Erica Miller is a theatre director and has just finished working on Otieno at Southwark Playhouse. She has also directed at the Albany and the Jermyn Street Theatre.
Full name/age/job title
Erica Miller, 33, Theatre Director
Please give us an overview of your average day
There is no totally average day as a Theatre Director, which is one of the many reasons I am in theatre. But it can consist of reading a play, either the one you are working on or a play you’d like to work on or just haven’t read yet. Then followed by researching the world of the play; be it by books and speaking to relevant people or the internet/films/documentaries. I was recently Assistant Director on a Metta Theatre production of Otieno (a reworking of Othello, set in Zimbabwe during the elections in 2008) at Southwark Playhouse. A great deal of research had to go into it for the director and cast, so we could create a believable world for the audience.
As an assistant director, your job is to help the director, in this case Poppy Burton-Morgan, in any way you can to make sure the play works. It may be in helping to cast the roles, calling out lines to actors, coaching actors in accent or meaning of their lines or could be as simple as getting the teas in. It’s always varied and being calm is very important. Otieno was awarded Time Out’s Critics' Choice and the Times gave it four stars. So it has been totally worth all the hard work. I also have formed my own company, Allons-y Theatre, and did my first staged reading this month. That meant I had to cast, research, rehearse and work with a new writer in order to present the new short play. Now, I’m working on co-production for 16-18 September at Tara Arts- Tryst (With Destiny) by Akkas Al-Ali.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That it’s glamorous and easy. I spend a great deal of my time in cold rehearsal rooms and with actors whose desire to work and create is the most important factor in every play to be put on. A huge amount of time and effort get put in before anyone even sees it. If we manage to place a world in front of the audience that stops them from thinking of their own life and brings them into ours, it can only been done with grit and imagination. Glamour can happen on stage, but it won’t have shaped the piece.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
The freelance worker element is a real challenge. It means you are constantly on the look out for the next paid project. Most people have a job that they go to every day and know when they will get paid and even how much it will be. We, as freelance theatre directors, don’t have that luxury but we do have the freedom to say no to a job if it doesn’t suit us artistically or if you realize you cannot work at your best with a company.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you start out achieving it?
I always knew I wanted to work as a creative person, but it took a while to find out in what capacity. I worked in administration for many years to support myself and did acting on the side to keep me sane. Acting did help, but I always felt it wasn’t totally the right position for me, especially as I was always interested in the whole play, not just my part in it. So in 2008 I directed two short plays and found my haven. I applied to Stonecrabs Theatre Company to do their Director Traineeship course. I also gave up my well paid job. Professionally, I have worked as a theatre director since December 2008. I’ve had to make sacrifices of time, effort and even had to volunteer my services, but I can never regret it.
What can you do to get a head start?
Direct a scene or a whole short play. Thinking you can do something is not the same as doing it. Afterwards, if you really love directing and are getting positive feedback, then find a way to train with other directors. There are courses available - or speak to other people who are in the business. Seeking advice is vital.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
Rehearsals are where the majority of creativity comes in. It’s a gradual process, but it is what makes theatre amazing. And in your head, before any projects begin. But never make the mistake of trying to totally match what was in your head with rehearsal process. Actors will have their own ideas and if you work together you can make a new piece of theatre. You can use games, role play, improvisation and even repetition to aid creativity.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
How to put together a theatre director's CV. There is a correct format and I was clueless, until I got a session on it. You have to present yourself seriously to be taken seriously.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
The Young Vic Genesis Directors Network project is invaluable and free. They encourage new theatre directors of all ages to use them as a resource and they do courses in directing. For me, the most useful book on theatre directing is: “A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing” by William Ball.