I discovered theatre very late whilst studying at Sheffield University. I had no idea I would end up working in the industry but on joining Sheffield University Theatre Company (suTCo) I felt that for the very first time I had a purpose whilst being a student and probably more importantly a kind of surrogate family who were just all about helping each other to put on plays. We challenged each other creatively and intellectually but we all mucked in to ensure that the shows made it onto the stage even if it meant getting up for 9 O clock get ins on a wet Sunday morning. After university finished I didn’t really understand how I could become a professional director and so I was a teacher for a couple of years which was pretty challenging but also taught me an awful lot about people management. Then I heard about the MFA at Birkbeck and after saving up money I applied. That course really is the reason I am a professional theatre director now. Rob Swain the course director is just the most caring, encouraging and inspirational mentor imaginable. The first year of the course involves a placement at a drama school where you take acting classes and I was privileged to go to ArtsEd who made me incredibly welcome and have invited me back to work repeatedly since then. After that term you spend the rest of the year having taught classes and workshops from a fantastic array of practitioners including Simon Stephens, Sean Holmes, Paul Hunter, Simon Usher, Anna Morrissey, Alison Bomber, Gareth Machin, Philip Hedley, Mick Barnfather, Lucy Bailey to name but a few and then it culminated with a month long residency at a theatre design school. We were lucky enough to go to the wonderful Motley school and you undertake a design project with an emerging designer. In my 2nd year of the course you go on a placement to a regional theatre where you are an assistant director and so work with professional actors, designers and directors for the whole year on a huge range of shows from classical text to new writing to devised pieces. It is through this year that I first worked with Told By An Idiot a relationship that has hugely enriched my own practice. I also worked extensively with the new writing department at WYP and began to develop my relationships with writers. It is also worth saying that to help pay for my living costs on the course I applied to loads of different trusts and grants and also wrote letters to rich people in the arts like Tom Stoppard, Alan Ayckbourne and Alan Bennet and you would be amazed at how generous people can be. Although I would always say that you shouldn’t get into debt to train or make work you also shouldn’t let not having access to money stop you either. It is about finding a way to be balance those books. I didn’t have any parental money etc but you can still make it.
At the end of my allotted placement time the WYP asked me to return and be the staff director on their Christmas show which was the first time I rehearsed in an understudy cast. Following this and in collaboration with a local producer I premiered a new play at West Yorkshire Playhouse by Tom Bidwell, which was his first full length production. After this opened I was offered a job as an Assistant Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company and that was because of recommendations from Paul Hunter and Rachel Kavanagh both of whom I’d assisted at West Yorkshire Playhouse; proof that if you work hard for people they will help you out. My time at the RSC was a real learning curve too: suddenly working with a whole host of brilliant actors, directors and designers working on a huge scale. It was an incredible few years and alongside my main duties with the acting company I also ran loads of workshops for the Education department and really threw myself into the organisation. Since leaving the RSC I have been a freelancer but have worked with so many of the different companies and people whom I met in Leeds and Stratford without their help and support I would not be able to earn a living from being a theatre director and I can honestly say that whilst it has its ups and downs I feel so incredibly privileged that every day I get up and I want to go into work and that I meet people from all walks of life and all ages whether it is directing a play or running a workshop or devising some theatre it really is an absolute joy to do this job.