Monday, 12 December 2011

Andy Burden

Andy is a theatre director based in Bath.  He was Artistic Director of the Rondo Theatre from 2001-2008.  He’s taught at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, DeMontfort University, University of Bristol and Circomedia.  Recent directing credits include;  Pinocchio (Tobacco Factory), Seasoned (Brewery), I Remember Green (Alma Tavern) and he is currently working on the Meaning of Riff, previewing at Norwich Arts Centre on Dec 13th and the Rondo Theatre on Dec 15th, 2011.

For more on Andy please see his website

Andy Burden
Friday, Dec 9th 2011
Bath, UK 1pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on the Meaning of Riff, a one-man show with Eamonn Fleming, who is one of the stalwarts of Hull Theatre.  He is going to kill me for this, but famously for being that man with the bee beard in the Magners advert.  This is the second one-man show we’ve developed together and 4th or 5th solo show I’ve developed with actors.   It’s something I really like doing.  It’s very funny.  The whole idea is were working on it now and see if we can make tweaks and then go off to Edinburgh and hopefully on tour next year.  It’s a theatre/stand up comedy thing.

Who or what inspires you?

Real people.  The real world.  There are lots of people in the theatre world I’m inspired by, but for me it’s real stories, real characters, real incidents.  And either you do a comedy, compress it and make it more acute or larger than life or you do something very beautiful, try to pinpoint it and put it into an interesting context or something physical, stylised and try and communicate in a different way, in a visual way.  That’s always what inspires me in terms of my work and what I do, the world around me.  Also I’m really interested in history.  The next show I’m doing after this, is Henry VIII and the Royal Wedding Planner, which is another one person show and in the Brewery from the 10th of January.  That’s all about Henry VIII’s wives and inspired by a character named Jane Parker, who was a lady in waiting for five of the wives. 

What is your directing approach or style?

I’ve only just realised what it is.  The thing about being a director is you don’t see other directors direct.   But I have worked with an associate and co-directed, who will remain nameless, and I just sat there wondering, why are you doing it like that?  My approach is basically very playful, right at the beginning of rehearsal what I try to do is get people to open up and almost find that kid in themselves.  So what we are doing, even the most serious thing in the world, has some sense of fun and directness.  I don’t spend hours with the actors trying to decode the script, I do the work on my own before I go into rehearsal.  I don’t do lectures about the writer.  I believe a lot in just doing and finding things, bringing things to it.  Sometimes we ask questions after, and then we’ll do the academic stuff.  Instead of setting out like it’s A level Theatre/English literature text, we play around and figure out what works, why does that work and ask questions.  We're always putting stuff to the test.  I want people to do and try and to act naturally.  If you’re going to do comedy that’s heightened, then control that in a way that you can build up and make it very simple and very precise.  If it’s something naturalistic, you keep the ambivalences there and the feeling.   My approach is to always make the rehearsal room playful, open and relaxed place, where people can be creative to the last minute.   What I’m doing feels dangerous but I plan carefully where I’m going next and slowly bring everything in, until it all comes together and the actors go, Oh, it’s all there!  Because it comes from them, they don’t have to madly learn something at the last minute and they feel connected to what they’re doing. 

You are currently on a great run of successful shows as a freelance director.  Any advice you can give to a director starting out or struggling in this industry?

Years ago I wanted to be a musician.  And I went to Roy Harper, who I am big fan of and said I want to do what you’re doing, what would your advice be?  He just went to me; Don’t give up your day job!  There’s an element of truth unfortunately.  Despite some who would say they’re supporting and giving people opportunities and spreading their funding, basically its very, very difficult to get a start in this business because you have to do a lot of work for free.  Which means either its very rich people or people who somehow financed it another way.  When I was younger I was running around doing electrics, lighting, scene shifting, I kept all my work within the theatre world and tried to fit stuff around it.  I know people who are teachers and say I’ll direct and do it 3x a week.  That doesn’t work because you need that intense time.   I’ve just gone show to show, but at the beginning of this year, I didn’t have any work and it was a nightmare.  Having a fallback is not a bad idea. 

Peter Brook says in The Shifting Point, a director should never be out of work, because you set out the projects.  It’s about making the contacts and getting people on board, wherever it is and try to make work happen.  It’s not really an actor’s job to create work.   As a director I think we need to have that skill base to set things up, get an idea and find a way of doing it.   Part of what you do, has to be something people will come and see.  You have a choice in the industry; impress other theatre professionals or the audience.   Sometimes we forget we should be really impressing the audience.  The Rondo, Alma (Tavern), Tobacco Factory are making sure there is a place where people can try stuff out and also put on a full show.  That’s my other bit of advice, put on a full show.  Don’t be tempted to just put on 30 second bits.   I know it’s a trend, but I think as a director you have to put on a full show.  Like a writer has to write a whole play.  Writing a ten-minute short or sketch or doing something for a scratch night is a different skill to impressing people for that short time than it is for an hour or two-hour show.

Dream projects?

I’ve got loads.  Macbeth, A Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey.  I’d love to do some Brecht, Betrayal by Harold Pinter, Statements by Athol Fugart.  There are a number of adaptations and quite a few original projects in my head that I’m trying to write and co write.  To be honest the dream project is always what’s going on next.  So at the moment, it’s that Meaning of Riff is really successful.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No - but there are plenty of directors making dead theatre and killing things off!   If you are a director enabling people to do their best, then absolutely not.  There’s been a fashion of directors putting their imprint or brand on stuff, like a Rupert Goold play will have a big image in it, like water and sharp lighting, or Katie Mitchell will have video in it.  I don’t really go for that.  I don’t know what an Andy Burden show is.   People say my stuff has a style.  But I think the way I’ve trained and developed, in the European way of working, is you work from the people you’re working with, so you’re enabling people, rather than saying look at me I'm the director.   As long as people are coming out of my shows saying I had a really good night out, I feel fulfilled.  If it’s well paced and it has heart, that’s all I want.  What a director can do is make sure, actors dig deeper, make sure that the play has a good pace, all the creative team are coming together, to bring something special to the audience.   That role of the director isn’t dead.  I would love to see the role of the academic director go.  I would be happy to see that go. 

Thanks Andy for sharing your thoughts!

"It is through collaboration that the knockabout art of the theatre survives and kicks. No one mind or imagination can foresee what a play will become. Only a company of artists can reflect the genius of a people in a complex day and age"- Joan Littlewood

"Everything you imagine is real" - Pablo Picasso

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Jackson Gay

Jackson is a New York City director. She is on faculty at the New York Film Academy and Primary Stages ESPA School of Theater. She holds an MFA in Directing from Yale School of Drama.  Jackson is the recipient of the Jonathan Alper Directing Fellowship at Manhattan Theatre Club, the Williamstown Theater Festival Directing Fellowship and the Drama League's New Directors/New Works Fellowship. She has directed for the Atlantic Theater Company, Alley Theater, Second Stage Uptown, Goodman Theater and Playwrights Horizon.

Jackson will be leading a workshop, ‘Playwright/Director Collaboration’ at Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia on Dec 7th and and Dec 14th 2011.  For more info on how to join the course please visit

Jackson Gay
Fri Oct 28th 2011
New York, 1pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a small production company, that does film, TV and theatre.  And we’re working on a new musical by book writer/lyricist Cheri Magid and composer Evan Palazzo.  It started off as an idea for a screenplay and we all decided it would make a great musical. It’s called First Lady of Christmas and tells the story of Dorothy Shaver, the first president of Lord and Taylor and a major advocate of American designers during the Depression. Sarah Lawrence College here in NY, offered to let us develop and produce it with their students.  Sarah Lawrence has a fantastic theater program and Christine Farrell and Robert Lyons of SLC have been incredibly supportive. As we speak, we are putting it up on its feet and it opens Nov 17th.

Can you tell us a bit about your faculty roles at the NY Film academy (NYFA) and Primary Stages?

At NYFA, I have taught script analysis and acting for film.  At Primary Stages, where I teach the most, I teach scene study, monologue classes, dramaturgy and film producing.  I taught a class devoted to (Bertolt) Brecht and one devoted to Tennessee Williams.  I teach different classes there depending on what the students are wanting at any given semester.  All classes are focused on contemporary work--writers that are emerging onto the theatrical scene and writers who are being produced at this moment in time.

Who or what inspires you?

I have a six year old daughter, Lola, and she’s a big inspiration to me.  I grew up in Texas in a much stricter, fundamental christian upbringing, where we really were told, to be seen but not heard kind of thing and, thankfully, Lola is having a completely different childhood.  My number one joy is seeing her become a strong, spunky young woman. She inspires me because she encourages me to continue to do the same thing and follow my passions.  And she makes me laugh, a lot. The person who has inspired me most in my artistic life is the director Paul Berman.  He is the first person who really honed in on me as a director and pushed me to go for it.  He introduced me to Beckett, Chekhov, Witkiewicz, Muller, Kroetz- writers that continue to have a huge influence on me.  Paul Berman continues to be someone who I turn to and I guess I still seek his approval in many ways, if you know what I mean...

What is your directing approach or style?

I started off as an actor, so I consider myself an actor’s director.  My approach is text based.  I tend to start and finish there.   I try to look at the script in terms of what they are doing, what is the action?  Focus on that and everything else will come out of that.   I love discovering things with the playwright, actors and designers.  Which is why I love working on new plays, because no one really knows completely yet and I like that part of it, figuring it all out together. 

What advice would you give to a director starting out in their career?

I know so many people that didn’t go to grad school, or college actually, that are doing extremely well and are fulfilled artistically and having a great artistic life.  For me, I don’t know how I could’ve done it without going to grad school.  Because I came from Texas and didn’t know anyone on the East coast, it was a way to actually get to work and meet people.  A great way in, is to make contacts with directors that are working in the industry and ask them if you can assist.  And not just assisting on one particular production, because a lot of times you’ll run into problems because the theatre has somebody they want you to use, or that sort of thing.  But to actually ask if you can assist that artist.  Directors do a lot at once and have many balls in the air.  I feel like people can get a lot from from seeing what’s involved in a complete way, doing a lot of different projects at once.  I have assistants I have absolutely recommended for things and that’s how it happens.  People recommended me for things and that’s how I got my foot in the door.  I try to not forget that.

Doing good work is number one.  Doing good work is going to get you more work.  And number two, is who you know.  Some of it you can control and some of it you can’t.  But what you can control is being your own advocate, and inviting playwrights to coffee, assisting directors.  What you can’t control, let it go.  Let it go and do good work.

You are teaching a course soon for PlayPenn.   What is one thing you can give us as an insight to a good playwright/director relationship?

Number one is making sure, before you get into the rehearsal room, that you know what each other’s expectations are and what the playwright wants, what they’re going for.  There are many ways to accomplish that prior to the first rehearsal.  Like having the playwright read the play out loud to you.  That’s an incredibly helpful tool- it’s stunning how much you learn from he or she reading it out loud.  The way they say lines, the tone they have, the beats they take etc etc.  There are so many things you learn without having the playwright tell you anything.  It will keep you from huge amounts of misery and miscommunication.

Dream projects?

I directed this play for my thesis production at Yale, but I have always wanted to direct it with age appropriate actors.  Three Sisters.  Really, I would love to work on any Chekhov play.

Final question.  Is the director dead?


Thanks Jackson for sharing your thoughts!

“Words shouldn't be faster than the thought. Only the thought creates reality.”
 Liviu Ciulei

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Peter Arnott

Peter Arnott is a playwright and director, born in Glasgow, Scotland.  He has been working professionally since 1985 when The Boxer Benny Lynch and White Rose opened in the same week in Glasgow Arts Centre and the Traverse, Edinburgh respectively.  Plays since then have been Muir, Losing Alec, The Wire Garden, and Cyprus.  He is currently the resident playwright at ESRC Genomics Forum in conjunction with the Edinburgh Traverse Theatre.

Don’t miss Peter’s next play The Infamous Brothers Davenport on at The Lyceum in Edinburgh, January 2012.

Peter Arnott
Friday Oct 28th, 2011
Edinburgh, 10am

What are you working on at the moment?

Yesterday I was doing one of my informal get-togethers at the Traverse Theatre, as part of my research into genomics.  I come to the Traverse bar with some videos and discuss with people who are interested in the issues and bounce things off them.  I am just over halfway through this particular residency with the Genomics Forum and the Traverse.  The first half was very much research, the second half is much more with thinking about what play I’m going to write.

What are some of the topics you are exploring and what are some of the responses?

Medical ethics.  Who owns the tissue in the body?  Once the tissue leaves the body, it becomes the property of the researcher.  Issues with synthetic biology.  Is it a useful idea to talk about human dignities in the context of genetic research?  Also issues about who owns this technology.  What are they going to use it for?  Do we trust them? The industry has a misconception that people are luddites, that they are primitive and superstitious.  That they distrust the technology, because it is somehow unholy and I think that’s not true at all.  What we don’t like and don’t trust, are them.  What was interesting, is that it’s almost an immediate consensus, but people have no problem with technology or with the idea of genetic modification. The consensus is they have a problem with authority, with ownership.  And in a sense, it merges into a more general malaise of capitalism, which we are currently living through.  

What is your earliest theatrical memory?

Being in the King’s Theatre in Glasgow, watching Stanley Baxter doing a pantomime.  The great Scottish comic actor and impersonator and impresario. 

Who or what inspires you? 

I suppose the single most inspirational experience would be going to the Citizen Theatre in Glasgow, in a period of about 15-20 years in the 70’s and 80’s ,where it was a world class European theatre.  Which in a sense, didn’t know what it had.   I saw a production of Macbeth in that theatre when I was about 14, all male, with another great Scottish actor, David Hayman.  He was Lady Macbeth.  There was no lighting changes, no set, everything was done with trestle tables, the actors sitting on opposite side of stage reading a newspaper when they weren’t in the scene… and I thought, I have to do this...  this is too exciting!  I was doomed from then on.  Of course many things along the way have been very inspirational.  A show called Woza Albert, done by the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, 1980-81.  A company called ATC,  did a two-part adaptation of Don Quixote (The Life and Death of Don Quixote) that completely blew my mind.  I saw it in the Oxford University union, in an audience of 5 and I thought this is just GREAT

Have you ever directed one of your own plays?  Any challenges/disadvantages?

I directed my play, Cyprus, in 2005.  The disadvantage is that you don’t get a distance from it.  I am quite good at cutting, and saying, I may have loved this when I wrote it, but actually its crap!  Because it was a very small scale show, it felt like the right thing to do.  We did it in a little theatre in Mull, with 3 actors, all one set, not great technical demands, done like an old-fashioned drawing room drama.  Where you have a mysterious stranger and have to find out who he is-- it’s a secret service play about the Gulf War and Iraq.  We did it in a converted barn theatre and it was all very organic.  We had chickens and frogs coming in during the rehearsals.   What was very odd, was that it then transferred to London, to Trafalgar Studios.  No chickens.

What is your directing style?

Oh.  Blimey.  I don’t think I have a style… I think it’s a basic insight or stolen idea.  A playwright is an actor with a pencil.  Being poetic, philosophical is nice, but not necessary.   What matters is the immediacy of the relationship between the audience and the actor.  If I have a style, it is allowing little to get in the way of that.   Never pretend the audience isn’t there.  I worked with some very good directors and some very bad directors.  The best ones have a way of being in the room, a way of working with actors, collaborators and designers.  Really, it has to do with the way of being a person more than an aesthetic system.

Dream Projects?

One of my best theatrical experiences, an early, formative one, was a play called White Rose, which was on at the old Traverse Theatre in 1985.  Basically I was given a brief, a very strict brief--you’re opening on May the 6th, you’ve got 3 actors, this is the space, this is the set- tiny space and make it big - GO!  Working from that brief, I came up with something better, so in a way, if somebody offered me a dream project, I’d probably hide in a hole because I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  I think theatre works the other way around, here’s the place you’re doing it, here’s whose coming, now think of something. 

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No!  Of course not.  Anyone that brings something into the room isn’t dead.  Directors have a way of being in the room, in which they filter, suggest, and cajole.  Their essential role is to substitute for the audience.  Their job is to make this experience as direct as possible for themselves and through themselves as an audience.  The director of course is an innovation. Most of us are here to avoid making an honest living.  David Mamet, said in one of his books ‘The moment they stop burying actors at crossroads, were in trouble’. The moment that theatre becomes respectable and part of the academy then it’s in trouble.  It should be a disreputable way to make a living. The great directors have been organizers of bad behavior.

Thanks Peter for sharing your thoughts!

“Amazement guides his brush.” Bertolt Brecht

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Gaël le Cornec

Gaël is a Brazilian actress, writer and director based in London, UK.  She has her own theatre company, Footprint Project, that received last year's Young People’s Award for Innovation from IdeasTap and an Artistic Excellence Award at Brighton Festival.  She is currently working on a new play called The Boy Who Caught The Tide at CASA Latin American Theatre Festival which opens this Monday Oct 17 through Sun Oct 23rd.

For the rest of the CASA festival program that includes works from the Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and Argentina, please check out

More on Gaël:

Gaël le Cornec
October 14, 2011
London, 9:30 am

What are you working on at the moment?

I am this year’s guest artist at CASA Latin American Theatre Festival, where I am directing a short play from Brazil, by an author called Ruy Jobim Neto.  It’s the first time the play is being shown outside of Brazil.  I’m working with Latin American actors and a Portuguese actress, and yeah, i’m having fun!   We don’t have that many days of rehearsal, so I still don’t know what’s going to happen, when the audience walks in and experiences the play.  But its exciting to be directing, because you might have an idea for something in the beginning  but then when you work with creative people, the idea gets transformed and it becomes something else, it becomes a collective.  There’s another transformation when the audience walks in, because they might perceive it in a different way then you did.  I love that process, not to know what’s going to happen.  I am also touring with a play, with a Cambridge based theatre company, as an actress - The CV of  Aurora Ortiz, a play adapted from a Spanish novel by Almudena Solana.

What is your directing style?

That’s a question for my actors to answer!  When I am working with text, I always look for elements that I can take out of the text and put in the world of the play, outside.  For example in the text, they are mentioning a party, St. Antonio, which in Brazil, is the name of a saint for marriage.   We had the idea to make a St. Antonio party when the audience walks in.  I guess this comes from my devising experience in theatre.  I am always interested in what the other creative people involved bring to the project, that is very important to me.  I also like audience participation and immersive theatre.  It’s important to take the audience, to the world of the play, to the imaginary.  What I tend to do with actors, is to open them up emotionally, so I do a series of exercises that make them connect to each other.  Connection is the key when you are on stage with another actor.  So many times I go to the theatre and I see actors just saying their lines without connecting.  I also work with quite a lot of physical elements with my actors.

Who or what inspires you?

I am very inspired by spaces, the environment around me.  To be open and have the sensitivity to observe the space and to observe people and see what they have to offer\, is what really inspires me.  I’m quite open to be inspired by an incredible artist, someone I talked to or an old lady I crossed on the street on my way to rehearsal.  And I’ll say wow, the way she walks, thats it!  That’s what I need to add to the character in my play! It’ s important to be open, to be inspired. 

From your experiences what have been the differences of working in the Brazilian theatre vs the British theatre?

I have more experience with British theatre.  British theatre is very text based and Brazilian theatre is very much about devising and very open to any possibility.   Multi media, multi languages, when I talk about languages, I mean different theatrical forms.  It’s quite common in Brazil to have audience participation and site-specific work.  And I guess I add that to my work as well.  This has been happening in England quite recently, I think.   A very big difference is how the audience reacts.  In Brazil, the audience always gets involved, it can be positive but negative as well.  Sometimes people take audience participation very seriously, sometimes too much!  And here, they will participate out of respect for the work, they will always clap at the end.  In Brazil, if it was bad they wont. 

What are your biggest theatrical challenges?

It’s always a challenge when you get a text, as an actor, as a director, to make something worth watching out of it.  I respect audiences highly.  Theatre does not exist without an audience.  But I’m not interested in pleasing the audience either.  I always want to give an experience, whichever experience that is.  When you get any sort of text, either complicated or simple, never underestimate the product you have in your hands, because you might get some surprises.  If you think something is easy, it might be more difficult than you think or vice versa if it’s a very complicated play, then just make it simple and then it works.   I always think it’s a challenge, because it’s new work, new people working with you, and it will go to different paths.

Dream projects?

Dream project would be to make a really massive theatrical experience…that would take days!  The audience would come and spend days in the space, it would be site specific, and somewhere isolated.  The idea of traveling to the event, and when they arrive everything is different from what they’ve seen, and magical, and take them into this journey, where audiences and actors blend.  With 100’s of actors.   A big, big thing.   I am also really interested in opera.  I want to direct opera in the future, in a big theatre.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

I just mentioned that to a friend a few months ago, you know, I’m proclaiming the death of the director! I said to him… I think he laughed… being a director himself.  I think sometimes it depends on the project.  But the less you see the director, the less you see what they have done, the better it is.  I hate going to see a play and see the blocking of the actors, I can see the actors doing that because the director told them to do it.  The director, the profession, is quite recent.  Maybe 100 years ago, people who would do theatre, would do everything.  They would be actors, writers, directors, and nowadays we kind of separate the roles.  So yeah, the director could be dead.  I wouldn’t mind. 

Thanks Gaël for sharing your thoughts!

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be human.” Oscar Wilde

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pameli Benham

Pameli Benham is an actress, writer and director. She has directed all ages and numbers, from single actors to casts of 50, in straight plays, cabaret, opera and revue.  Her latest production, The Darkroom is running now until October 15th at the Alma Tavern in Bristol.

For more info and tickets to The Darkroom please visit the Alma Tavern Theatre website.

Pameli Benham
Alma Tavern, Clifton, Bristol
Sat. October 8th, 2011, 6:30pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I am in the middle of The Darkroom, a play by Steve Lambert.  It is the start of the Theatre West season for new writing, and is the first of 5 plays chosen for full production.  It uses quite a lot of props and bits and pieces, which on the whole, I’d love to do without, but are integral to the play.  Therefore I come in each evening with things like milk and knitting and so on!  I was asked today to play a part for next spring that I am considering and I am also writing something.  So those are things going at the moment.

Can you tell us a bit about The Darkroom?

Its set in 1949, in England, which was still in the grip of, what was called at the time, austerity.  There were terrific shortages of food and fuel, of almost everything.  People were working tremendously hard.  There are 3 characters in this play, and they are all intimately involved and all have secrets from each other.  The time of the play’s setting is a time of terrific political hope in some ways.  There was a pioneering government elected soonish after the war, with the aim of making society much more equal, how shall we say… more welcoming to people that didn’t have a lot of money or privilege. The Communist Party had attracted a great number of supporters in the 20s and 30s, also hoping for a fairer world.  But then people saw how communist Russia was actually run, especially when Stalin sided with Hitler, people left the party, some people stayed in covertly.  There all these strands in the plays, of whether people are actually right or left wing, whether they’re disguising what they’re doing.  Throughout the course of the play, along with getting a goodish deal of political background, which I hope isn’t too heavy, you are getting lots of what makes the characters tick and what they are hiding from themselves, as things are gradually revealed.

What is your earliest theatrical memory?

I started going to the theatre very early indeed. I was 3 ½ or 4 and I was taken to see Arthur Askey, who was a very famous British comedian, very warm-hearted.  I was sitting with my parents and he asked would any little girl or boy like to come up on stage.  I was out of my seat like greased lighting and on the stage before anyone could stop me!   I remember very much wanting to perform, to show off.  Another thing was, my grandfather used to take me to the Yiddish theatre in Mile End Road in London’s East End.  That was very big and very powerful, and even if I didn’t understand every word, it made a tremendously powerful impression on me.

Who or what inspires you?

I’ve been very, very lucky.  I’ve been able to go to theatre, to the opera since I was a small child.  And have seen so many actors’ and directors’ work, I really loved. I can remember one of the RSC seasons, in the 70’s in London and the whole season they had a white box.  They stripped everything down.  There was a tremendous concentration on the beauty and power of the language, in an empty setting.  That’s been a huge influence.  The whole idea that you can get something to move fast and really depend on the actors, and don’t need to do an elaborate scene change and could do everything ideally, with just good lighting.  If your actors are good enough and your direction is clear enough, then that’s really, really powerful theatre.

Can you tell us about the your company Boil and Bubble and why you started it?

The aim was particularly to give work or offer a space to older actors, writers, directors.  It wasn’t to be a sort of geriatric ghetto, so for instance the Witching Hour, had two older women, and a much, much younger one.  As you get older, acting work can dry up, there are just fewer parts. I did something with the Theatre West season with older writers who never had anything professionally performed before and got some very good plays out of that.

I read that one of your inspirations for starting Boil and Bubble was because you were, as an actress repeatedly being offered roles to play mad old women?

Oh yes! Almost everything I play is dazed and confused.  There are comparatively few parts for older women that show them as feisty or intelligent or dynamic. There’s a smallish amount of television work and films and that tends to be batty, old… whatever!

In what direction do you feel theatre is heading?

Ooh gosh.  I think that some of it… well I don’t know if should say this in your blog!  But someone like, Rupert Goold, who is enormously inventive and I loved Six Characters In Search of An Author, last thing I saw of his which was at Stratford, the Merchant of Venice.  It was very inventive, very fascinating.  But I am not sure if directors should dominate as much as some of them do.  I am not sure how keen I am on someone who says, well this has been done a 100 times before so I am going to wrench it in another direction!  On the other hand, today I’ve spent the day watching Show of Strength in Knowle.  Wonderful 15 minutes pieces, beautifully acted and performed in a shopping centre with no or hardly any props.  In shops and out on the road, so I can see two directions really.

Dream projects?

As an actor, I have played the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, I’m too old to do it, but I’d love another crack at it.  Or the Countess of Rousillon in All’s Well That Ends Well.  To direct, I would like to do some more Caryl Churchill.  I’ve done several of her plays and really, really enjoy them.  I’d love to have a crack at directing more Shakespeare.  I haven’t directed any with a professional cast.  Oh and opera.  I love to do opera.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No.  I don’t think so.  I did once end up, because I lost an actor, in a play I was directing.  And I just hated it.  What I really didn’t like was the get in and the tech, acting and saying things like can we do such and such with the lights, that didn’t suit me at all.  I admire people like Kenneth Branagh that can do it, but that’s not my cup of tea at all.  In a play, I don’t seem to have that combination that can see outside myself and direct things.

Thanks Pameli for sharing your thoughts!

“Don’t want to be too clever.” Gregory Doran

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ian McGlynn

Ian McGlynn is a playwright and director.   He has been the appointed Theatre Director for the Rondo Theatre, in Bath UK, since 2007.  Ian is also founder and Artistic Director of Provocation, a theatre company devoted to new writing.  He is the writer and director of Life and Soul, playing at the Rondo from Wed Sept 28th- Sat Oct 1st.

Tickets for Life and Soul, please visit the Rondo website.

More on Ian

Follow on Twitter @ianmcglynn and @provocationtc

Ian McGlynn
Friday, September 23rd 2011
10:30am UK

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on my new show Life and Soul, which opens at the Rondo on Wednesday.  It’s a story about three young women and their relationships with alcohol, what happens to them, the problems they have, and where their lives are going.  It’s about hope and what happens when people don’t have hope in their lives. 

What are the strengths and or the weaknesses of being the playwright and the director?

The strengths are that you have a vision of the show in your head that you are able to get to the stage, more along the lines of an auteur type of production. The main problem or difficulty is that any big flaws in the writing you may not be able to see as a director - because they’re your flaws, and they may well be carried into production without being challenged.  I think that’s a big disadvantage.   One tries to be as objective as you can.  You try as the director to forget you wrote the script and treat it like any other script.

Who or what inspires you? 

What really inspires me is the world around me.  Things that happen to people, that affect people.  Shows that have been on the surface politically influenced, that is very important to me - but underneath it all, still want to tell a human story.  I am not necessarily inspired by theatre practitioners and things that go on in theatre.  I think to some extent theatre has become far too inward looking.  As a medium it’s about expressing something about the world around us.  I prefer to look outwards.  You just latch on to things sometimes that interest you and get under your skin and somehow present themselves as stories you have to tell about people.

What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t give up.  Keep going.

What are the challenges and triumphs of running the Rondo Theatre?

The challenges are keeping it going.  It’s a difficult economic situation at the moment and the Rondo exists on a hire basis.  We don’t pay money to people to bring their shows to us, it’s all done on what they can earn through the box office.  Getting companies to take that risk, and keep coming back and taking that risk with us, is a tough call.  Its something we manage to overcome by being a good space to play in: people enjoy performing there.  The potential rewards are there, so people can, if their marketing is good and they sell their show properly, come away from us earning more money then they would on a conventional deal.  Our triumphs have been presenting a large percentage of new writing.  Which is again a difficult sell to people, because new writing at the level we work at involves brand new theatre companies, brand new playwrights, who are unknown or next to unknown with no track records.  To develop an audience for that and keep that audience coming back year after year is tough.   We’re seeing a lot of changes, with the Arc Theatre down the road possibly closing and the Ustinov theatre taking on a really bold and ambitious new strategy, so hopefully our commitment to new writing and new companies is really paying off at the moment. Audiences are pretty good and our reputation seems to be gradually increasing notch by notch, year by year.  That is a big triumph, keeping up with that policy and not giving up and going on to more commercial things.

Dream Projects?

As a playwright, the dream project is the next play.   I am very luck in running a theatre so the next play I put on, whatever it is, will be my dream project.  It would be really nice to be able to do something in a massive theatre that lots and lots of people come to, so it would be nice to write and direct something that went on at The National or somewhere like that but really, the dream is the next project. 

Can you give us a hint on what the next project may be?

The next play I'm working on is about a right wing racist group.  That’s what bubbling up at the moment.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No.  Ever since I've been working in theatre I've never been involved in a production that didn’t involve a director.  I think a director is necessary to bring a bit of clarity, objectivity to the project.  Sometimes they bring a strong artistic stamp, sometimes their specific input is more organic and things evolve.  But no, the director is far from dead.  The director continues to be one of the links key to any production; and also in running a theatre.  I am very lucky to be a practicing director who is running a theatre and my predecessor at the Rondo, Andy Burden, is also a practicing director. It’s good to have a person from that artistic side of things in a position of responsibility and power in a theatre building – I think it’s very important.  I think we’ve all seen theatres that have been run by marketing people and the route they can sometimes go down.  The director is still a very important figure.  I hope.

Thanks Ian for sharing your thoughts!

“Be swift, be swift, be not poetical.” - Harley Granville Barker

Monday, 12 September 2011

Alison Farina

Alison Farina is originally from Poughkeepsie, NY and currently resides in Bath.  She is a director, writer, producer and actor.  She has spent the last 14 years living and working in the UK, spanning the country from London to the Isle of Man.  Her current production of Love Letters by A.R. Gurney will be playing at the Rondo Theatre in Bath, on Thurs September 15th and Friday September 16th.

Tickets for Love Letters, please visit the Rondo Theatre website.

For more info on Alison

Twitter accounts
@btterflypsyche - only Butterfly Psyche stuff
@alisonfarina - Me being me, follow at your peril/boredom/annoyance/offence/etc...

Alison Farina
Thursday Sept 9th 2011 12PM
Sam’s Kitchen, Bath UK

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a few things.  Currently I am producing and appearing in Love Letters by A. R. Gurney with my theatre company, Butterfly Psyche Theatre. Love Letters tells the story of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III through their letters to each other. From 1937 to the late 1980s, they discuss the hopes, ambitions, dreams, disappointments, victories and defeats that have passed between them throughout their separated lives. It’s a funny and very touching piece and we are lucky enough to have Derek Fowlds (Yes, Minister, Yes Prime Minister, Affairs of the Heart, Heartbeat and Basil Brush!) on board as Director.

I am also in the process of writing something for summer 2012 called Fertility Objects, and it’s about fertility and how it defines or doesn’t define women.  How it affects relationships and what things represent fertility objects in modern times.  Instead of Phallic symbols, gods and goddesses, we now have ovulation thermometers, pregnancy kits and reflexologists! The story will follow 3 couples who have broken down on the road to parenthood and how they move forward.  Also on the back burner are a historical drama about Henry Edmund Goodridge (builder of Beckford’s Tower) and a site-specific community project based on a German folktale.

What is your earliest theatrical memory?

I was an only child so I had to entertain myself, and making up stories is what I did. I used myself, friends and stuffed animals to play the parts. My mom always said she could  hear me chatting away to myself and the stuffed crew as I would make up stories until I fell asleep.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m really inspired by stories, mythology and relationships.  A lot of my work is based on mythology, folktales, traditions and histories. As far as people that inspire me… I'm a little bit all over the place, I like doing everything, so I really admire people who are disciplined and can stick to one thing to perfect it.  As for general theatre inspiration, I have huge respect for people like Augusto Boal, Keith Johnstone and Michael Chekov and theatre companies like Miracle Theatre, Kneehigh and Improbable.

What are the challenges of running your own company for new writing in 2011?

Money and time! ButterflyPsyche only started in September 2010, so we are just about 1 year old. This (Love Letters) will be our third production.  As a company our main focus is on new writing, which is really exciting, but it takes a lot of work to promote an unknown show and writer. A new writing audience is very different to that of the ‘average’ theatre-going audience, and it can be hard to get those people to see things they are unfamiliar with. Although this is a challenge it is also the best thing about new writing. There is nothing that has come before that will influence opinion or the production, so everything is created without outside influence (consciously or unconsciously). Also with new writing there is a real sense of ‘ownership’ for everyone involved, whereas established or better known work can creatively hold you back without even realizing it.

The biggest challenge is funding. There are so many established companies doing really wonderful stuff and the ‘pot’ is only so big.  The challenge is finding other ways of getting money and making sure that what you do, gives the people who are doing it, even if its profit share, something out of it.  That is something really important to me.  With most profit-share productions, once all the expenses are paid, actors and the team are very lucky to make any money at all.  I try to use the show as a ‘networking’ event for everyone involved. That way, industry people get to see a great show and the team have the opportunity to show off their work and speak to industry people. But, fingers crossed, the Arts Council Funding applications will work out!

What is your directing style?

I am not sure I have one.  Winging it…probably!? I suppose I like to see where people go with things, make observations and tweaks and then go from there, really. 

What differences, if any, have you found working in the American theatre vs. the British theatre?

Well, it’s been a long time since I worked in the US, but I do think there is a difference in attitude and approach. This is a huge generalization by the way, but Americans tend be more like ‘Yup, whatever no problem’ without really questioning very much.

Gung ho?

Yes, I think ‘gung ho’ is an intrinsic, American characteristic, which can be drawback as well as an asset. But at the same time, Americans can tend to be a bit more delicate. I think that is an artist’s tendency anyway. We are all asked to’ put ourselves out there’ so that opens you up for criticism. It is natural to need reassurance. We wouldn’t be artists if we didn’t have that vulnerability. Yet British actors, again, a TOTAL generalization, don’t have that ‘gung ho’ thing. Actors here seem to consider things and tend to question choices more. Performance is taught very differently in the UK to the US, the US being very film/TV oriented, so this may have something to do with it. I don’t know…

Dream projects?

My Dream Project would be Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Metamorphoses is an epic poem that tells the history of the world from Creation to Julius Caesar and focuses on transformation tales. For me, life is one big transformation tale and The Metamorphoses combines archetypal mythology, relationships and love. The things that inspire me most!  I would love to work on such an epic, and maybe include a ‘research’ trip to the Mediterranean? I mean, if you’re going to dream…!

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No, although the director who dictates should be, and pretty much is, aside from the few I have encountered. I feel that directing is like teaching a kid how to ride a bike. Once you take those training wheels off, your job is to follow them and make sure they don’t fall off.  At least that’s what I hope to do.

Thanks Alison for sharing your thoughts!

" A good director's not sure when he gets on the set what he's going to do."
Elia Kazan

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Jonathan Weber

It’s been a while readers, but due to travels, injuries and etc, I’ve been a bit distracted from posting!  I’ve got great interviews coming up, starting with the awesome Jon Weber who I caught up with in good ol’ NY!

Jonathan Weber is Administrative Director of Theater for the New City and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is a member of the planning committees for the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts and the Love N' Courage Benefit.  He graduated from Binghamton University and is a HUGE Mets fan.  His current project, TNC’s Summer Street Theater is running until September 16th, if you’re in the NYC area, def check it out!

Jonathan Weber
Wed. July 27th 2011
New York, NY 12pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on Theater for the New City’s Street Theater tour.  It an original, musical comedy, directed by Crystal Field, our executive director. I’m her first assistant director for this project.  It’s a really unique project, a huge cast of actors, crew and a five-piece band.  Almost like a guerilla theatre piece, we play outdoors in parks and playgrounds all over the city. 

What is the play about?

It’s a state of the world, state of the city kind of play.  It incorporates a lot of current events.  We follow the main character and the journey he takes and how he becomes active in trying to bring about change.  One particular issue is fracking in upstate NY.  I know of a lot of people that don’t know about it or that it's even going on and it’s becoming a real big issue.  There are people in Pennsylvania that are lighting their tap water on fire or the water getting contaminated in the Catskills and with the process of nature, possibly contaminating the water in NYC.  Cuts in funding to the arts, education, astronomical rents in the city, lack of a middle class, an increasing dependence on Nuclear Power and how it may affect us.  Those are a few of the issues that were dealing with in the street theater.

What would you say is your directing style?

Ummmmm.  I don’t know if I have one. I think if there is one style, which is more prevalent in my directing, it’s probably Meisner.  But I don’t like to tie myself to one thing, so I try to take a different approach to each show that I direct.  For example, last show I directed was a play called Age Out, which was basically set in real time, in a restaurant.  The entire play was these four guys sitting around a table drinking.  Basically, little to no action. So the focus was on the dialogue and making sure the dialogue is delivered in such a way that there is a pace to it. And also working in, they’re all drinking and over the course of the play, 33 beers are consumed, which is a challenge for any hardy drinker! I tried to work in a specific pattern and rhythm to each drink, almost like choreography.

Who or what inspires you?

I take my inspiration from…everyone.  I like things that are focused in realism, humanity, and the way people really speak to each other.  What inspires me is the reality of the world, the reality of life.

What are some of the challenges you face as a theatre maker in 2011 NYC?

Funding, funding, funding. 
What are you doing at the moment to combat that? 

Funding is a major challenge for any Non-profit Theater company, which is what many of the Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theaters in NYC are (TNC is one as well). We rely on grants from Foundations and Individuals quite a bit, but also on grants that we get from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the NY State Council on the Arts. But these agencies are, especially in the current economic climate, constantly being threatened by budget cuts, and the grant money that we do get is in danger of being significantly reduced. Though our Government grants are not large, they are important. We, and I know many other companies and individual productions are as well, have been moving towards a much more Grassroots method of fund raising, reaching out to individuals through places like Kickstarter, holding benefit parties, or even through the tried and true method of direct mail. It may seem Byzantine in the 2000s, but people will still respond to getting an appeal letter in the mail and writing out a check. Every little bit helps!

Dream projects?

When I was in college I always wanted to direct Hurly Burly.  Working here, because we only do new plays here, that’s all I’ve done.   New work.  So I’ve actually gotten away from thinking of plays that have already been done.  Hurly burly at this point seems a little cliché, as its been done to death.  I don’t know if I can name one play, but a play with a 50,000 budget.  Just to see what I can do with a play with a real budget.  That I think, is a dream project.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No, the director is not dead.  Especially working in a place like this, with Crystal my boss and watching her direct, whose methods are sometimes unorthodox but watching her direct or act it’s a clinic in how to put a play together.  One of my colleagues here Mark, told me a long time ago, when you are the director, you are the god of the show. I stress most as a director, more so than a style, is the need to make sure that your actors know whose driving the bus.  If you can come in and say this is what we’re going to do, i'm in charge and I know what i'm doing your actors will listen to you and trust you and you will be able to work with them forever.  In my time here a director i've been able to establish a strong group of actors that I like to work with and possibly for the several years.

Thanks Jon for sharing your thoughts!

"The seed to the craft of acting is the reality of doing." Sanford Meisner

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

David Blumfield

David Blumfield teaches drama at the University of Aberystwyth.  He works with the community theatre at the Arts Centre and has run Castaways for almost 20 years.   I met up with David at the RAFA Club in Aberystwyth, after his production of Mapping the Soul by Lucy Gough.

David Blumfield
Saturday, May 28th 9pm
Aberystwyth, Wales

Can you tell us a bit about Castaways and your current production?

Castaways is the alternative community theatre. There are two community theatres in the [Aberystwyth] Arts Centre. One group tends to do more the musicals and comedies, we tend to do more… the off the boards kind of stuff!  In 1999 the community company was thriving. We commissioned Lucy [Gough] to write a play for us.  Most directors can only have small casts and most writers have to write for small casts because there just isn’t the budget to cover a cast of 25.  She thought it would be a brilliant idea to write a community play and it was staged this time in 2001 at the Arts Centre. It was very successful, so the 20th anniversary of Castaway came around this year and I thought it the most fitting play to do.  It’s a fascinating play.  Its rather like a trifle, you have a taste off the top and think, hmm that’s interesting, and then you go a bit deeper and its something else, then a bit deeper and the play tends to go like that and takes you to extremes.  It’s a fairy tale for grownups, its got all these wild and wonderful characters and all of a sudden be completely contemporary, like with the mobile phone and texting from the grave.  It’s definitely a director’s play.

What is the philosophy or ethos behind Castaways as a community theatre group?

The ethos of Castaways first of all is inclusivity.  The class is run at the Arts Centre, they are not auditioned.  It’s inclusive, regardless of experience or ability.   That’s the main ethos behind Castaways.  It’s right across the board, we have students and trained actors as well.  The other part of the ethos is for a community company to do work that most community theatres would avoid.  We’ve done work by Caryl Churchill, Harold Pinter, Sarah Kane… for a community group to do plays like that, the difficult, challenging plays?!

Who or what inspires you?

Rock and roll!  I take a lot of inspiration from music. Hence the use of the band in the play, the whole time, I was encouraging them, ‘go metal-er, metal-er.   Alice Cooper, Rush, a lot of guitar based rock. We did the Ubu Plays, by the French absurdist and set it to a background of heavy metal and rock.  You’re unlikely to see a show I’ve directed that doesn’t have any music.

Dream projects?

I am a very keen football fan, my club is in the West Midlands, near Birmingham, and I’m a bit obsessed with them.  Dream project would be set in their grounds, probably something about football and Alice Cooper.  Anything about football or rock and roll that includes my club would be a dream project.

Is the director dead?

Noooooo…. Noooooo.   Directing is a bit like cooking, you keep adding new ingredients, herbs, seasonings and it might be too much so you reduce the sauce.  The director is not dead.  Actors need leadership. However a director is not a dictator.  The actor has got enough to worry about.  If you’re playing Hamlet, you’ve got a lot to think about!  It needs someone to worry about everything else, it needs the vision, the images to be in someone else’s head to create the picture.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Nancy Baker

Nancy Baker is originally from San Francisco, California.  She is a theatre director and lives in Los Angeles.  She doesn’t own a TV or a microwave.  It’s not so much that she’s an earth avenger, technology just escapes her.  

I caught up with Nancy on Skype.

Nancy Baker
Friday, May 13 2011
Los Angeles 3pm
Bristol 11pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I was approached by a medical organization to have actors put on scenarios. They’ve asked me to put that together and its… all a bit experimental in the corporate world.  Theatrically, I’m looking at places out of a LA, to do this play, sending out proposals and such.  It’s a play I’ve done before so just working on finding space and money.  We’re always looking for money.

What’s the play?

It’s called Dear Mrs Baker, and oddly enough, its about my mom.  About the guys in Vietnam who wrote her letters, there were more than 50 of them.  The play takes their writing and creates this dual world, of this San Francisco house with Vietnam surroundings.

Why were the soldiers writing to your mom?

She is an interesting women.   She’s pretty conservative.  She didn’t like all the protesters and thought that was very disloyal.  She met my dad at a USO dance, so what does that tell you?!   There was a man in 1965 that wrote an Op -Ed piece to the local paper saying,

Soldier: While you guys are protesting, we are dying for the right to protest

My mom was so embarrassed by the protesters that she wrote him a letter saying,

Mom:  Not all of us feel this way. I don’t really have much to offer you.  Here are some cookies.

He shared the cookies.   Those guys sent thank you notes and then it snowballed from there.  She wrote to these guys for five years.  And when they came home, they’d go through San Francisco and my dad would collect them from their base and my mom would throw a big welcome home party.  The Vietnam Memorial Wall’s 30th anniversary is in two years.  Were trying to get the play up in other places, so that it will easily go to DC. 

What would you say is your directing style?

Hmmm…laughing. Outcome specialist.  I was an actor for 30 years and I definitely have an acting/Meisner approach.  I like it to be a very collective process, in a way, but I also believe in steering a ship and have it reach an ultimate, visual conclusion. I don’t tend to be too autocratic but the vision is the vision.   Stubbornly chill.

What is it like being a theatre director in Los Angeles, the land of film and tv?

Lonely.  Its interesting because you’ll be at a theatre event and someone asks what you’ve done, you tell them, and they turn around and say,

Someone: Well darling, you haven’t really don’t anything have you?! 

Nancy:  Hmm.  I thought the Kennedy Center was pretty impressive! 

It’s a funky dynamic of doing theatre in a non- theatre town.  What’s particurlarly frustrating for me is, theatre actors have tread boards, versus on camera where its all very minor, small and intimate.  The camera does so much for you.   That doesn’t play to the 50th row of a theatre where you have to be big, without losing that intimacy.  A lot of actors in LA aren’t theatre trained and have more difficulty with that.

Who or what inspires you?

What, would be fear.  I’m really inspired by people working and struggling and the moment right before they make it.  It makes me want to keep doing it.  It makes me curious to the work being the most important thing. The people who are really still hungry.   I'm inspired by people’s hunger and motivated by fear.  There you go!

What type of theatre are you drawn to?

Original theatre, the classics, fluff, social commentaries. Any art that makes someone think and feel is successful.  As a director, if I’m reading a play and half way through it hasn’t made me care, I move on.

What are the challenging aspects of making theatre during our current economic times?

Theatre is expensive.  The devil is in the details.  Space is expensive, electricity is expensive, printing.  It makes theatre owners less willing to risk and makes theatre companies have to struggle so much more to get stuff made.  There are funds but you have a lot of people competing for those. A lot of film actors try and throw together a show because they want to be seen, an agent wont show up, but they want to say they’ve been in something, because at least they’re working.  That has value.  That's WHY they look for those funds. You have to get creative about how you are going to fund something.

Dream projects?

It would be at the Gate Theatre in Dublin with Anthony Hopkins, Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Day Lewis.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

Every symphony needs a conductor.   Every ship needs someone steering it.  Theatre is ultimately a lovely, visual piece and in order to do that I think you have to step outside and have someone minding the vision.   Actors, if they’re doing their job properly are to close to see, so for me, it’s not possible to do a successful piece without a director.

Thanks Nancy for sharing your thoughts!

"I will say nothing to an actor that cannot be translated into action." Elia Kazan

"The essence of the stage is concentration and penetration. Of the screen action, movement, sweep."  Elia Kazan

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sam Ellis

Sam Ellis, is originally from Vancouver, Canada and lives in Bristol, England.  He is a film and theatre director who has had a few different lives, traveling the globe from Vancouver Island, to Germany, and Scotland.  He is an alum of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Sam Ellis
Saturday, May 7th 2011
Clifton, Bristol 1:30pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working with the Bristol Acting Academy, and directing their showcase.  It’s a bit teaching and directing. I’m really enjoying enthusing people, seeing new talent, and encouraging that talent. Because I have a family, having a steady income is more of what I’ve been focusing on.

How did you get into directing?

I was a policeman for three years, before going to drama school.  I started doing corporate role-plays as a police officer and working with a corporate company, when the director of that company left.  I said I’d fill in until they found a proper director.  I was still there after four years making films for the Crown Prosecution Service and Lord Chancellor's Department, dealing with crews and big budgets.  I became a director by default.  I found it very fulfilling, to get actors together and tell a story.

What do you look for in an actor?

Courage.   Courage, to be open and honest. To give it a go and not worry too much if they succeed or fail.   Integrity.  I certainly wouldn’t be looking for ego.  An actor’s ego gets in the way of  the work.  Generosity is very important when working in a team.  The ability, to tell a beautiful lie, truthfully.

How does your work as a director and actor inform you as a teacher of acting students?

I encourage and help them feel safe, so that they’re in a safe place to explore.  I’m not necessarily out for results. I’m after a sense of ownership from the actor, because ultimately, from there, comes a sense of truth.  I feel that theatre really is an actor’s medium, I think you’re there to help the actor find the truth in the scene. That truth is what's important to an audience rather than any obvious director's input. Good theatre direction should almost go unnoticed.

Who or what inspires you?

Frank Capra.  It’s a Wonderful Life, for it's story telling.  I love anything by the Cohen Brothers, Tim Burton.  People that have a quirky take on things.  Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman.  [Steven]  Spielberg, who I’ve been lucky to work with on Saving Private Ryan.  I was inspired being on the film set, and as the actor thinking ‘oh I’ve got three hours before I shoot this thing’  and then looking at the director whose thinking ‘I’ve got three hours to solve this thing’  It’s a lot of troubleshooting, problem solving, as opposed to the actor who is trying to conserve his energy for the scene.  So watching that, and watching him work very closely with his crew, was hugely inspiring. There was no ego.  He was completely open to the expertise of his team.  That made me realise, that what you do as a director, is you facilitate a creative team.   To bring out the best in each of those members of the team, that’s what the job is!

Dream Projects?

I was an actor for 20 years and have been a director for 9.   My aspiration really, is to continue making money doing what I love.  As a kid, I had this fantasy novel, that if I had the money, I’d like to make it into a film.   I always hope when I read a script or screenplay that it will excite and inspire me.  So I hope I keep getting inspired.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

Theatre is an actor’s medium and it should be an actor’s medium. A good actor has the ability to almost self-direct, an innate ability to understand what’s needed and get up and do it.  But if you have a group of actors, trying to direct by committee, then that’s doomed really.  You need someone to facilitate the process and to buffer the actor from the theatre management.  Free the actor to be creative.  Film is very much a director’s and editor’s medium.  A director is very well alive and kicking in film.  I’ve seen performances created in the editing room.  The shots, what you are getting the audience to look at, that’s all from the director’s point of view.  Without a director, film wouldn’t happen. I think the director is most definitely not dead, they are needed in both fields but for different reasons.

Thanks Sam for sharing your thoughts!

“Conscious preparation leads to unconscious inspiration”.  Stanislavsky.