OVNV member and Assistant Director on Inherit the Wind tells us why 2009 was a great year
Michael Oakley is an up and coming theatre director and winner of the prestigious 2008 JMK Award. He is currently assisting Trevor Nunn on The Old Vic's production of Inherit the Wind. Here he tells us why 2009 was an amazing year for him and offers advice for those who are thinking of following in his footsteps.
I did The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices in 2008. I'd just done the selection day for the JMK Award and I thought it had gone badly. I was ready to give up altogether, but then I got to The Old Vic and the buzz and energy were incredible. It was exhausting but enthralling. I'm still in touch with so many of the people I met. Old Vic New Voices has been amazing for me. They still support me and give me advice if I need it.
I directed a lot of plays at University but when I graduated it took a year to get my first job. You have to persevere. I spoke to as many people as I could and asked advice. I also went to see anything and everything I could at the theatre. When I finally got my first job it was brilliant. I ended up assisting on a production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre.
After that I assisted on a play at the Bush Theatre and then, in 2008, I applied for the JMK Award. I'd applied for it the year before and got to the final so I applied again and won. It's a brilliant but terrifying process. I learnt a lot about my strengths and weaknesses through that award.
Earlier this year I went for a job as trainee director at Chichester Festival Theatre. I didn't get it but two weeks later I got a phone call saying Trevor Nunn needed an assistant for Cyrano de Bergerac. They invited me to meet him and by another miracle I got the job. After that I worked on Oklahoma at Chichester for a while and then Trevor offered me a job on Inherit the Wind which is where I am now.
It takes a while to get to know a director and to work out what they will and won't trust you to do, so it was great to work with Trevor for a second time. I've felt out of my depth a lot but that's a brilliant thing. I've loved Inherit the Wind, although in a lot of respects it's been the hardest thing I've done.
I didn't do formal training. I wish I'd known about Birkbeck University's Theatre Directing course. It sounds brilliant because it places you in a working theatre. The hardest leap I found was from directing my peers to directing people with years of experience. Anything that eases that transition is good.
As a young director you often get conflicting advice, but the one thing that almost everyone told me was to define my own taste. Find out what you want to do and what sort of theatre you like. I've mainly gone for big, classic plays.
It's advisable to get an assisting job because there's a lot to learn about putting a show on and seeing how someone else does it is always useful. They say statistically there's one assisting job for every 200 young directors out there but it's worth persevering. Ideally you should assist and do your own work at the same time. If you just direct your own stuff you soon run out of tools and ideas, but if you assist too much you know what everyone else does but you forget your own approach.
I've been very lucky this year and I've learnt a lot. I'm starting to feel ready to do a show in my own right again. I hope that I'll be directing a play at Bristol Old Vic next autumn, but it's early days. Tom Morris is helping me with it. I call him and Trevor Nunn my theatre Dads because they've been so supportive. You'll find that most established directors are willing to help because they've been through the slog themselves.
Michael Oakley was talking to Katie Jackson
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