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5 Tips: The role of the Director in devising theatre ensemble

Seemia's Artistic Director, Sara Amini gives her five tips on her role as the director in our unique devising ensemble.

I studied classical theatre directing in Iran at Tehran university. Back then I was taught the director held the responsibility for how a show is made; they were extremely high on the hierarchical ladder and the main creative force of the group. Alternatively, I was very interested in the creativity of the actors and other members of the team. I was curious to find ways that can open up everyone's creativity and provide an atmosphere for them to be free and able to take risks.

Later I studied Performance making at Goldsmiths College, The University of London. The main focus of the course was devised ensemble theatre. My final dissertation was about challenging the position of a director in a hierarchical system of a creative theatre team and comparing it with a system of not having a director - at all! Yet the experience of not having a director in an ensemble made me suspicious about working in this way. I felt we ended up wasting lot’s of energy and ideas of the team which lead to not being able to make a coherent piece of work.

After some years of working as a director - with ensembles, traditionally structured theatre companies, and in screen - I’ve come to believe that the creative team of a theatre company needs to have someone as a director, or let's say the outside-eye. A person that can lead the team and create a platform for the creativities of other members. But at the same time, this person should not be the only source of power in the group. The director in a devised theatre company is just another of the creative members of the group, equal, but in a different position. Based on my experience so far, I would like to give some tips for directing devised ensemble based theatre:

1. Trust

As a director of an ensemble, don’t close performers’ creativity with negative comments in the beginning of the devising process. Otherwise they won't be able to be open, be creative and feel like they are creating and performing in a safe space.

Trust is a very important in this process. As a director you should create a very safe environment for your performers which can give them a chance to be courageous and reach out of their comfort zone.

2. Patience

There are three vital jobs for a director of devised piece; listening, watching and hunting ideas. After this, a crucial skill is to be patient! As a director you must be patient in the long term process of creativity. Look for the best moments and hunt for the unique ideas of performers.

3. Collective Collaboration

Don’t ever get stuck in your own idea's and don’t be rigid about your own thought. You should look at the process as a collective collaboration. Although you are responsible to ensure the whole piece is coherent, at the same time, all members should be ready to pass the ball of creativity and never keep it only in your hands, or only one member of the ensemble.

4. Sensitivity

Be sensitive to anything that happens in the group, don’t ignore any members’ problem. At the end of the day, it is all about creating a trusted environment. Be it personal, creatively or administratively, if one person has a problem, it is all of the group’s responsibility to support and help overcome the problem.

5. Magic

An ensemble that has built trust, encourages creativity and is always open for new challenges can work magic.... which funnily enough is the Persian meaning of the word “Seemia”!

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