If you’re aged between 16 and 25, and are eager to work in theatre but not as an actor, there really is only one place you should be on 20 November. That’s at the Royal Opera House, where beyond-the-stage careers fair TheatreCraft will be enlightening a future generation of directors, designers, marketers and sound engineers.
Aspiring director, 25-year-old Richard Speir, who also currently works three days a week as Arcola’s Production Assistant, was at Theatre Craft last year. He was there the year before. He’ll be there this year too.
We quizzed him about his TheatreCraft experiences, how to get the most from the day and starting out on a career in theatre.
Where did your interest in theatre come from?
My mother was an actress, so it was never something that was new to me. I did a lot at school and university. I was studying History; theatre was just a hobby. I never really thought about it as a career until I started directing. I just didn’t want to stop when uni ended.
How did you hear about TheatreCraft?
I know someone who works at the Mousetrap Foundation and they suggested I look it up. I went for the first time immediately after leaving university. Then I went again last year and I’ll be going again this year. It is the most incredible place to just test out what you are interested in. It’s a really good opportunity to get a flavour for different things and meet a lot of people who are in the same position as you.
People say it’s a difficult industry, and I have no doubt, but TheatreCraft makes it feel like it’s a bit more accessible.
What were you expecting?
I don’t think I had any expectations. I knew what I wanted to find out about, but I didn’t know what it would be like. The daunting aspect is you can’t do everything. I think that’s why you have to go back. It’s never going to be the same, the same speakers aren’t coming every year, but by going again you can explore different aspects of theatre you didn’t see before.
What did you find the most useful?
Being in a situation where you hear directly about different experiences and then can just ask questions. That is the most useful aspect. I think it is a good opportunity to go up to people and say “I’m genuinely interested, is it okay if I could have your email because I’d really like to know more about what you were speaking about.”
I think those people who are talking at TheatreCraft, and I think theatre people in general, are immensely generous with their time. When you show genuine interest I think they recognise that and appreciate it.
Did you have a different attitude when you went the second year?
I knew more about how the system worked the second year. If you book through the website, you could get the impression you are only allowed to go to three lectures. Actually you can go to as many as you like providing there’s space. Just pop in and go “What’s this?”
Did TheatreCraft lead to what you’re doing now?
I think it helped me explore what I wanted to pursue. I didn’t get a job as a direct consequence of going to TheatreCraft, but I recognised that I was in the right job as a result of speaking to more people about what they do and what I would want from a job.
Arcola is a fantastic theatre and you can really learn a lot about a lot in a very short space of time because every department is always talking to each other. Every department in every theatre, no matter its size, have to talk to each other to the same degree. I think Arcola just gives you a smaller window into how a theatre must run in order to function.
On a regular day I’m managing the space hire for Arcola, organising the diary and keeping abreast of what’s in the building. When we’re producing our own work I’ll be contacting agents, checking availability, organising audition timetables, helping with casting. It’s a really immersive experience at a very young age, which has just been fantastic.
How difficult is it to get started and make a living?
I am yet to be paid to direct anything. I don’t think that matters at all, that’s not the reason I’m doing directing. I’m paying now with my time, but it’s a massive investment in getting experience in a short period of time. If I go and do three or four new writing mini plays at a new writing night I’m working with three different writers, three different scripts, three different sets of actors. If you make a mistake it’s only on for 20 minutes, maybe once. So it’s a perfect testing ground.
I’m lucky because my parents live in London, so I can live with them. But I do know a lot of people who are doing the same as me and are living on their own in London. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but it is hard and you do have to be sure that that’s what you want to do, or at least be sure that there’s nothing else you want to do.
Do you manage to see much theatre?
London is the capital of world theatre, without a doubt. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t try and see as much as possible. The great thing about London is that you get some incredible theatre very very cheaply. Some of the best theatre is in places like the Young Vic, the Almeida, Arcola, all these off-West End theatres. Places like The Old Vic or National Theatre have fantastic schemes to get people of my age into the theatre very cheaply. More often than not it’s cheaper than going to the cinema. In general you can get £10 tickets on a fairly regular basis.
What advice would you give to a TheatreCraft newcomer?
I would say if you’re going with other people, they’ll be there after TheatreCraft, so go and take your own line, go your own way. You’ll be surprised about what you might find interesting that you didn’t think you would before.
TheatreCraft takes place at the Royal Opera House on 20 November. For more information visit the TheatreCraft website.
"People say it’s a difficult industry; TheatreCraft makes it feel like it’s a bit more accessible."