Category Archive: What do you do all day?

What do you do all day? Artistic Director

EBT flickr photo 1


Hello! Did you always want to be an Artistic Director?

Not consciously – I only discovered directing when I got to Sheffield University and spent most of the time I was supposed to be doing my English Literature degree trying to figure out how to direct plays. So when James and I set up nabokov after we’d both graduated we became Artistic Directors by necessity. I think I only knew the job of Artistic Director as I now understand it even existed when I moved to London and was fortunate enough to spend some time watching David Lan run the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour run Watford Palace Theatre and Roxana Silbert run Paines Plough. Now that I’m lucky enough to be doing the job, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What role does the Artistic Director play in the development of new work?

I imagine that must depend on the organisation and the Artistic Director themselves. At PP, James and I take it in turns directing most of the plays here and we tend to have been in conversation with the writers whose plays we’re directing for a while before we commission them. So in our case, we have quite a close and supportive role in helping the writers we commission write the best version of the play they want to write, from the earliest moment of conception through to opening night. Sometimes that means hours spent discussing ideas in the pub, brokering meetings with more experienced playwrights for advice, getting actors in for the writer to hear drafts read aloud, workshops, script notes, rewrites and draft after draft through rehearsals and previews. And sometimes it means nothing more than saying ‘keep going’.

What things do you consider when programming work and commissioning new plays?

I think I tend to go on instinct in the first instance. I used to spend a long time making notes on writers, plays, productions – I think I had to make up for my lack of experience, understanding and (frankly) skill with hard and volumous work. But as I’ve seen, read and directed more, I have found that if I engage the critical part of my brain too early, I revert to being the English Literature student and I cease to sense how an audience might encounter the work. So now I try and keep myself in the audience’s shoes for as long as possible and save all the analysis until I’m ready to prepare for rehearsals.

In terms of what that instinct is looking for, it’s what I imagine everyone is looking for in a brilliant play: a good story; characters I can empathise with but that are nevertheless as complicated and contradictory as real people; dramatically active, credible dialogue; a clear sense of world or genre; an inherently theatrical form that somehow helps express the meaning of the play; a writer with something to say or a question to ask about the contemporary world; surprise; laughter; tears… I think perhaps more than anything I want to be moved. If that happens I stop seeing all the individual elements that as a director I’ve tried to teach myself to understand I’ve just talked about and I experience the play instinctively, as an audience hopefully will. When that happens you know you’re reading or watching something good.

Beyond that instinctive response, I’m then thinking about whether PP is the right home for a play, who the audience might be and whether we can reach them, if we have the resource to produce the play in the way it demands, what kind of space it might want to play in. If we’re commissioning the writer, those are some of the things we might ask them to think about when they’re conceiving the play for us.

Can you tell us a little bit about your ambitions for the future of PP?

James and I have been incredibly lucky to run PP for the past six years now and we only just now feel like we’re beginning to achieve some of the ambitions we had when we took over. The company is now entering its 42nd year so it’s something of a national theatrical treasure, certainly in our eyes at least. We’re the eight Artistic Directorship in that time and the regeneration the company has experienced each time a new team has taken over has been key to the company remaining so energetic, important and relevant to writers and audiences. I suppose our main ambition is for it to retain those qualities in the future.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

I’ve learned a lot from some brilliant people over the past fifteen or so years – Lisa Maguire, David Lan, Roxana Silbert, Brigid Larmour, Caro Newling, Sebastian Warrack to name a few. But I think the most useful piece of advice that I’ve had – and certainly something I most frequently pass on when asked – came from the Russian theatre director Lev Dodin, who I had the fortune to meet on a trip the Young Vic arranged for a group of (then) young directors. I think one of us might have said something to him about sometimes wondering whether it was worth sticking at it and he told us that if you can live with no theatre in your life, you’re better off without it. That’s kept me going more than once.

Paines Plough offer work placements in our Admin and Production offices throughout the year. If you’re interested, you can download more information here.

What do you do all day? General Manager



Hello! Can you give us a brief overview of your career so far?

Hello! I have been a very lucky lady and have worked in some incredible places across London and the UK for most of my career – I had a wonderful university placement with Northern Broadsides, worked at the Brisbane Arts Festival and took a show to Edinburgh in my teens. I have dipped my toe in casting at Soho Theatre with the wonderful Nadine, spent three inspiring years at the Lyric Hammersmith (a place I still embarrassingly class as my second home – most of them don’t know who I am now) moving from Admin Assistant to Finance Manager, and a while at Curtis Brown delving into the big bad agency world and now I’m here.

How did you end up in your current role?

I have been a Paines Plough fan ever since I saw Dennis Kelly’s AFTER THE END at the Leicester Haymarket back in 2005 when I was a theatre obsessed teenager – so when the role of General Manager at my favourite theatre company came up naturally I jumped at the chance (after some confidence boosting from a very treasured past colleague) – there is something quite wonderful about being a super fan of the company you work for, it also comes in quite handy most of the time.

A huge part of where I am now is also about me making the most of work placements, keeping in touch with people I have met in the industry along the way and CRUCIALLY working hard. It does pay off.

What are your main responsibilities within Team PP?

Generally managing most things – this includes staff – their welfare and their to-do lists, the offices, the finances, the contracts, and the fundraising amongst lots of other things.

I often say to people its ‘the unglamorous but essential’ side of theatre e.g paying the creative people who make the theatre.

What do you think are the essential skills needed to be a successful General Manger?

My top five:
– Organisation
– Patience
– Passion for the work
– An eye for numbers
– A ‘YES’ attitude

Real talk – what’s the least enjoyable part of your job?

Panic hoovering the floor before a Board meeting after a pastry based Taste Tuesday!

What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

There are so many – I am very grateful to be surrounded by many talented people and friends in this industry and here are a few things some of them have said to me that have stuck:
‘Being nice to people will get you far’ and ‘Do something that scares you everyday’

So press send on that email NOW!

And one piece of advice from you to someone who aspires to be a General Manager?

Where are you?! I want to meet you!

Paines Plough offer work placements in our Admin and Production offices throughout the year. If you’re interested, you can download more information here.

What do you do all day? Artistic Director



Hello! Can you give us a brief overview of your career so far?
I did a bit of acting at school and university but only for fun, I never considered a career in theatre. I was going to be a journalist. In my 3rd Year, I set up nabokov with George and Ric Mountjoy to produce new plays that might persuade my friends that theatre didn’t have to be long, boring and irrelevant. Our first event was a series of short, angry political plays – we bribed people to come by staging them at midnight in a bar with a late license.

After Uni I pursued my journalistic career at various papers and then joined the nascent as content editor and later marketing manager. We kept nabokov going in our spare time – staging ‘shorts’ nights at The Old Red Lion and taking shows to Edinburgh. Josie Rourke said to me, if you’re serious, you have to be a director full-time. I said sure, how am I supposed to pay my rent? And she made me her assistant, which was amazing – the first time anyone actually gave me a job in theatre. I spent a year as staff director to Howard Davies at The National and then joined Josie at The Bush as Associate Director in 2007.

How did you end up in your current role?
Paines Plough was a company George and I had always admired – we used to go and watch their shows when we were students – so when the job came up in 2009 we went for it. We had run nabokov for 10 years in the image of Paines Plough, and it felt like the right time for nabokov to be re-imagined by a new team and for us to move on to a new challenge. I guess the fact we ran a new writing touring company helped make the case for us at PP.

What are your main responsibilities within Team PP?
With George I have the privilege of developing relationships with the writers we want to work with and choose the plays we produce. We have overall responsibility for the health and growth of the company – from making sure the books balance to articulating the brand and managing our amazing team. We decide strategy, evolve touring models, write the business plan, raise money, work with artistic directors of our partner venues, report to ACE and our Board of Trustees and represent the company publicly. Because of my background in media and digital I take an active role in our marketing strategy. Oh yeah, and I direct plays.

What do you think are the essential skills needed to be a successful Artistic Director?
You have to be interested in both parts of the job. You spend half your time in a rehearsal room and half the time at your desk staring at spreadsheets. It’s vital you get creative fulfilment from both.

Real talk – what’s the least enjoyable part of your job?
Working on a shoestring. We would be so much more productive and creative if we weren’t spending half our time scrabbling down the back of the sofa for loose change. That said, on the flipside, it is hugely gratifying when an organisation like The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation or a company like UCG or individuals like Jon and NoraLee Sedmak see value in what we do and offer to invest in our work and our mission.

One piece of advice from you to someone who aspires to be an Artistic Director?
You can do anything. You just can’t do everything. Be singular in your vision and go for it with all you’ve got.

Paines Plough offer work placements in our Admin and Production offices throughout the year. If you’re interested, you can download more information here.