Confessions of a penniless director

Confessions of a penniless director

By Ali George 18/02/11

IdeasTap member Ali George recently wrote an article about trying to break into the media during the recession, which prompted feedback from fellow struggling journos, artists and performers. Inspired by their experiences, Ali talked to 24-year-old director Hannah Drake about being a penniless creative in the theatre world…

One of my first experiences of directing was at university during my “fallback” undergraduate degree.

Fed up with not getting the roles I wanted, I directed a production of Into the Woods. It was only when I graduated and went to train as an actor that I realised how much directing had come to mean to me.

I’d always been told I would make a good teacher, and a lot of what a director does is similar – enabling people to discover new things and perform to the best of their ability. So in 2009 I went and did an MA in Directing at the Bristol Old Vic.

I’m now at a stage in my career where I have to prove myself by assisting established directors and mounting my own productions. Often this means working full-time without a wage.

I run youth workshops, audition candidates for my old drama school, and do any other odd jobs I can lay my hands on – I’ve even started baking for profit! But getting to grips with long periods of unemployment, or working without being paid, is a stiff learning curve – emotionally as well as financially.

Theatre is massively over-subscribed, and directing can be lonely. When I was training, we decided the collective noun for directors was a “disagreement” because, unlike a cast of actors, you’re always separate – the outside eye. And because work opportunities are scarce, the competition between new directors can be murderous.

I want to stay in the southwest, partly because it’s where lots of friends and family live, but also because I feel strongly about the importance of regional theatre. Recently there has been a surge in quality and quantity of local productions.

The big news for the area is Somerset’s decision to cut all arts funding, but I’ve yet to feel the force of that professionally. Socially, however, there is little else on people’s minds. We’re going to have to get very creative with how we finance projects over the coming months.

I’m too much of a masochist not to read reviews, which to date have mostly been positive. My last project received quite a mixed reaction, with some people giving it four stars, and another critic giving one! It feels awful at the time, but you can’t please everyone. The fact is, we are all critical of art, but some of us get published.

My advice to anyone thinking about getting into directing would be: don’t do it unless there’s absolutely nothing else you think you’d be better at! It’s tough, and lonely, and you have to be willing to play the long game. For instance, the other night I watched Christopher Lee awarded the BAFTA Fellowship award – he’s 88!


Hannah was talking to Ali George.

Can you relate to Hannahs struggle? Leave a comment!

Hannah works as an assistant at Bath Literature Festival as well assisting on the new Ben Ellis play, Unrestless, at IdeasTap’s Coming Up festival. Later this year she will be working on The Importance of Being Earnest for Theatre Bristol and adapting a folk tale for the Edinburgh Fringe. Find out more on her website.


More confessions:

Ali George – aspiring journalist

Nicolas Williams Hughes – artist

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