And...action! Directing amateur theatre at the Church Hill
Tue 18 Aug Article 3mins
To continue our theme of talking to those behind the scenes of amateur theatre productions, uncovering the fun and challenges they enjoy as part of the whole process, this month we are speaking with Irene Beaver, director with Edinburgh People’s Theatre.
Irene, what route did you take to becoming a theatre director for Edinburgh People's Theatre?
Having taken part of in every EPT pantomime from 1971 – 1982 and enjoying every minute of it, I was invited to direct our performance of Cinderella in 1983. It was always something I had thought about but had never taken the leap. It obviously took a bit of transition from being up on the stage to sitting front of house but I had great support from everyone in the company from those on stage and the team backstage. I must have done a reasonable job as I was invited to direct the following year.
What are the challenges that face an amateur group director compared to a professional?
Certainly in my case it is gaining the experience. Most of my learning and the principles I work to come from being directed myself. You learn from others, which isn’t wrong but working full time and having so much else going on in life there isn’t always the time to keep up to date with the latest developments in direction, the theoretical side of theatre.
I have been well-directed myself by both amateur and professional directors, but spending some time attending professional performances - favourites include the RSC, the National Theatre, the Lyceum and Pitlochry - watching, listening, learning have always helped me.
What are your top tips for success as a director?
• Preparation. Make sure you study the script, know your characters inside out and have a firm grasp of the settings.
• Casting. This is so important. Don’t just chose your friends for the best parts, it won’t help in the long run and your show won’t be the success you want it to be.
• Allow your cast to make the parts their own by listening to suggestions and trying them out. Remember though, you're the team leader. The buck stops with you.
• You are there to help so make sure your actors are developing from you. Make sure they learn stagecraft from you.
What are the real challenges on the night?
Having been an actor I find it so difficult to be supportive, letting everyone get on with it without interfering. You have to remember by the time your actors get onto the stage you've done your job. I do, however, give notes throughout after the first night if I feel that standards are slipping.
What has been your worst directing experience?
Having to take over as director for two pantomimes where I hadn't chosen the scripts or the casts - very stressful.
Which production are you most proud of directing?
My first three attempts at playwriting were Scots comedies but then came a serious play and that was a very different challenge. 'A Guid Cause' concerns five Edinburgh women striving for suffrage for Scotswomen. Set around a similar era to ‘A Stitch in Time’ and ‘Seamstress to Gentry’ between 1912 and 1914, it required a chorus, stage crew, authentic music of the time, subtle lighting and my particular vision of the set.
Tremendous team work meant that we received great reviews and had very appreciative audiences. I had dedicated it to my Great Grandma Fulton who, although she died in 1939, had had a profound influence on subsequent generations.
How would you suggest someone gets started as a director?
I would suggest you get involved with an amateur group first of all and learn to work as part of a team. I'd like directors to have experience of as many areas of theatre as possible before being in charge. I would also suggest attending as many different types of performance as possible. Learn from a whole host of comedy, tragedy, opera, circus, TV, film. Watch, listen and learn how others do it. And last but not least, don't be dictatorial, it never works.
Thanks again to Irene for her valuable insight and we wish her and the cast at Edinburgh People’s Theatre all the best with their next show. If you would like to find out more get in touch with the team at Edinburgh People's Theatre.