Directing Your Own Work with Holly Race Roughan

Theatre director Holly Race Roughan gives us her practical tips on directing your own work and what makes for a successful director...

[We are] an entire industry founded on coffees.
Holly Race Roughan

During our most recent Open House, Holly Race Roughan led a fantastic and practical session on directing for theatre. Holly has worked in the UK and in the US, and her particular focus is on directing new work. She recently directed the UK tour of People Places and Things (a National Theatre and Headlong co-production), and co-directed the transfer of Prurience to the Guggenheim in New York City. Here is her advice for directors starting out, on directing their own work:

Start with short play nights

A lot of Fringe work is born here, at short play or scratch nights. These are a great way to get initial feedback on an idea or a bit of dialogue, so if you've just started developing your own work, get it to a scratch night! Southwark Playhouse, the Arcola are just two of the theatres who offer writing scratch nights. The Lyric offer one for younger performers.

Utilise training opportunities

The Young Vic have an introduction to directing course, the National have their studio where young directors can be paid for developing work. The Young Vic Directors’ Network also allows you to start getting involved in a community of directors.

Start by writing a treatment

It can sound intimidating, but writing up a treatment is really just writing up an idea of the work. By doing this, you can start to broker a relationship with a theatre without doing everything for free with no guarantees. Include a plan for the play - the number of characters, a summary of what it is about. “All good treatments start with a one-liner,” says Holly. If you can’t figure out yours, then chances are you haven’t quite figured out what your play is about yet. A director can help with this, if you are looking to collaborate with one.

Get ready to hustle

From the outset, it's important to start thinking of your work with a business mindset. Be resourceful - knock on doors, develop a relationship with a producer. Corporate sponsorship is commonplace - offer companies an ad in your play pamphlet in exchange for funding. Collaborating with your peers is powerful. And don’t be afraid to ask someone to coffee to pick their brain or ask questions; “[We are] an entire industry founded on coffees,” says Holly. Approach people gently via email, if you enjoy their work and ask to buy them a coffee in exchange for a chat. You never know where these connections will help in future.

Keep an eye on pub theatres

There can be long lead times to get a confirmation of a slot in a pub theatre, but equally, there are often dropouts as Arts Council funding hasn’t come through for a production etc. Which means that you can get an opportunity to stage your work as a result. Don't panic about the venue; keep sending out your idea and keep asking questions.

Don’t be afraid of a contract

Contracts protect everyone involved, and while it can feel like an overly formal thing to include if you are setting about staging a production for the first time, it can also be very helpful in managing everyone’s expectations and ensuring everyone feels fairly treated. If you have an agent, they can certainly help you draft something like this to use between you and your collaborators.

Have a roadmap and ask good questions

Mapping out your timeline and what you want to achieve is vital. Holly also suggests the following key questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are your resources?
  2. Who is the play for?
  3. What are the nonnegotiable things?
  4. Where will it be?
  5. Who will make it with you?
  6. Why is it a play?
  7. What will it look like?
  8. What will it sound like?
  9. Who will it speak for?
  10. Who will own it?
  11. Who will pay for it?
  12. How will the audience feel?

Remember who you are outside of the theatre world

“We’re grappling with authenticity, but it’s important as artists to feel you can tap into a variety of topics too.” Remember who you are outside the theatre world, as it can help sustain creativity and energy for the work you do create. Balance is vital, and by maintaining your world outside theatre, you will have a greater well to draw on for what you explore on stage.

At the end of the day, Holly says successful directing is about “making the show more itself.” So keep yourself accountable, ask good questions, and if in doubt, collaborate!

Thank you to Holly for the fantastic workshop at our recent Open House. If you have any other questions you’d like answered, let us know on Twitter or email us at [email protected]