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Case Study: Ben Anderson

Personal details
Degree:Art History and English Literature Profile picture
School(s): School of Art History, School of English Language Teaching
Year of Graduation:Jun-2015
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Freelance
Job title: Theatre and Opera Director
Occupational Sector: Drama/Theatre
What has been your route to getting your current position?
I gained a place at the King's Head Theatre on their Trainee Resident Director Scheme, a year-long attachment to the theatre which gave me a foundation in working in a professional theatre and a base from which to seek out further opportunities. I now work freelance, around the UK, in both theatre and opera.
What does your job involve ?
The exact role varies every time but the main role of the director is to provide an overall vision for the show and to lead the rehearsal process. Depending on the show, or who you are collaborating with, the exact requirements of this will change. As an early career director, I've made some of my own work but also still do a lot of assistant directing and associate directing. These roles involve helping another director (again in ways that change depending on the needs of the production), as well as maintaining a show that might have a longer run, or rehearsing in understudies for it.
What are the best bits of your job ?
Working on a project-by-project basis, I get to collaborate with an amazing amount of very talented people, across a wide variety of disciplines. I get to work around the UK to bring work that I love that entertains and inspires audiences.
Why were you successful?
I spent my time at St Andrews involved in as much theatre as possible, not just as a director. I acted; learned about technical, production and marketing roles; and was on the Mermaids committee for two years. This gave me an understanding of what everyone needs to do to create a show (and what I would be asking people to do as a director). I took three shows to the Edinburgh Fringe as well. The experience of being able to present work for a longer run, to a wider public- and see so many other amazing productions- was invaluable. When I wasn't making theatre, I spent as much time as I could watching theatre- not just student theatre but professional theatre in Dundee and Edinburgh.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
My degree gave me a strong background in theatre and performance-art history, in addition to wider contexts and art movements. The shorthand language of imagery and other literature that you can reference is an immense toolkit to be able to draw from. The critical thinking skills have served me well in ways to approach work and discussions in the room, as well as equipping me well for any research I may have to do for a project.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
There are many ways to get into directing. Some do a masters, some do a lot of assisting, some create their own work. There’s no fixed route and different ways work best for different people. 

Applying for early career directing opportunities can seem like a catch-22 because you are often asked to demonstrate previous professional experience. Finding that first break can take time. In the meantime, another director once told me to make sure that I did something related to directing every day: anything from applying for a job, emailing someone, seeing a show or reading a play. This gave me a good focus and made those first steps seem far more manageable. Look out for programs like the Young Vic Genesis Directors Network, or JMK regional groups too. They can also help to connect you with opportunities and like-minded creatives. 

Be prepared to work all days and all hours- especially when combined with jobs around your directing work. Directing is a precarious job and finding constant work is always going to be difficult, especially early on. A lot of people work front of house, tutor, or do temping around projects. I work at a gallery and lead workshops. Whatever you do, try to make sure that it allows you the time and flexibility that you need to create theatre.