Blog Article / FringeReview.com / Writing: Journalism

How not to be a theatre director…

Many thanks, Guardian, for this moronic article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2010/mar/23/theatre-director-10-top-tips

Go on, have a look. Have a look now, it opens in a different window, so you won’t lose this page. Go now.

Amazing, isn’t it? Why did anyone think John Caird could write a book on direction. His ten “top tips” for directors can be simplified into:

1. Be a young, enthusiastic, generally well read person who wants to be a director.

2. Spend extortionate sums of money on books and holidays that you don’t need.

3. Join the local theatre scene.

4. Get a job in a theatre.

Yep, that’s his advice. Well, not in those words, but you may as well replace them with the above, they amount to the same thing. Let me break this down a little, as if I were sitting in a pub with John and berating him from across the table:

“John, your ten top tips for directors is the work of a sheister and a hack. Oh, what, that’s offensive? You know what I find offensive? Your advice! Did you purposefully write it for simpletons? Let me spell out to you why your article is bull.

Your first two tips are “read” and “go to the theatre”. You’re nodding your head like that’s some amazing insight, John, but it really isn’t. You’re telling talented, intelligent young theatre enthusiasts (which directors, by and large, are) to go to the theatre? If they aren’t going to the theatre, they probably don’t want to be directors in the first place! Which car mechanic doesn’t like to tinker with cars? It’s like advising an elephant that it has a trunk, and should use it to pick up things: it’s basically a given. And advising people to read is about as condescending as it gets, and again, is a given. If they aren’t reading plays, WHAT exactly do these young directors want to direct? You’re telling them to do what they’re already doing, John, and if that isn’t disingenuous I don’t know what is.

Add on top of that your tips 3 and 9: travel and observe the world. Well, I’m not even sure where to start on these two. You and I both know that not everyone has the ability to travel, because they haven’t the money or the time. I’ve had the luck to be able to do a little, and I’m sure Daddy paid for a couple trips to Italy in your case too, but that does not give you the right to dole out cripplingly bad financial advice to young directors. Also, what the hell does seeing another country have to with getting actors to perform a play? And again, your “observe the world” couldn’t be more condescending, unless, of course, you think most young people are too hopped up on Bacardi Breezers and Miaow Miaow to notice the world they live in…

Speaking of self-evident, let’s take your points 4 and 5: meet playwrights and actors: generally not bad advice, but the involvement in the local theatre scene as a whole is more important than singling out and haranguing lone playwrights and actors. Actually, I’m not too fussed about these points, I just think your tone is off. Let’s move on to the things that really upset me:

You have the indignity to tell these young people blatant and outlandish lies, propogating some of the biggest myths of our theatrical culture in this country: your tips 6 through 8. I’ll dissect each one, shall I?

Tip 6: Form a company. Really? Pour money into a theatre company that won’t make any? Get self-involved and place yourself on a pedestal? I made this mistake up until last year, and I’m aware how much of a mistake it was, and yet this insane myth is told to all young people in the vain hope they’ll fill up all the Fringe theatre slots. Don’t do it this way. Put on plays, yes, but don’t form little self-involved cliques that think they’re on the forefront of the next big thing. It doesn’t happen that way.

Tip 7: Work as an assistant. Has this ever worked for anyone, apart from a REALLY select few? Is this really good advice for ALL the young directors out there. Because here’s the rub: you won’t get the position. And even if you do, the one lucky young man or woman will be collecting teas and coffees for the next couple of years, until they realise how little their position is worth and leave. The even luckier young man and woman will have made some contacts, but this is rarer still. It isn’t the Holy Grail it’s made out to be.

Tip 8, and this really makes my blood boil: Work in the theatre. Any job will do? Well, take it from me, John, it bloody well won’t. You may find this amazing to hear, but ALL of your box office staff, your ticket sellers, all of the low-paid staff, are actors and directors who thought that by standing close to the limelight, they might just slide in: IT DOESN’T HAPPEN LIKE THAT. No one works as a box office assistant, then suddenly gets called up to AD the big show, and becomes a star. It. Never. Happens. Don’t take some rubbish job because it’ll get you closer to the stage door, you’ll never get through. So many of my friends have fallen prey to this, and it sickens me that this is still seen as a viable option, and that snakes like you propagate this myth.

Finally, out of all of the advice you could have given, your final gem, your final nugget of advice is “buy my book”. Come on. If the advice had been OK, I might have considered it, but this isn’t cheeky or cute, it’s insulting. Add on top of that that your book is over £20 (ahem… RIP OFF), and I’m starting to wonder if you have any idea how much money young directors are living off: I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t much.

I was hoping for some true advice, John, but all I got was some hollow cliches. Sound familiar?”

I imagine at this point he’d be rather indignant, so I’d probably stop there.

Anyway, this is terrifyingly bad advice, in nearly every case. Now, I am a young director, and while I’m not working on the West-End, I’m generally doing quite well. I’ll gladly give you some advice on how I got to where I am, and I promise, it’ll be actual, useful stuff. Read it here tomorrow!

5 thoughts on “How not to be a theatre director…

  1. Agreed Chris, it’s good to know how everything works, but how can that be in the top ten? That list doesn’t contain anything about learning the skill set required, making the contacts needed… It’s a minor point to give such precedence, and in the end encourages the kind of culture we have now, where plenty of our mates are working in theatres in the hopes of being closer to the action, when it only puts them further away… Anyway, I’ll be writing my own list tomorrow, where a lot of this will be addressed. See what you think after tomorrow’s post.

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  2. I think you may have misinterpreted his point on number 8. From what I can gather, he isn’t advising people to work in theatre as a means of ‘sliding in’ or being called up to being the star, but rather so that one might have a greater understanding of how all elements of a functioning theatre work, something which is actually rather useful.

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