Features Q&A and Interviews Published 26 February 2011

Caroline Steinbeis

On practicalities, abstractions and directing Fatherland.

Tom Wicker

TW: Did you always want to be a director? Or was there ever a crossroads?

CS: Originally I wanted to be a lighting designer. I also acted, but I was awful! No, [directing] was always what I was most passionate about of everything I tried within the remit of theatre I was exposed to. It’s something I enjoy a huge amount. It can be as much a burden as a joy to do this job because it’s really exposing, tough and it can be hard. But for all of those things, the benefits, like working with the people I get to work with, are phenomenal. And I really enjoy seeing how a production comes together; particularly with something like Fatherland and what Max and Simon have made in only an hour’s worth of theatre. If you compare the first and last scenes, it’s amazing.

TW: Aside from winning the JMK Award in 2009, what do you view as the main turning points in your career so far?

CS: The support from specific buildings in London has been hugely important – the National Theatre, the Studio and also the Young Vic. And finding the dialogue with specific practitioners who I value a great deal has been really helpful for me because they’ve been willing to give me their time, answer my questions and provide me with feedback. That’s been immensely gratifying…. and the Paines Plough [touring theatre company] and assisting Roxanna Silbert was a great time. There have been various different things but gradually you realise that the work is becoming more and more important to you and clearer as you make it. Obviously that’s more difficult with a play like Fatherland, which is so complex, but I feel, myself, that the work we did on it, it was a really good process.  I think there are always different bench marks when you look back.

Photo: Robert Workman

TW: Does the idea of being an artistic director attached to a particular theatre appeal?

CS: I really like freelancing – it’s very freeing! When there’s work to do, at least. I enjoy the freedom that comes with it. I wouldn’t rule out being attached to a building later, but I don’t think it comes as naturally to me as it does to others. I think programming’s a very difficult job, actually. The figures don’t scare me so much because I used to produce as well [as direct], so I have an understanding of the economics of plays, but I’m really happy with what I’m doing right now.

TW: Do you think being able to hold your nerve is the key to being a freelance director?

CS: Definitely [laughs]. Every day I probably waver, but that just comes with the territory. Some people are really good at not letting it affect them, whereas others are more vulnerable. I’d say I’m probably more vulnerable because I take what I do so seriously. It means a lot to me. By that I don’t mean I take myself too seriously (I hope) – just the work! So, yeah, there are times when you have to knuckle down and accept the dry stretches when the work isn’t as fun as it could be and you’re working with difficult people. But I can’t think of anything I’d give it up for.

TW: On a first night, sitting in the front row, do you ever feel as though everybody’s looking at you on stage in some way?

CS: Press night is much worse for those moments because that’s when you don’t have anything to fall back on. Previews are easier in that respect, they’re more forgiving.


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Tom Wicker

Tom is a freelance writer and editor, based in London. He has acted in the past, but the stage is undoubtedly better off without him on it. As well as regularly contributing to Exeunt and OffWestEnd.com, he reviews for Time Out, has reviewed Broadway productions for The Telegraph. He has also written for The Guardian and the online world affairs magazine openDemocracy.

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