Jonathan Man, director

 3 October 2012

After studying for a physics degree, Jonathan Man realised his passion lay in theatre. He got involved in amateur dramatics whilst teaching English in Japan, and now works as a theatre director.

"Exploring how to tell a story is what really matters to me."


I grew up Portsmouth, and now live in London.

What job do you do?

I'm a freelance theatre director.

What previous jobs in theatre have you done?

Before I worked in theatre, I taught English in Japan for five years.

I got involved with an amateur dramatics company in Japan, and I started working closely with the director. I realised that I really loved doing it, so I starting looking for a course I could do.

"Exploring how to tell a story is what really matters to me."

I’ve been directing theatre full-time for a few years now. Before this, I spent two years doing it part-time, some of it unpaid.

My first paid role in theatre was a job as an admin assistant at Oval House Theatre in South London. 

I've also worked as a production and diversity assistant for the BBC's Radio Drama department, and I was festival director for an arts festival in Slough.

What qualifications do you have?

I’ve got a degree in physics.

I’m got a diploma in production operations in theatre, TV, film and radio.

This was from the Arts International Training Centre, which was near York, but unfortunately it’s closed down now. It’s a shame, as it was a very good course.

I chose a course with a broad approach, because I wasn’t sure at that stage whether I wanted to be a production manager, director or something else.

I also took part in a number of mentoring and supportive schemes. These gave me the opportunity to meet professional actors, take master classes and produce pieces of theatre.

"I chose a course with a broad approach. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be a production manager, director or something else."

One of these was the Independent Theatre Council (ITC) Fast Track programme

I also had a place on the ITC’s Young Directors’ Scheme. This was a year-long mentoring scheme. I shadowed directors at the Polka Theatre, the Unicorn Theatre and the Theatre Centre.

Finally, I completed an Arts Council England fellowship with residencies at the Polka Theatre, the Soho Theatre, Yellow Earth Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse.

What do you do at work?

On rehearsal days, I warm up and then work with the actors. If there are any meetings, I do them at lunchtime. I catch up on admin at the end of the day once the actors have gone home.

On non-rehearsal days, I usually do some admin from home or from the theatre office. This might involve anything from helping with promotion of a show to pitching treatments and writing funding applications.

I have a lot of meetings with writers, other theatres, funding bodies and marketing people.

I spend a lot of time seeing shows as well.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I love directing and being in a rehearsal room. A huge amount of effort goes into getting funding and making a performance happen.

However, actually being in the rehearsal room, playing around with ideas and exploring how to tell a story is what really matters to me.

Equal to this is seeing the reaction of audiences, especially children.

And the worst thing about the job?

Firstly there's the uncertainty of working as a freelancer. You always have to plan ahead to keep afloat. There’s very little income in the theatre, except for a handful of big names.

Secondly, there’s a lot of admin to be done. I was prepared for this, and I knew it would be part of the role of director. The better prepared you are and the more planning you do, the more likely it is that a project will succeed.

How do I get into theatre?

For directing, my tips would be as follows:

  1. Think like an entrepreneur
    You need to fully understand just how much hard work you will need to put in, often for very little return.
  2. Be friendly and reliable
    If you’re not organised and punctual and don’t get on with people, this life is not for you.
  3. Make yourself aware of how self-employment works
    I recommend going on an Inland Revenue workshop about self-assessment and how you'll be paying your tax.
  4. Join the right unions
    Join the ITCEquity, and perhaps the Directors’ Guild of Great Britain, although I am not currently a member. Equity provides great legal backup if you need it, and the ITC offers great helpsheets and really useful courses. You could look out for one on how to start your own company, for example.
  5. Experience is key
    The only way to develop at directing is by doing it. Even if it’s unpaid or voluntary work, just get out there and start doing it. In the two years before I started directing full time, some of my experience was gained through unpaid work in community theatre.
  6. See lots of shows
    I once saw nine in one week, but I usually go to between six and eight a month.
  7. Actively seek out mentors and role models
    I go on courses run by people I admire, and if I think we click, I will approach them as a mentor.
  8. Look into studying theatre
    That said, it's not the be all and end all. I know directors who have English degrees, and got involved in drama in their spare time. I also know directors with law degrees. I have a physics degree myself. But it's worth considering your options.

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