Do you want to be the next Mark Rylance, Deborah Warner or Sir Peter Hall? Well then, you’re in the right place! Keep reading and find out exactly what it’s like to work as a theatre director.
Sure, you could give a group of actors a script, a stage and a rehearsal studio and they might knock a play together in time for opening night. However, it would probably lack the cohesion, power and emotional impact of a well-directed production. The differing creative visions of the actors would create something more like a theatrical patchwork than a unified, stimulating and enjoyable play. This is where theatre directors come out of the wings and truly earn the audience’s applause.
Without the creative authority of theatre directors, the landscape of British theatre would be very, very different. These cultural professionals are responsible for taking a script, a group of actors, an empty theatre and a band of backstage staff, bringing them all together and producing a fully-functional theatrical performance.
Directors are the big dogs of the theatre industry. They call the shots, they make the final creative decisions and they use their own innovative ideas to bring a script to life on the big stage.
First and foremost, theatre directors are leaders. They direct the actors, offering guidance on character interpretation and dictating the pace, flow and subtlety of their performance. Furthermore, they work with lighting technicians, sound technicians, costume designers, prop designers and set designers, instructing them on how to increase the audio-visual impact of the production.
In theatre, practice makes perfect. Therefore, directors work with their team in rehearsals, tweaking bits, refining parts and offering expert guidance to make sure everything is ready for the opening performance. The director may even adapt the script and edit certain parts to make sure the play maintains an even pace and engages a modern audience.
Theatre directors also have the added responsibility of managing production budgets, scheduling rehearsals and monitoring the progress of set and prop design.
Salary & benefits
Typically, theatre directors work on a production-by-production basis. Consequently, a theatre director’s salary entirely depends on the length and type of contract they are on.
According to the Independent Theatre Council, the minimum pay rates for a theatre director are: £1,305 per week for a full-length play, £903 per week for a short play and £485 per week for a resident or artistic director. However, many directors, understandably, negotiate higher pay rates once they are more established in the industry.
As a theatre director, it’s unlikely that you’ll enjoy a typical nine-to-five working day. Directors can work anytime, including early mornings, evenings, late nights, weekends and national holidays. Whether you’re working at night during a performance, or rehearsing at the crack of dawn, you’ll need to work your socks off whenever the production demands it.
Fortunately though, as the director, you’ll get to set the rehearsal schedule and dictate your own working hours. You may even get the chance to travel around the world, especially if your production goes on tour.
Strictly speaking, you don’t need a degree or vocational qualification to become a theatre director. However, studying a degree, foundation degree or HND (higher national diploma) in a subject such as drama, theatre studies, performing arts, music or English will open a lot of doors for you. After all, you’ll be given a fantastic amount of time to hone your craft and refine your own personal style.
Youth theatre groups and student drama societies are a great way to get some experience and get your name out there. Who knows? You might even find yourself directing a play at the Edinburgh Festival next year!?
Establishing yourself in the industry and building your reputation all comes down to getting out there, putting on plays and getting bums on seats. With plenty of hard work, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of ‘making it’.
Training & progression
If you become a theatre director, it’s unlikely that you’ll do any formal training. Instead, you’ll learn as you go, pick up ideas from other directors and try out new innovative methods and approaches.
If you’re just starting out though, it might be a good idea to attend a specialist training course for aspiring directors. These are offered by various organisations, including Drama UK.
As you establish yourself in the industry as a competent director and build your reputation, you may be invited to join established theatre companies, such as Punchdrunk or the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Eventually, you may even set up your very own theatre company.