Design Brief: La Traviata (2016)
Competencies: Negotiation, Judgement and Decision-making, Coordinating with Others
Of course, as a director, artistic creativity is a core part of my job description. The essence of my job, however, is bringing together vast quantities of information and finding a way to combine it to create an end product that can be presented to intelligibly to an audience.
The artefact to the right is a design brief document that I worked on with a designer colleague of mine. By 2016, I had worked on several shows but had never had the opportunity to work from scratch on a detailed production proposal. I decided to set myself an exercise to codify a methodology to creatively work through a project from commission to concept. I asked a designer friend to work with me, and immediately obtained a startling insight into just how difficult it is to start from a position of absolute freedom in order to create a product! In the research stage of the project, I amassed such a huge amount of information that I wasn’t sure how I’d ever manage to join the dots and create an end product that would make sense to someone else.
As with every close working relationship, we differed on some aspects of design approach, and it was at this stage of the process that I put into practice the skills I had observed in my more experienced colleagues during my training at Covent Garden. Establishing a framework to
constructively critique each other’s suggestions was a key part of this process as, once we had an agreed mechanism for discussing the merits of our ideas, the focus shifted from the personal to the practical. By putting my observed knowledge of clear communication techniques into practice, we were able to work through our disagreements and develop this final product.
Throughout the process, I discovered new methods for solving problems; for example, stepping back and giving problems space to breathe rather than continuing to press on and getting nowhere. This in particular came as a revelation and is now a vital part of my process. Similarly, I found that working from a blank canvas actually made things much harder to achieve, and so I developed a system that involved imposing artificial limitations on my process, forcing me to make decisions rather than prevaricating. I now use these systems every time I start work on a new task from scratch.
Assistant Director Testimonial (2019)
Competencies: Service Orientation, Judgement and Decision-making, Emotional Intelligence
As a normal part of early – mid career, young directors will often assist more established ones on a project-to-project basis. One of the directors I have worked with on several productions is the Scottish director Sir David McVicar. I have learned a lot from him about the importance of making firm decisions and clearly defining the boundaries of a problem before starting to address it. In Sir David’s case in particular, my role was to identify any potential problems ahead of time and, if possible, address them before they impacted his process. This has led me to develop a series of working practices designed to actively identify anything that may cause Sir David potential issues, and to then take the earliest preventive action to ensure that these potential problems don’t come to pass.
In this artefact - a letter from Sir David to the American authorities in support of my visa application for Extraordinary Artist standing – he outlines some of my qualities. In particular, he identifies my work in Oslo, Norway where I became aware that the Stage Management team at that theatre were unused to dealing with the complicated system of cues that Sir David was going to require. I was very aware that, while I was going to have to work closely with them in order to help them build their competencies to the necessary levels, I had to do so in a manner that wouldn’t offend or put them off side. Drawing on my experiences observing others at Covent Garden and at Stage Directors UK, I made sure that I approached everything as a team, frequently using inclusive ‘we’ language and making sure that I asked for help with my identified needs as much as I offered support to build their capabilities. It was a long process, but because we started building capacity early in the rehearsal period, everything was achieved in time for what turned out to be a successful run of performances.
People Management Training (2020)
Competencies: Emotional Intelligence, Coordinating with Others, Negotiation, People Management
One of my self-identified areas of weakness is in interpersonal dynamics, where my desire to achieve excellent and efficient results has sometimes overwhelmed my empathetic responses to members of my team. I have sought to actively work on this aspect of my professional practice, and have enrolled in several short courses to learn techniques for clear communication, motivating my team, and allowing people the freedom to follow their own strengths as they seek to achieve goals.
This artefact is a collection of certificates from several universities whose courses in people management I have completed. I have learned a huge amount from them, and now have an expanded toolbox for maximising collaborative working practices while also ensuring that my colleagues feel safe and supported. Now armed with a suite of strategies for navigating the social complexities that surround professional activity, I am looking forward to putting these conceptual understandings into practical application both in my current work with young and emerging artists in America, and when I return to work in the theatres of Europe.