comfort zone as a result: all the while instilling confidence in his company. I could ask questions about all of this, and see how a director approaches and problem solves along every step of this process!

I'm truly grateful that the JMK opened a door for me into this experience. I now feel more confident in my practice and my approach to work, and am beyond eager to assist more directors at similar scales and larger! This experience was a vital stepping stone for me, and I hope will prove the first of many paid assistant roles as I continue to train myself as a director. Paid assisting work truly is the most essential kind of training for regional directors and long may the JMK continue to provide it!

Image result for frankie and johnny northern stage

Holly Gallagher was our JMK Regional Assistant Director bursary recipient on Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune at Northern Stage. This bursary was generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

Click here to find out more about the JMK Regional Programme, including our Assistant Director bursaries and Directors' Groups.

JMK & Leeds Playhouse Trainee Director

In partnership with the JMK Trust, Leeds Playhouse are now looking to recruit a Trainee Director to work on three productions across their Autumn/Winter season 2018.

Purpose of the Role:

During Leeds Playhouse's re-development period, whilst their two theatre spaces and their front of house areas are undergoing refurbishment, the Playhouse will present an ambitious season of work in off-site locations and in a temporary theatre space that will be created in their workshop space. This temporary theatre, the Pop-Up, will seat 350 people in a thrust formation, and the space will host a wide variety of plays from classics created in a contemporary way to some of the very best new writing from the last 50 years. All of the plays have been chosen as they interrogate Britain through the lens of the past but also speak to now, and many have an especially Northern perspective.

Most of the productions in the Pop-Up will be performed by an ensemble company of ten actors who will join Leeds Playhouse for ten months. This is the first time the Playhouse has hosted an ensemble of actors for twenty years.

We are looking for a Trainee Director to assist on three productions in this Pop-Up Theatre and to support Leeds Playhouse with the delivery of this ambitious season. The productions are as follows:

ROAD by Jim Cartwright. Directed by Amy Leach, Designed by Hayley Grindle.

EUROPE by David Greig. Directed by James Brining, Designed by Amanda Stoodley.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL adapted by Debbie McAndrew. Directed by Amy Leach, Designed by Hayley Grindle.

The Trainee Director will:

  • Assist Amy Leach on Road and A Christmas Carol, and James Brining on Europe, including any research, script maintenance, planning, attending production meetings, and work with the creative team and actors as required.
  • Support the rehearsing of young actors playing Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.
  • Work alongside the Playhouse team to support the logistical delivery of this complex project.
  • Assist the company in documenting the rehearsal process for the purposes of marketing, archiving and evaluating the project through blogs, social media and other forms as agreed.
  • Observe and assist the Director in the production weeks as required.
  • Support the work of the Creative Engagement team whilst the show is on tour within the community.
  • Support the directors and stage management team during the tech week of the production in the Courtyard theatre.
  • Contribute to the daily life of the theatre and its communities, including Furnace and the Artistic Development programme. This will include becoming a participant of the JMK Fuse Directors' Group and working with the JMK Trust to support and facilitate the group until next year's bursary recipient is chosen.

Dates:

The contract starts on Monday 30th July and ends on Saturday 24th November.

Person Specification:

  • The Trainee Director will demonstrate a commitment to living and making theatre in Yorkshire.
  • Experience as a professional assistant director and/or experience directing professional theatre productions.
  • A passion for theatre and some knowledge of the work of a range of artists and theatre companies across the UK.
  • A commitment to pursuing a career as a professional director or theatre-maker.
  • An interest in and experience of working with young people.
  • An evolving vision for the kind of theatre they want to make.
  • Highly organised with an ability to juggle multiple priorities and projects.
  • Thriving in a fast moving, pressurised work environment.
  • Excellent people skills and experience of working within a team.
  • Positive, proactive and solution orientated.
  • Attention to detail.

Desirable:

  • Proficient administration skills.
  • Understanding of producing theatre.
  • Experience of working with actors and/or artists with a Learning Disability.

Terms & Conditions:

  • Contract: Freelance fixed term - 17 weeks.
  • Fee: £6,000.
  • This fee includes an arts scholarship of £2,350 funded by the Leverhulme Trust through JMK. The recipient will become a Leverhulme Arts Scholar.
  • Hours: Full time. 40 hours per week over 6 days: Monday to Saturday. Some evening and weekend work will be required and weekly hours will be adjusted to accommodate this.
  • Subject to receipt of 2 satisfactory references.
  • Proof of eligibility to work in the UK.
  • Confirmation you were born, raised or live in Yorkshire.
  • Completion of satisfactory Disclosure and Barring Service check (DBS).
  • This role does not include relocation expenses. You will be expected to live in commutable distance of the theatre during your contract.

Please download and read the job description before applying as it contains full role details, as well as further terms and conditions.

Application:

To apply for this role, please send a cover letter explaining:

  • Why you are interested in working on these three productions as part of the Pop-Up Season and why you are interested in assisting Amy Leach and James Brining.
  • Why this would be an essential next step for you.
  • Your relevant experience and what you can bring to the role.
  • Your commitment to living and making theatre in Yorkshire.

If you’d prefer to send a video message, please do, but ensure it’s no longer than two minutes.

Along with your covering letter please provide an up-to-date CV and complete this equal opportunities form, and send these three documents to recruitment@leedsplayhouse.org.uk.

We actively encourage applications from people of all backgrounds, especially those currently under represented in our industry and on our stages.

To apply you must have been born, raised or live in Yorkshire.

The deadline for receipt of applications is Thursday 5th July at 5pm.

If shortlisted for interview you will hear from us by Tuesday 10th July.

Interviews will be held at Leeds Playhouse on the evening of Thursday 12th July.

Before applying, please download the job description and equal opportunities form.

JMK Residency at Bristol Old Vic with Ned Bennett – 27 & 28 July

The next JMK Residency will be with director Ned Bennett (An Octoroon, Pomona) on 27th and 28th July at Bristol Old Vic.

To apply to take part please send your CV and a paragraph on why you'd like to take part in this residency to dan.radford@bristololdvic.org.uk

Deadline for applications Monday 9th July. 

We will then let you know who has been successful.

JMK & Bristol Old Vic Assistant Director Bursary

Assistant Directing Opportunity – Touching the Void

The JMK Trust in partnership with Bristol Old Vic is offering an Assistant Director Bursary to a participant of the JMK & Bristol Old Vic Directors’ Group. The bursary is an arts scholarship, funded by the Leverhulme Trust that will provide a learning and training opportunity for a talented emerging director based in the Bristol area who has demonstrated a commitment to directing and a passion for theatre making. The recipient will become a Leverhulme Arts Scholar.

The role

We are looking for an assistant director for Tom Morris’ upcoming production of Touching the Void. This production of Touching the Void is a co-production between Bristol Old Vic, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Royal & Derngate Northampton and Fuel and is the first stage adaptation of Joe Simpson’s nail-biting memoir, adapted by the award-winning Artistic Director of the Lyceum, David Greig.  The successful candidate will be responsible for opening the show in the partner venues.

Touching the Void was an international bestselling book and BAFTA-winning film sensation, and charts the struggle for survival on the perilous Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. The heart of the story is Joe Simpson's mental battle as he teeters on the very brink of death and despair in a crevasse from which he can't possibly climb to safety. Also unforgettable is the appalling dilemma of Simon Yates, perched on an unstable snow-cliff, battered by freezing winds and desperate to rescue the injured Simpson, who hangs from a rope below him. Knowing that they will both ultimately fall into the void, he makes the critical decision to cut the rope, forever changing the lives of both of them.

Further information on the show can be found on the Bristol Old Vic website.

The assistant director will need to be available for:

  • Friday 6th July 2018, 1-4pm - Interviews
  • Rehearsals from 30th July 2018

 

  • Bristol Old Vic dates:

Technical rehearsal from 3rd September 2018

First Preview: 8th September 2018

Technical lock-off: 14th September 2018

Press: 18th September 2018

Closes in Bristol: 6th October 2018

 

  • Royal & Derngate, Northampton:

Fit up: 8th/9th October 2018

Preview: 9th October 2018

Local Press: 10th October 2018

Closes: 20th October 2018

 

  • Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh:

Tech from 21st January 2019

Preview: 24th January 2019

Local Press: 25th January 2019

Closes: 16th February 2019

 

  • National/international touring dates to be confirmed – the contract would include an 8 week option period immediately following the Edinburgh run, to be confirmed by the end of September 2018.

 

As Assistant Director, your duties would include:

To provide general assistance to the Director.

  • As agreed with the Director, to carry out any research that will inform and benefit the production.
  • To observe rehearsals and have input in discussions and production meetings.
  • To assist the company in documenting the rehearsal process for the purposes of marketing, archiving and evaluating the project through blogs, social media and other forms as agreed.
  • To observe and assist the Director in the Bristol production week as required.
  • To attend and participate in post-show discussions by mutual agreement with the Producer.
  • To attend and manage the opening of the production at all venues after Bristol in the Director’s stead, leading technical and dress rehearsals, watching and noting previews and liaising with the producing and production teams as necessary regarding any re-staging or other issues.
  • To support the company whilst the play is in performance as agreed with the Director and Stage Manager, including attending and noting the production at all venues.
  • Any further duties as required by the Director.

The bursary recipient will demonstrate a commitment to living and making theatre in the Bristol area and will also be or become a participant of the JMK Bristol Old Vic Directors’ Group and as part of the bursary will also be responsible for working with JMK and Bristol Old Vic to support and facilitate the group until next year’s bursary recipient is chosen.

 

Bursary

The Leverhulme Bursary consists of £2,350, which covers all work up to and including the technical rehearsal period at Bristol Old Vic.

This will be supplemented by a fee of £500 to cover attendance through previews in Bristol, and £500 per co-production venue to cover attendance for opening and noting the production at each venue.

Fees for attendance on tour to be confirmed by mutual agreement.

Travel (standard class rail or flights subject to mutual agreement) and accommodation will be covered where required for any dates outside of Bristol, including during rehearsal if required. No per diems or other expenses are payable. Expense provision for any international touring dates to be confirmed subject to mutual agreement.

How to apply

Please send a CV and covering letter to Lucy Hunt, lucy.hunt@bristololdvic.org.uk, by 2 July.

Please detail:

  • Why you are interested in working with Tom Morris on this production of Touching the Void
  • Your relevant experience and what you can bring to the role
  • How this assisting opportunity and involvement in the Bristol Old Vic / JMK Trust Directors’ Group will contribute to your professional development
  • Your commitment to living and making theatre in Bristol

If you have any questions please contact jo@jmktrust.org

Regional Programme Update

Announcing our Director Practitioners and new partner venue, Reading Rep

After many great applications and very tough selection decisions, we're thrilled to announce our new Director Practitioners (DPs). These five DPs, all of whom are established, regionally-based directors, will work closely with their local partner venues and the JMK Trust to shape the delivery of our Regional Programme, including running our Directors' Groups and Assistant Director bursary recruitment.

In this exciting new model, the DPs will curate our Programme for their region, tailoring it to the needs of local directors. The emerging directors who take part in our Programme will be able to benefit from mentorship, guidance and support from their local DP, who is in place to oversee their creative and professional development. The DPs will also lead workshops at each others' venues, exchanging knowledge and skills to benefit all our participants.

In addition to this development, we are excited to form a new Directors' Group in partnership with Reading Rep, who share our commitment to developing new and diverse talent in the industry. This Directors' Group will be led by JMK Director Practitioner, Nik Partridge.

Meet our five JMK Director Practitioners:

Nik Partridge (Reading Rep, Salisbury Playhouse and Nuffield Southampton Theatres)

Nik is a South-West based director whose work focuses on contemporary writing, adaptation and engagement. He was Director-in-Residence at Tobacco Factory Theatres from 2014-2015 and is currently Staff Director at Theatre Royal Plymouth, where he is responsible for artist development and support. As a freelance director Nik has made work for: Bristol Old Vic, Royal Court, Traverse, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Mayfest, the egg, Bath Theatre Royal, Strike-A-Light, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Oran Mor, Galway International Arts Festival, Travelling Light, New Diorama, Bikeshed Theatre. He trained on the National Theatre Studio Directors Course and at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He was a BBC Performing Arts Fellow in 2014.

Adele Thomas (Sherman Theatre, Bristol Old Vic and Tobacco Factory Theatres)

Adele is already in post, working with our Welsh and Bristol directors. An award winning theatre and opera director, Adele is currently making Eyam for Shakespeare’s Globe and Berenice for the Royal Opera House. Previous credits include: Cosi Fan Tutte (Northern Ireland Opera); A Warring Absence (National Theatre); Unusual Unions (Royal Court); Macbeth: The Complete Walk, Thomas Tallis, The Oresteia, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (Globe).

Maria Crocker (Travese Theatre and Northern Stage)

Maria is originally from Middlesbrough in the North East of England. Her theatre credits as a Director include: Growth (Northern Stage Studio); Brian Looks Like Alan Rickman (York Theatre Royal Studio); Found (Alnwick Playhouse). Theatre as Associate Director: Meek (Headlong); Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone (Greyscale, International Tour); The Gamblers (Greyscale, Dundee Rep). Theatre as Movement Director: Leaving (Curious Monkey). Theatre as Assistant or Staff Director: Hadestown (National Theatre); Mood Music (The Old Vic); Pinocchio (National Theatre); Animal Farm  (Northern Stage); Catch 22 (UK Tour). Theatre as Deviser: No Miracles Here, Five Feet In FrontBonenkai (The Letter Room).

Liz Stevenson (HOME Manchester and West Yorkshire Playhouse)

Liz is the Artistic Director of Junction 8 Theatre and the Associate Director at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. She won the JMK Young Director Award in 2015 and her production of Barbarians at The Young Vic was nominated for an Oliver Award. Other credits include: How My Light Is Spent (Royal Exchange Theatre, Sherman Theatre, TBTL) The Secret Garden (TBTL and York Theatre Royal) and Handbagged (TBTL). She is currently the Associate Director on the National Theatre production of Macbeth touring the UK and Ireland later this year.

Martin Berry (Birmingham Rep and Royal & Derngate)

Martin sits in the board of Stage Directors UK, trained on the Clore programme and is an international consultant for Trinity College. Previous directing credits include: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella (Queens Theatre Hornchurch), Smile (UK tour with Tiger Press Publishing), The Last Five Years (Tobacco Factory Theatres), Neverland, A Christmas Carol, Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, Lysistrata, Oh What a Lovely War, Little Shop of Horrors, Doctor Faustus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Wiz (Nottingham Lakeside).

These DPs will soon be setting up a programme of free workshops for our Directors' Groups at our partner venues. Email katherine@jmktrust.org for information on how to join any of our Groups.

Click here to read more about our Regional Programme, including our Directors' Groups and Assistant Director bursaries.

JMK & HOME Assistant Director Bursary

The JMK Trust in partnership with HOME is offering an Assistant Director Bursary to a participant of the JMK Directors’ Group. The bursary is an arts scholarship, funded by the Leverhulme Trust that will provide a learning and training opportunity for a talented emerging director, based in the North West of England area who has demonstrated a commitment to directing and a passion for theatre making. The recipient will become a Leverhulme Arts Scholar.

We are looking for an Assistant Director to assist on Future Bodies a HOME and Unlimited Theatre Co-production in collaboration with RashDash.

This exciting and bold new production brings together two of the UK’s most thoughtful, inspiring and consistently brilliant theatre companies to imagine the implications of real world, leading edge developments in human enhancement technologies. Working with leading scientists and researchers in the fields of brain implants, smart drugs, and artificial intelligence, Unlimited and RashDash smash together science fact and fiction in a kaleidoscopic montage of words, music and movement.

Experience of working with movement and with disabled and non-disabled performers will be beneficial, but not essential. Given the subject matter of the play and the mix of disabled and non-disabled performers in the cast, we are particularly keen to receive applications from people who identify as disabled themselves.

Want to apply? Download the job pack and send your CV and covering letter to Jennie.McCusker@homemcr.org by Mon 18 June.

If you have any questions please contact jo@jmktrust.org

Deadline for applications: Send your CV and covering letter by midnight on Mon 18 June.

Interviews will take place: Wed 27 June 2018 at HOME.

Congratulations to Philip Carne, receiving Robert Maskrey Award for Arts Philanthropy

We are delighted to hear that Philip Carne, MBE, has received the prestigious Robert Maskrey Award for Arts Philanthropy and we send our warmest congratulations. The Award recognises Philip's tireless support for emerging talent in Wales’ performing arts.

Through the invaluable support of The Carne Trust, we are able to run our JMK Directors' Group at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. This group intensively supports six emerging Welsh directors, who take part in a series of workshops and training sessions, developing important skills including leadership and process. They also have the opportunity to receive Assistant Director bursaries. Each director is paired with a writer from the Sherman's New Welsh Playwrights Programme, also supported by The Carne Trust, enabling them to develop a play which will be showcased to industry professionals and to start a new creative partnership.

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of Philip Carne, Christine Carne and The Carne Trust, we are able to find and nurture the most exciting Welsh directing talent. We are thrilled that their exceptional work supporting the next generation of talent in the performing arts continues to be recognised.

JMK Regional Blog – Gemma Aked-Priestley

We asked Gemma Aked-Priestley (JMK Assistant Director bursary recipient for 'The Shadow Factory', Nuffield Southampton Theatres) for an insight into the bursary experience, some tips for directors starting out and a few ultimate ambitions...

 

photo credit: Liv Fowler

Why did you apply for the JMK Trust bursary? 

Nuffield Southampton Theatres has always been special to me. I grew up in Southampton and subsequently it was at the Nuffield where I saw my first piece of professional theatre (it was 2008 and I was on an A level Drama trip, the production was the hauntingly beautiful Frantic Assembly’s Othello. I will never forget it). From the moment I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a theatre director one of my goals was to direct something back in my home city. The summer I graduated from Mountview, where I had been studying for an MA in Theatre Directing, I emailed Hannah Bevan (NST Studio Producer) and we arranged a chat. After this initial meeting I started developing a relationship with NST. I directed a short piece for their Laboratory new writing night, attended a week long producing course, saw shows at the venue, applied for assistant directing jobs (both applications were unsuccessful) and carried out an R&D supported by NST, the Arts Council and the Bunker Theatre. Approximately a year and a half after this initial chat I saw that the JMK were advertising a bursary for an assistant director for The Shadow Factory. By this stage I was was steadily building confidence in my understanding of the theatre and my own practice so I put in an application – fortunately I was offered the position. This project felt particularly relevant to me as my long-term goal is to spearhead a regional theatre as an artistic director and assisting on The Shadow Factory meant that I got to work closely with NST’s artistic director, Sam Hodges. It was an incredibly valuable opportunity.

 

What are three things you learnt from working on the production?

  1. Listening is the most important skill you can develop as a director.
  2. As an assistant director, you should always have your headline thoughts ready to relay to your director. I learnt this from The Shadow Factory’s associate director, Anthony Lau, who was a fantastic mentor to me. Headlines are essentially your top three thoughts about the piece as a whole. The director will be receiving notes from a wide range of creatives so as an assistant director whittling down an ocean of notes to three concise and digestible thoughts will be incredibly helpful to your director. The likelihood is that you will not get asked for you headline thoughts on a daily basis but it’s good practice to have them prepared just in case.
  3. Relationships trump everything. As well as working hard to do an excellent job as an assistant director it’s just as important to be a charming and fun person to be around.

 

What's your next project?

I’m currently directing the European premiere of Gracie by Joan MacLeod at the Finborough Theatre starring Carla Langley (The Ferryman, Orca, Cuddles). Carla is utterly compelling to watch and a dream to work with. Gracie is a gripping and life-affirming one-woman show about a young girl growing up in a polygamous cult. It is inspired by the notorious Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints communities in Canada and the USA. The production is partnered with Refuge Charity, the UK’s largest provider of support and services to women and children suffering from domestic abuse.

I am also supporting Indigo Griffiths dramaturgically and as a director on her latest project, Passing, a new play that exposes the controversial practice of “racial passing” - the use of skin colour as a form of social currency. Set in Chicago, 1941, Joey, John and Eliza are siblings but their lives are about to take different paths. Joey is embracing the New Negro Movement, John is breaking barriers at college and Eliza is preparing to pass as white. In a world where everything is determined by race, what can you gain by concealing who you are, and more importantly what can you lose? In August 2017 we undertook Arts Council funded R&D and recently we shared a rehearsed reading of the piece at RADA supported by the Women@RADA network. We’re currently in talks trying to finalise our creative partners in order to mount a fully realised production for 2019. I am very excited about the future of this project.

 

What have you always wanted to direct? 

My passion is new writing so whenever I’m considering what my next project might be, I naturally focus on what writers I’d like to collaborate with and what new stories we might tell together. I would love to direct plays based on the lives and music of Amy Winehouse and Eminem. At the moment I am obsessed with the notion of trans-identity and I'm considering directing an epic adaptation of The Passion Of New Eve by Angela Carter as well as collaborating closely with a writer to create new work inspired by the lives of Rachel Dolezal and Gayle Newland.

 

If you could direct a cast of anyone from history, who would it be?

Sheridan Smith

Uzo Aduba

James McAvoy

Viola Davis

D.J Pierce

Daniel Kaluuya

Marlene Dietrich

Robin Williams

Yoshi Oida

Kate Winslet

 

What advice would you give to directors starting out?

Where to start? Take a deep breath, dig your heels in and get ready for the ride!

I think the two key pieces of advice I would give to directors who are just starting out are, to be brave and develop a strong point of view. Get to know yourself and strive to be the most you you can be. Only tell stories that excite and resonate with you. Seek out stories that are untold and stories that will bring something new to the conversation. Never be afraid of making mistakes creatively. In my experience the most daring work is born from taking creative risks which inevitably means there will be creative highs and lows. Embrace that.

Another thing people may not realise when they’re just starting out is that this industry is made up of some of the most generous and genuinely supportive people you will ever meet. Never be afraid to ask for help. Being a little bit cheeky has got me a long way! Email one of your favourite creatives (you may have to do some internet stalking to find their or their agent’s email addresses) and politely explain how much you admire them and ask if it’s possible to shadow rehearsals or to meet for coffee. Do your homework and only contact people who you genuinely admire and would love to glean a deeper insight into their process. One of my initial assistant directing gigs was born out of an exchange just like that, and I’ve now developed a wonderful relationship both professionally and personally with a director who I’ve admired for years. It’s important to find your tribe of theatre makers whose work you want to champion and who want to champion your work too. Organisations like The Mono Box are fantastic networks where you can participate in workshops, gain top tips at industry Q&A sessions and thrive in an environment that’s set up to help like-minded artists connect. I cannot sing their praises enough.

What else... When you’re first starting out engage with a wide range of art forms created by a diversity of artists. See and read as much as possible (without breaking the bank of course. Finances will be tight for most directors who are just starting out so make sure you have a budgeting system and various side jobs in place to support yourself). Be kind to yourself. Celebrate your mini victories. In fact be kind to everyone you encounter (from artistic directors to the bar staff at the venue).

And finally… remember that theatre directing is a long game. It’s crucial to be hungry but you also have to cultivate patience and perspective over (what we all hope will be) long and fruitful careers. Focus on your own journey and try not to compare yourself to others around you. Create work out of love not out of fear.

 

What career advice would you like to receive right now?

I would love to find out more about how directors find work as resident or associate directors on large scale West End shows. I adore directing theatre with small casts in intimate spaces but equally I appreciate the thrill of a theatrical spectacle and would relish the opportunity to gain experience in a West End environment.

 

What excites you most about directing?

What most excites me about directing is the inherent liveness of theatre. There is an energy, an electricity that comes from live performance which I can’t get enough of. There’s nothing more satisfying to me then leading a team in the creation of a play that’s fizzing with liveness. I also adore watching audiences, particularly audiences made up of people who don’t necessarily work in the arts. I find it so joyful to witness how a story can move people, whether they’re tearing up, gasping in disbelief or shaking with laughter.

 

Gemma is a member of our JMK Directors' Group at Nuffield Southampton Theatres and was recently awarded our Assistant Director bursary to work on the inaugural production at their new venue, NST City - 'The Shadow Factory' by Howard Brenton, directed by Sam Hodges.  This JMK Assistant Director bursary was supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

Find out how to join your nearest JMK Directors' Group here.