Having got a job myself via OpenHire in the last quarter of 2021, I wanted to advertise the role rather than pick a name out of my head. OpenHire was started by freelance directors Derek Bond and Josh Roche in September 2020, in the hope of improving transparency and access to freelance creative jobs in theatre. The Open Hire framework is simple:
- Describe the job
- Describe the process
- Share data on who applied
After a few voice notes with Derek about Equal Opportunities forms, our call out went live.
The stats: 38 applications, 6 shortlisted to meet and 1 recruited.
For anyone thinking of following suit, here’s what we did.
1) Tell us about the job..
Golden Toad Theatre are looking for an assistant director to support director Kate Golledge with the remount of the touring show ERROL’S GARDEN this summer. The ideal candidate would have some movement experience.
The ideal candidate for this job would be:
A good organiser, great communicator, someone interested in making high quality work for children, a problem solver, someone with a movement background, someone with an eye for detail, a good collaborator.
Tasks will include:
Supporting rehearsals, running lines with actors, communicating with the wider team, helping to recreate musical staging, polishing scenes after they have been blocked. More active input such as leading warm ups or taking rehearsals alone won’t be expected, unless the successful candidate would like to undertake these things – in which case they will be supported by the director/ team. This role might suit someone who has a background in performing but is thinking of making the move into directing or choreography. Previous experience is not necessary.
Golden Toad is a company committed to accessibility. Those with caring responsibilities and/ or access needs should feel supported to apply for this position, we will work out the details.
Key Dates: Rehearsals: 16th May – 25th May in Peckham. (Saturday and Sunday off). Tech and opening: 26th May – 28th May in Hastings. Accommodation and per diems will be provided. First week of touring: 30th May – 1st June in Wimbledon, 2nd – 4th June in Peckham. (The assistant will not be needed for all of these dates – schedule of attendance to be arranged collectively). The show will be on tour thereafter and attendance at additional touring dates will be by negotiation.
Writing the job description was a really good exercise and I’d encourage everyone who’s recruiting to write as if you are going to publish it, even if in the end you don’t. It helped me to clarify useful skillset and in turn that helped applicants address specifics alongside their experience. It also drew my attention to the nitty gritty of dates, fees and expectations.
2) Tell us about the process…
We used a google doc format for applications. I know from my own experience and chatting to my mentees that the dreaded cover letter can be off putting, so I broke it down into the following prompts:
- Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
- What’s your relationship with making theatre for young people. If you can’t answer this, tell us about your favourite children’s film or TV programme and why you like it.
- Tell us about one skill that you could bring to this role
- Is there anything specific that you’d like to achieve/ would like to get from this role (if the answer is MONEY we won’t be offended!)
- Anything you’re burning to add? Stick it here..
There was a space to link to a website or online cv which about half the applicants filled in. There was also the option to submit via video but no one did this.
We added a field for access needs and a couple of the responses there were really helpful particularly around how to help neurodiverse candidates with the recruitment process itself – a good reminder to be clear with dates, timescale and next steps.
I found using a Google Form to collect applications really great – it was away from my inbox so I was able to engage with it on my terms, and the same-y-ness of each application helped me to be really objective when I was reading them. There’s also the option to sort by response rather than by individual which made for interesting reading.
We are all agreed that finding out who has got the job from Twitter really sucks, right?.. I wanted to make sure that applicants were kept updated at every step of the process so I emailed them to let them know we’d received their application. (Half in a massive apologetic-that-it’s-a-BCC the night before I went on holiday, the rest individually whilst in a queue for a theme park ride..) I gave a timeline of when we’d let everyone know the outcome of this first round, and on what date meetings would be happening.
After the closing date I emailed everyone individually if they were in the group whose applications weren’t going to be taken any further. It was very gratifying to read the responses to those emails – an Open Hire process is certainly more time consuming than picking a name out of your brain to approach but taking the time to invest and engage with those who’ve applied really is priceless. We had so many lovely feedback emails praising the process and articulating how valued and connected the applicants felt. It made me think about power dynamics in our industry and how easy it can be to address those imbalances just by making time for some basic care and kindness. Maybe if we’d had hundreds of applications it would have been trickier to do individual responses – but then again, if I had some tech support who could help with a database/ mail merge/ email interface it could probably be made very easy.
We shortlisted six candidates who really felt like they answered the job description. Creating the shortlist was really tough – there were so many great options who’d all have brought something very unique to the team, but we looked in particular for:
Movement – this was a key part of the brief and all 6 had articulated their movement experience clearly – even if not from a dance background.
Sensibility for making children’s theatre. Those who understood that it was theatre performed by grown ups for children addressed the brief more directly than those who talked about co-creating theatre with young people.
Desire to be an assistant director. Whilst this will be a collaborative and egalitarian process as much as possible, applications that were pointed towards running and leading the room without mentioning the crucial supporting function of an assistant director were harder to unpack.
The final question (Is there anything specific that you’d like to achieve/ would like to get from this role) helped us to match what we knew we’d be able to deliver with the expectations of those applying. This piece is a revival, we knew we wouldn’t be able to serve the needs of those who wanted to be part of devising something from scratch or working with actor-musicians.
As a general observation, where applicants had been to the website and taken the time to understand what Golden Toad seek to do, answers were more sharply focused.
Preparing to Zoom
I’ve been on the OpenHire journey myself when I applied for the Keyworker’s Cycle at the Almeida and one of the things I appreciated most about that process was having the interview questions sent in advance so that I could prep. We sent the following questions (with thanks to Dani Parr, Tara Wilkinson and Steph Bain at the Almeida as I nicked your formula, legends!)
- Could you tell us about a project that you worked on, which you felt best aligned with your values and how you work effectively?
- Can you tell us a bit more about your experience of movement/ choreography and/ or recreating and reinventing something existing?
- Which other directors or choreographer’s work do you admire? OR – What has been the best production you have seen in the past five years and why?
- When you look back on this project in 10 years time, what do you want to remember it for – how did it contribute to your growth or trajectory as an artist and what happened as a result of you taking part? (As always, paying the rent is as acceptable an answer as any other.)
- What questions do you have for us?
The framework we’d set with questions in advance meant that we could jump straight in to conversation without the awkward small talk at the beginning. It also allowed us to be better interviewers as we were able to really listen rather than be thinking of what to say next. We kept the interviews to a punchy 25 minute length, so we didn’t get fatigued and de energised as the day went on.
Everyone we spoke to was impeccably well prepared and it felt like they were able to load the meeting with the things they wanted us to know about them – as expected, there was a range of approaches to answering the questions which served to make the shortlisted six stand out from one another and gave a real insight to their corners of the industry and how they might plug into the existing team. The meetings were really time effective – a general coffee-and-a-chat meet usually lasts an hour and often I come away from them with only a general sense of someone – but we spoke with six people in three hours – and managed to make the coffee in between!
Any of the six would have been brilliant for the show in different ways and it was an extremely hard decision to make – in the end, we went right back to the original job spec to help us decide who best fitted the brief.
We emailed the others to break the news as gently as possible and offer shadowing opportunities in rehearsal/ introductions to other contacts that we have or aftercare as needed via Zoom or email.
Ironically, although OpenHire is designed to offer an alternative to the recruiting-by-recommendation culture that is so prevalent in our industry, I am often asked for recommendations for assistant directors and now feel that I have a great and really detailed-on-specifics list of people whose name I could bring into a room. It’s been great for me to meet new people (and in the final six, there wasn’t one I knew already) and I’ll be flying the OpenHire flag in the future.
3) Tell Us Who applied?
I’ve never written an equal opportunities form before (and I won’t lie, I cribbed the example one from the Open Hire Website) – it was interesting to break down the data of our applications. We had 35 out of 38 fill in the EO form, and only one who didn’t give permission for their data to be included in this analysis, so I’ve taken that one out before creating the charts here.
I’d be happy to chat more about the process to anyone who is thinking of recruiting via Open Hire – feel free to drop me a line.