Being a theatre director

 1 January 2011

Richard Croxford is the artistic director of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. He describes how he discovered his true vocation, and what skills are needed to be a successful theatre director.

Richard Croxford, artistic director of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, with children from Braniel Primary School.
Richard Croxford, artistic director of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, with children from Braniel Primary School.

Moving from acting to directing

Belfast-based director Richard Croxford studied acting in drama school and took part in many university productions.

"Provide an atmosphere in which people can relax and have fun - that’s when they’re most creative."

“I was from Liverpool and when I came to Northern Ireland I was very lucky, because I would get parts for English roles”.

He played roles he loved, such as Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, but increasingly he found he enjoyed the process more than the performance.

“I hated letting go at the end of rehearsal”.

Because so much of theatre production is teamwork, he was able to acquire and develop the skills that would help him become a full-time director.

Getting funding for a theatre company

After doing a lot of school workshops with Replay Theatre Company, Richard was hired as their director.

“I had done a lot of work with young people and really felt I could do a very good job there”.

But as there were only three people in the company, he had to find money for stage productions from Lottery funds and the Arts Council.

“The big applications were pages and pages long. I would have to write in-depth descriptions of the productions, the audience we were targeting, where we were going to take it and all that stuff. And there would be criteria, boxes to tick, and you would have to say how your programme fits those criteria.”

Six tips to becoming a better director

"Understand how different people cope with stress, and be willing to put them under stress."

After eight years with Replay, Richard moved to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in late 2008.

A successful theatre director needs a combination of practicality and sensitivity, he says. It requires fundraising and production as well as getting the best work out of actors.

So what other qualities and skills does he think are needed for a theatre director to develop their career?

Top tips:

  • Knowledge
    You need to know a wide range of theatre, not just the literature of your region. You also need to know the writers and technicians and actors who are available to you.  Keep in touch and be aware of what others are doing.
  • Understand the theatre process
    You will need people like lighting engineers and audio engineers. You need to know when the right time is to bring them in and you need to trust them to know their work and to make creative suggestions.
  • People skills
    You have to understand how different people cope with stress, and a willingness to put them under stress. When you are producing a play, you go through stages of pushing people a little harder to get more out of them.
  • Team spirit
    When you go on tour, everybody has to help out, putting up sets, carrying cases and boxes.
  • Imagination and patience
    The first few weeks of rehearsal are not going to be perfect. Be patient and come up with creative solutions where needed.
  • Playfulness
    Provide an atmosphere in which people can relax and have fun, as that’s when they’re most creative.

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