Suba Das was the youngest ever director-in-residence at the National Theatre Studio, launched the ethnically diverse actor-training company Custom/Practice and is currently directing Jaime Winstone in The Revengers Tragedy. Here he shares the advice he wishes he could have given his younger self…
What is your name/age/job title?
Suba Das, 28, freelance theatre director and associate director (community engagement) Curve Theatre, Leicester.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That the only thing that generates work is doing work, and that actually the bar isn’t as high as you might imagine.
If you could go back and give your younger self any practical advice, what would it be?
That absolutely nobody is in the theatre business to make money. People will work with you for free if they believe in you and your ideas, because you will be giving them the opportunity to do the thing they love doing. Of course that requires that you always believe in yourself.
If someone had told your 16-year-old self that you would be a successful director in your twenties, would have believed them? Or did you have other ambitions?
I actually got into Cambridge to read Law, so to find myself holding down a career as a director is pretty unexpected!
I grew up in quite a poor family, so getting a good, stable job was the big goal. Even at 16, though, I knew that theatre was something that I loved and cared about. I just didn’t have even the vaguest idea that you could actually do directing as a career.
I think that actually says something quite damning about the big institutions not making theatre accessible to people from “disadvantaged” backgrounds. A big part of my career has been trying to address that. With my current show, The Revenger’s Tragedy, we secured the funding to have a young assistant director who, in turn, recruited a group of 18 - 24 year olds. They will create a response piece to the main show, while being mentored by the professional team.
Is there an embarrassing episode from your past that you wish you could edit out?
I was insanely lucky to begin my professional career as the resident director at the National Theatre Studio. Swanning into The National aged 23 totally went to my head and gave me a really false idea of just how tough this business is - I genuinely thought I was made for life off the back of that one stroke of luck. So if I’d my time again, I wouldn’t take so much for granted.
Is there a single thing that you wish you’d known about when you started out? Something that has shaped the way you work today?
There isn’t a single “technique” that I wish I’d known because I think the big thing I’ve learned is that there is no “right” way to make theatre. “Process" is quite a glib, easy, deadening thing. The second you think of a “right” way to do something, you introduce the flipside into the room – the concept of failure, and no actor will then feel safe to experiment and fly.
Is there a project of which you are particularly proud?
The project I’m currently proudest of is The Revenger’s Tragedy at Hoxton Hall starring Jaime Winstone. It fuses my classical background with my love of unexpected, immersive experiences.
What would you consider your ‘big break’? And how did you get it?
Directing and producing my own fringe, site-specific production of Othello last summer. It was more successful than I could have ever imagined possible: we extended the sell-out run and were Time Out critic’s choice ahead of big west end stuff like Legally Blonde.
My advice is to just get out there and do it yourself: it’s the only way to learn.
For more information on The Revenger's Tragedy and to book tickets, visit the Hoxton Hall website.