Want my job…with Jake Smith

Jake Smith studied Drama and Theatre Practice at the University of Hull, graduating with first-class honours. He began his career at Hull Truck Theatre and was a founding member of Assemble Fest, a large-scale theatre festival that launched following Hull's win of the City of Culture campaign. He is currently the Trainee Director in residence at Chichester Festival Theatre, one of the UK's flagship theatres with an international reputation for producing work of the highest quality, ranging from large scale musicals to distinguished dramas.

Want my job…with Jake Smith

Jake has assisted directors including Jonathan Kent, Max Stafford-Clark, Jamie Glover, Jonathan Church, Nadia Fall and Howard Davies and is about to work with Nikolai Foster.

When did you decide that you wanted to become a Director?

When I was doing A Levels I realised that the ideas I had for plays and productions weren't the ideas of an actor, which I enjoyed doing, but were more visions and interpretations of how it could be done or how it would look. I like trying to work out how all of the aspects work together, particularly the collaboration with designers, lighters, actors and writers. I decided to go to University and pursue this notion, fell completely in love with directing and thankfully had a lot of opportunities to direct main house productions whilst studying at University, including new plays and an Opera.

How did you come across the trainee director opportunity at CFT?

A very good friend of mine saw the position advertised in The Stage and sent it to me saying, 'APPLY!'

How has CFT helped you?

The post at Chichester has provided me with a platform to work within a repertory theatre, which is what I have a particular interest in. I get to do artistic training on shows - which includes working alongside Britain's leading theatre directors - and also see the production from the day a title is chosen to opening night. This is through working in casting and the producing office on a daily basis and seeing how a theatre operates financially, administratively and creatively. It has fostered my passion for classics, new writing and musical theatre further and developed my confidence, knowledge and contacts to be able to communicate and achieve my future ambitions.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced (whilst training)?

I believe learning the craft of the assistant director is a major part of my position at Chichester Festival Theatre and a challenge, which those wishing to become a director will encounter. There are a few instances that can make this role easier and more understandable. Firstly if you can try and assist directors whose work you have seen, who you think can teach you something. This often means in my instance you can relate to them and understand how they envisage or want to achieve their production and maximise your usefulness to them. Knowledge is power and the assistant should really try to soak up everything possible to aid the director, one example for me was when I assisted on Way Upstream, which required a full boat on stage and lots of water. The production was very complex and required me to have a technical understanding of the show and how you operate and navigate a boat to ensure the safety of the cast during performance, and also efficiency in the rehearsal room so Nadia Fall, the director had the time she needed to block and rehearse the production without having the water and the mechanically operated boat in the room. It is about making yourself useful and that can mean a whole range of possibilities such as administration and setting the rehearsal schedule to ensure rehearsals are as productive as possible, and honestly in some instances grabbing the director's lunch or a cup of tea or coffee. This is where I have had some very productive and insightful conversations in the exchange of this small and simple task.

What is the most enjoyable thing about your job?

It has been a bit like being a kid in a candy store! I've been privileged enough to be able to refine and define my craft as a theatre director. It was a privilege to have assisted (to mention only a few) Max Stafford-Clark on Pitcairn, Jonathan Kent on Gypsy, Howard Davies on For Services Rendered and Nadia Fall on Way Upstream, and to have been able to observe their unique rehearsal process. I have a wide ranging taste in theatre and I like to reflect this in the work I pursue. The productions I have worked on have allowed me to cover new writing, musical theatre and classic text. From these experiences I have commissioned a new play and am working on a second new play to bring to the stage. I will direct the first revival of Andy Capp the Musical In 2016. I will also be continuing my learning by taking on the role of Staff Director to Nikolai Foster on Breakfast at Tiffany's which opens at the Curve Leicester on March 3rd 2016 before a UK Tour and West End run. Overall I am able to achieve my future projects because I have been supported and nurtured by many within the organisation at Chichester Festival Theatre for which I am hugely grateful. It hasn't just been the creative roles but also the ability to experience the hard work that goes into each department working towards producing each Festival at Chichester.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently in the midst of three projects, all at various stages. The first is this year's Christmas production of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Bryony Lavery with music and lyrics by Jason Carr, which I am Co-directing with Dale Rooks at Chichester Festival Theatre. I am then directing a reading of a play I commissioned 'Arthur' a new play by Ben Wetherill which is part of this year's winning season of the Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass Pitch Your Play 2015. The season includes three new plays, which have been chosen to be performed as rehearsed readings on stage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. I then begin rehearsals for Andy Capp The Musical in January at the Finborough Theatre 2016.

Would you recommend apprenticeships/trainee positions to young people?

I would certainly and particularly recommend it to those who want to direct or work in the arts. I believe a hands on trainee position offers you real insight into the industry. As a director I have seen how different directors approach a play from design conversations to casting and auditions and then finally how they work their rehearsal room. It has allowed me to discover as a director that there is no real right or wrong, it is about having the tools to do the job, how can you get the best from the creative team and actors, what works for you might not be the same as someone else but as long as it works that is the main thing. I believe the only real way to learn to do a job is to experience it and be a part of it and have responsibility, which has been a huge part of my position at Chichester Festival Theatre. You can't really get that when you are only reading a book or writing an essay, I think you absorb things a lot quicker when you are actively engaged in doing them.

What advice would you give to young aspiring directors?

Don't be afraid to collaborate! It is really important to know the industry inside out, who is who? Which director's work do you like most and who do they usually work with on their creative team? It is helpful for interview preparation to have knowledge of other directors, writers, designers, producers etc, whose work you admire or appreciate as this is often an indication of your artistic principles and sensibilities.

Make yourself visible to your regional or local theatre, usually everyone is willing to meet for a coffee - but understand it can take a while to arrange a meeting. It is also a good idea that when you do see a play, musical or a piece of theatre, look at the programme to see who directed it, who wrote it, who designed it, who was in the cast, or composed the music, they might be people that you want to work with in the future so it's good to be able to make those connections.

Fundamentally understanding why you want to do this job is key and why and what work you want to direct. This has been a reoccurring thing that Chichester has taught me and what I am pursuing in my work are the plays and musicals that I think are right for me.

Overall I think never be afraid to continue learning. You can never have all the answers. I like to use a friend's saying that I think applies to this industry particularly, 'It's a marathon, not a sprint'. Set yourself goals and work towards them, each one will offer you incredibly rich self-assessment.

Want to know how to be a director? Check out the Creative Choices, the arts careers website, and the profile here

Directing Credits: A Christmas Carol, (by Bryony Lavery, Music by Jason Carr, Chichester Festival Theatre), Arthur, (Staged – reading), (a new play by Ben Wetherill, Theatre Royal Haymarket), Smoke (and mirrors), (a short play by Stef Smith, Derby Theatre, Theatre Uncut), The Little Match Girl, (a new version by Morgan Sproxton, Assemble Fest), Alice's Site, (a new play by Melanie Anne Ball, Hull Truck Theatre), The Coronation of Poppea, (an opera by Claudio Monteverdi, Middleton Hall) Forthcoming as Director: Andy Capp The Musical, (Music and Lyrics By Alan Price and book by Trevor Peacock, Finborough Theatre), Citizenship, (by Mark Ravenhill, National Theatre Connections, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, The Capitol Horsham)



Shannon  Hay

Shannon Hay

I am an aspiring actor who is currently taking a year apprenticeship at Chichester Festival Theatre whilst auditioning for Drama school. I am one of the new Arts Award Activists, which I am very much enjoying and I am currently doing my Gold Arts Award.

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