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Monday, 9 February 2015

The RSC Key interviewed Alexander Lass, the Assistant Director of the five star production Oppenheimer, with some questions asked by our RSC Key members. Oppenheimer is playing in the Swan Theatre until 7 March with BP £5 tickets still available. 

What do you enjoy most about being an Assistant Director?Collaborating with the Director I’m assisting, supporting and getting to know talented actors, fulfilling specific responsibilities such as rehearsing the younger actors in an ensemble  - those are some of the potential highlights of the role. On this production, I particularly enjoyed running lines with leading actor John Heffernan who plays Oppenheimer. One afternoon in the RSC's Clapham rehearsal rooms, we went through the entire play, with John as Oppie and me reading all the other parts: quite a marathon. I have also had a whale of a time casting and rehearsing the understudies, a key part of being and Assistant Director here at the RSC. We're looking forward to presenting our work to an audience at the upcoming public understudy run.

What’s the most important role as an Assistant Director in a production?
An Assistant Director needs to adapt to the particular requirements of each production on which he or she works. So the role will vary depending on the Director and the demands of the show. It can involve helping with casting, taking parallel rehearsals, supporting individual actors, being a sounding-board for ideas in and out of the rehearsal room, communicating regularly with other creative and technical departments, attending production meetings, watching performances and feeding back to the director. Assistant Directors often need to tone down their more creative impulses in favour of the logistical, administrative, and strategic. Crucially, an Assistant Director should be a positive presence at all times, displaying a willingness to participate while remaining patient and good-humoured at all times. They should be everywhere and nowhere; prepared for anything but relatively invisible. The ability to make a good brew should not be underestimated, either.

How does one apply for Assistant Director Jobs? Where do you look to find them?
The best place is the Young Vic directors’ network. It is free to join, and they send out regular emails about assisting opportunities, at the Young Vic itself, and at theatres all over the country. It is also good practice to regularly visit the websites of theatres where you might like to assist: Assistant Director Vacancies are often posted on the individual theatre's website, but not widely disseminated elsewhere. Writing speculative letters to theatres and directors is not particularly productive in my experience. That said it was fun to get an email from Sir Richard Eyre a few months ago, even if it was to politely decline my offer to assist him on an upcoming project.

How did you start getting into directing what was the process to get to where you are today?
I've loved theatre since I was a kid, starting off as an actor at school and university, and with the National Youth Theatre in the holidays. I tried out directing at school and really enjoyed it - my production of Dealer’s Choice won a prize adjudicated by Phyllida Lloyd. Then at university I acted in a bunch of plays and began to realise I loved discovering plays through rehearsal was what excited me the most about making theatre. I directed two plays - The Relapse and Donkey’s Years - and wanted to keep going so I applied to drama school. I was offered a place at LAMDA, and had an inspiring year on the directing course under the tutelage of Stephen Jameson. Towards the end of the course, we came up to the RSC here in Stratford for a weekend of workshops on rhetoric, text, voice, movement, and music. We were also invited to keep the company informed about our work if we were interest in being considered for assistant director opportunities in the future. After LAMDA, I was a trainee director at the Orange Tree Theatre in Sam Walter’s penultimate year. I learned about the joys of making theatre in-the-round by assisting a variety of directors, and I got involved in all departments of the building including education, literary, and youth theatre. The year culminated in a festival of new plays - unrivalled landscape - which I co-directed and developed with the Orange Tree’s Writers Group. Next, I was associate director on Threeway and Holes for the invisible dot ltd at the Edinburgh Fringe. I spent the first part of last year in New York City (my mother is American and I am a UK/US dual national) assisting Davis McCallum on London Wall for the Mint Theater, a production which was nominated for a Drama Desk and a Lucile Lortel award. It was also broadcast on American television as the inaugural “theatre close-up” programme for PBS. I returned from New York to be Associate Director on the London revival of Holes at the Arcola Theatre tent, and during the run I commissioned, developed, cast and directed Scenes on the Sand, six new one act plays presented at three late night performances on the Holes set. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to interview for the upcoming round of Assistant Director positions at the RSC, and after meeting with Angus Jackson, was asked to be his assistant on Oppenheimer.

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