Midnight thoughts on Assistant Directors

A longish and perhaps sentimental post about THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR. Any assistant director, but at this point in time, especially Cherilyn Woo.

I took a workshop last week for aspiring directors and writers in Singapore and one of them asked me the question ‘what’s the difference between the director and the assistant director?’

After the initial caveats about it being hugely dependent on the personalities of both director and assistant, plus everyone else in the room and the scope of the production, we began to talk about the general workings of a rehearsal room. I told them that as director you get to make decisions about everything, all the time. In fact, it’s a major part of the job. My examples were flippant (but oh so true.) – When you’re hungry and want a break. When the actors are hungry and want a break. When you need to push someone harder. When you need to leave someone alone. When you need to lighten the tone and be fun. When you need to have a tough talk with a member of the team. When the script isn’t working. When everyone thinks the script isn’t working but it is really. When you’re in a bad mood and want to run the tap number because it will cheer you up (just me?) or a super good mood and want to run out and buy everyone treats for break time.. It goes on.

As assistant, you don’t get to make any of these decisions but develop a skill for guessing which way your director is going to swing at every moment so that you can jump with joy onto their bandwagon and be the united brilliant team that your actors need.

When I was assisting, a director that I hugely respect told me ‘whatever happens, we never EVER fall out in front of the actors.’ (We didn’t.) I’ve had the enormous joy of working with four amazing assistant directors in the last couple of years – Natalie WongJames Robert-MoorePatrick Maubert and Cherilyn – and I can’t imagine ever falling out with any of these patient, generous, incisive and creative people. They smile, listen, write down and remember everything as they know I’ll have forgotten it ten minutes later (probably in my excitement about the tap number), pass notes to actors via osmosis – I only have to think it and it happens – suggest ideas, smile when the suggestions are ignored, smile when the suggestions are taken and become the backbone of the show, look after actors, look after us, update the script on an hourly basis, maintain the show and keep it sparkling long after we have all gone home.. And so much more.

I kind of wish that I could go back to being an assistant director now with what I’ve learnt from them about how to do the job.

You are amazing.

Thank you x