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My experience as an Assistant Director on Pinocchio

“So, you want to be a director… you know its hard right?" “What are you talking about, it’s just telling people what to do”

Like most people in theatre I started off wanting to be an actor. I spent a lot of time in theatres growing up: acting in youth productions, amateur dramatics, doing a bit of moving things on and off stage and of course being chief coffee maker. There was a time in my life when all I could think about was the glitz and glamour of being on that stage to an audience of crying people I have moved with my acting, an audience howling with laughter as I entertained them with my quick wit. I’ve stood in the middle of a field in just my pants being attacked by aliens, I’ve done Bhangra at a wedding in an English Bollywood film.

Why would anyone walk away from this world?

I left college and I tried to get into drama school. I failed! The universe was telling me I was destined not to be an actor and yet I still would not listen to it, and so I set up my own production company. On the way I created a dystopian world in a warehouse combining theatre, music and a pop-up bar in South London. I had a vision, I knew what I wanted, and I could not find anyone to direct the piece in the way I wanted it. So it was that I found myself directing my first production and there it was, I was hooked!

Fast forward three years and a lengthy list of directed performances; I graduated from university this year, studying theatre arts, learning a bit about everything, complimenting my belief that a good theatre maker should know a little bit about all elements of theatre. How can you tell people to do something if you don’t know how to do it yourself?

Graduating and entering the real world, I discovered that it is a rather hard place. The world owes you no favours. There I am sat wondering how I am going to covert my dreams of directing theatre for a living into reality. I sat alone at my computer, armed with a strong black coffee and some custard creams… I was to send a begging email, pleading for a chance to prove my worth and get a foot in the door to every producing theatre in the U.K. 25’ish personalised emails and I had a reply from the Old Rep theatre, expressing their commitment to helping those who show a passion for the arts to gain experience. The Old Rep’s work with BOA students further emphasises that no matter where in your career you are, they are willing to give a chance to those who show a desire to devote their lives to the performing arts.

I arrive on the first day, pen and pad in hand, incidentally a strong black coffee and some custard creams also in tow. Immediately I am greeted and made to feel welcome by all those at the meet and greet of the first day. I am lucky enough to have been granted a chance to do a placement at the Old Rep on Pinocchio, assistant to the director. Well straight away any hierarchy of me just being the placement guy was dissolved and I was “assistant director”. It is a blessing to be so welcomed in and made to feel wanted, especially when as I had previously learnt the world owes you nothing.

As the weeks flew past and the show began to very quickly take shape, it was the expert skill of all those involved that kept me so enthralled and almost addicted to the feeling rehearsals gave me. From those that choreographed to those that wrote the music, to those that sourced props, I was clearly dealing with the best here.  It was simply an honour to be in the company of such people, as assistant director I had expected to just be watching, but here I was with my opinion being asked for and my creativity being called upon. We were all equal and it was all our show!

I was blessed to watch as tech week rolled around and although whale hiccups happened, the professionality of everyone involved ensured the production was the best it could be. I watched as the show was now out of our hands and into the hands of the actors who would be performing up to twelve shows a week at The Old Rep. It was so interesting to see the show really come alive as it was presented to audiences, as the actors allowed the casual audience ad lib and interaction to propel the show along, and the deft hands and vital work of stage management becoming increasingly evident.

Not content with just being assistant director, I found myself also going out into schools, running Pinocchio workshops with school years 1-5. The energy required to sustain their attention was a massive learning curve that I was then able to take back into the rehearsal room and an insight I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. The school’s workshops were invaluable as a teaching tool to myself about directing for young audiences and finding the most succinct way to explain everything. These are both things I can use in my directorial practice moving forward, so once again the Old Rep has inspired and educated, something they do so well time and time again. I am not sure you learn more about yourself than when you are competing for young peoples’ attentions against the squawking of REAL parrots in an inner-city school.

My placement and position had not existed in previous years, and it was only from my taking my chances emailing that it came to be. I urge anyone that wants to get into theatre to send an email to The Old Rep, as I have seen first-hand how accommodating they are to anyone that shows a keen interest. Please allow this to be my love letter to The Old Rep for their reconfirmation for my love of theatre.

Blog post by Jake Castle