Assistant directing allows you to observe and learn how to develop your own directing approach and is a crucial step in the development of any emerging director. Observing how another director runs a rehearsal room, creates rapport with their actors and how they convey and conjure ideas is exciting to watch. They may have a totally different voice in the room to you or a wacky style that isn’t your cup of tea, but I think you can only understand yourself as a director by having seen others at work.
Assisting is a juggling act. It is a delicate balance of being supportive, both to director and cast and being respectful of everyone’s ideas. Yet, knowing that your opinions are worthy too and when to voice ideas that may aid the director is crucial. Most importantly, it requires sensitivity - how to read a room, pick up on its needs and take the initiative to provide it. Nonetheless, it can sometimes feel like babysitting…. You are nursing somebody else’s child, their pride and joy, and often you will never have quite the same connection to it as your own work.
I am currently assisting on a circus adaptation of the “The Little Mermaid”, produced by Metta Theatre for a UK Tour. I have never had any exposure to circus before, but am learning that it is directed and made in a very different way. Much of it is devised by the actors and scenes take far longer to create, because tricks and stunts have to be practiced and drilled, but “never have a move for the sake of it. Every gesture and trick must be necessary for the storytelling” (Burton-Morgan 2017). The process is very collaborative and I have learnt that there is so much trust needed for good circus to be created. And as Mike Alfred’s states “face it: directing is a lonely business” (2007:315), so enjoy being an assistant because it is wonderful to collaborate with an artist further on in their career and to absorb their skills.
Advice on how to get assistant work:
Write to your favourite directors and ask to meet them for a coffee. Ask to observe their rehearsals and see where this leads you.
Sign up to the JMK mailing list & Directors Programme at the Young Vic. They often advertise paid assistant jobs.
Meet a Director on the train…. ! I had a stroke of pure luck when I met Poppy Burton-Morgan, Artistic Director of Metta Theatre on a train to Exeter, but luck nonetheless, it has taught me that talking to people is what directing is all about. Engage in conversation with strangers, you never know what they might have to say…