Theatre Director

The Job and What's Involved

Theatre directors co-ordinate all aspects of a theatrical production, from the production stages and rehearsals right through to the final performance. Directors take ultimate responsibility for the artistic interpretation of the written and musical score, taking into account budget constraints and the physical space where the performance will be staged.

Directors work very closely with producers, performers and the creative team, which includes set and costume designers, choreographers, lighting technicians and musical directors, as well as stage managers.

Most directors are freelancers. However, some are employed as artistic or resident directors in mainly repertory and commercial theatres. Some may be employed in producing theatres, which tour different theatre venues.

Specific duties may vary depending on the size of the theatre, but can include:

  • Casting particular actors they have in mind, or working with a casting department.
  • Attending auditions, interviews and recalls
  • Collaborating with theatre management to select set, lighting and costume designers.
  • Researching the script fully, including the author, period, fashions, social history and reviews of past productions.
  • Adapting content in collaboration with the writer/playwright.
  • Rehearsing sections of the play, providing actors with feedback and developing the overall performance.
  • Working with the designer to plan the overall look and feel of the production.

Theatre directors will attend the preview performances and press night, assessing the audience reactions to provide the entire cast with feedback and make adjustments before official opening. Once the play opens, the theatre director may hand over responsibility to the stage management and cast. However, in big productions, such as in the West End, the director may stay on as resident director.

In larger theatres, artistic directors usually select productions for the entire season, appointing a theatre director for each. Artistic directors will usually be responsible for managing the company and its finances, sometimes assisted by an associate director. Larger theatres may have more junior assistant directors.

In smaller or fringe theatres, it is the theatre director who decides which production to stage. They may also be responsible for raising funding.

Work in this area can be irregular. Most directors are employed on a freelance contract to see a production through from planning and rehearsals to opening night.

Some, however, do work on fixed-term contracts. These tend to last between one and three years or, in the case of artistic directors, three to five years, with options to extend. Many contracts are 'ongoing' with simple notice periods.

Working hours regularly involve weekends and evenings. There can be a lot of pre-production research involved, even before rehearsals and production start. Most work is done in rehearsal rooms until a few days before the performance opens.

Theatre Director at the start of their careers may earn around £19,000 a year, but salaries are likely to vary considerably. They will depend on the length of plays and type of contract undertaken - for instance freelance, repertory or touring.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

With more than 100 theatres concentrated in the West End of London, most UK-based directors will work in London at some point in their career. London is a base for freelance directors. There are also opportunities in regional UK theatres, including:

  • Producing theatres, where plays are created (sometimes newly written) and produced for that particular venue. The production may then go on tour.
  • Receiving theatres, that do not produce their own shows but act as venues for touring productions.
  • Theatres which are both producing and receiving venues. (There are many of these.)

Other less traditional environments, such as fringe and alternative theatre, community theatre, education, prisons and children's theatre offer opportunities too.

Theatre work is competitive to enter. There are many more applicants than vacancies. Candidates need to demonstrate skills, talent and dedication as well as qualifications. Applicants with relevant qualifications and experience often send speculative letters to larger venues. Gaining practical experience in acting, stage management and particularly direction, via amateur or fringe theatre, may be useful.

Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies. Jobs may be advertised in national publications, such as The Guardian on Mondays and The Stage. Equity has information about forthcoming work, as does the Production and Casting Report,

Education and Training

Although no specific entry qualifications are required, degrees in English, drama/theatre studies, music and creative/performing arts may increase employment opportunities. Higher National Diplomas (HND's) and foundation degrees in creative/performing arts, drama/theatre studies, music and arts in the community are available. The content of any course should have a strong emphasis on practical skills. Informal training is just as important as formal qualifications.

Those set on working as a theatre director may choose to undertake a three-year full-time degree in theatre directing. The Conference of Drama Schools (CDS) has details of recognised colleges on its website .Entry requirements vary, and applicants should check with individual universities and colleges.

Some may progress to study a postgraduate directing course, such as those run by Birkbeck College, RADA or Mountview. Entry to these postgraduate courses is typically with a relevant arts degree or a least three years' relevant professional theatre experience.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

First appointments are usually directing a small touring company or perhaps running projects or directing plays in drama schools. Directors often switch from acting or progress from an assistant director role.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Few venues or theatre companies can afford to provide training. Many directors have no formal training, gaining their directing skills, whether for stage, television or film, through practical experience.

There is a wide range of short courses, workshop programmes, postgraduate courses and other specialist training available throughout the UK. Some drama schools offer specialist theatre directing courses.

Some theatres and regional arts councils offer training bursaries or grants for young directors, but securing funding of this type can be extremely competitive. The Arts Council England occasionally runs assistant director schemes.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A theatre director should be:

  • Both visually and artistically brave.
  • Able to express their creative vision clearly, both verbally and in writing.
  • Good researchers.
  • Persuasive negotiators and communicators.
  • Tactful and diplomatic.
  • Able to motivate and inspire others.
  • Aware and respectful of traditional theatre etiquette.
  • Team players, but equally confident taking initiative.
  • Creative problem solvers.
  • Dedicated and enthusiastic.
  • Aware of relevant health & safety rules.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experience, reputation and gaining credit for your achievements are all vital to progress in theatre directing and to take on more prestigious projects. This progression will also depend on your ability to secure funding and get your productions seen by people from other venues.

Experienced directors may set up their own companies or theatre venues. Others may accept residencies as associate artistic directors or artistic directors in a particular venue, where they will be responsible for the complete seasonal programme production. These tend to be managerial roles, incorporating planning, budgeting and setting artistic policy. Artistic directors are usually responsible for directing one or two productions each season.

Some directors move from subsidised theatres to the commercial sector, which can also open up opportunities in film and television directing.

Get Further Information

Arts Council England,
14 Great Peter Street,
London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200

The Directors Guild Trust and the
Directors Guild of Great Britain,
4 Windmill Street, London W1T 2HZ
Tel: 020 7580 9131

Equity, Guild House,
Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000

The Independent Theatre Council (ITC),
12 The Leathermarket, Weston Street,
London SE1 3ER
Tel: 020 7403 1727

Council for Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre (CDMT),
Old Brewer's Yard, 17-19 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9UY
Tel: 020 7240 5703

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