Directors Lab: Melbourne
May 2016 - Nov 2017
Established in 1980, Theatre Works is a not-for-profit organisation, passionately committed to supporting artists to achieve their creative ambitions.
Directors Lab: Melbourne was founded by Theatre Works Creative Producer Daniel Clarke (2011-2016) and inspired by the Lincoln Center (New York) model, established in 1995. Held over nine days, the Lab program includes workshops, lectures, performance and rigorous debate about the process of theatre-making.
The Lab grew from the need of practising directors to participate in a professional development program in Australia. Within Australia, the opportunity for directors to continue learning and developing their practice beyond formal training and outside of the rehearsal room is limited. Directors Lab: Melbourne provides a place for directors to expand their skills, exchange ideas, and investigate their practice, without the expectation of delivering a ‘finished’ product.
In the past, many Australian directors have had to travel overseas to participate in Directors Labs at the Lincoln Center, and in Chicago, as well as The Young Vic Directors Program in London. In fact, The Ian Potter Cultural Trust has supported many directors to undertake such travel through its grants for emerging artists.
The Directors' Lab: Melbourne was modelled on the Lincoln Centre Theater Directors Lab and Theatre Works was able to bring the creator of the Lincoln Center Directors' Lab Anne Cattaneo out to Australia to participate in the inaugural Melbourne program.
Now approaching its third year, Directors Lab: Melbourne has engaged over 80 directors from across Australia, NZ, US, UK, Ireland and Spain. Acclaimed guest directors have included Peter Sellars (US), Moisés Kaufman (US) and Robert Lepage (Canada), Enrique Vargas of Teatro de Los Sentidos (Spain) and Gob Squad (Germany).
Key goals for Directors Lab: Melbourne are investing in the vitality of the Australian theatre industry and developing Australia's international reputation as outstanding theatre makers.
Key measurements for success include increased Lab attendance, including participants from within Australia as well as overseas. Over the last two years, participants have come from across Australia (including regional areas) and internationally including New Zealand, US, UK, Ireland and Spain.
Over 85% of participants’ expectations were fulfilled with the program, with directors often regarding it as ‘life-changing’. In 2016, participants of the 2015 Lab returned as guest directors and industry specialists. Lab participants have also since presented skill-sharing sessions within their own artistic communities and cities.
Applications for Directors Lab: Melbourne open in June each year. A maximum of 40 practising theatre directors are selected to participate. The Lab is free to participating directors and travel bursaries are provided for regional, interstate and international directors to enable them to attend.
Participating directors are also invited to facilitate their own workshop based on their unique skills/ interest as a theatre director. They attend a curated series of workshops and lectures from some of the most exciting contemporary theatre makers in Australia and the world, including those associated with Melbourne Festival. They also attend up to eight Melbourne Festival productions and discuss these in break-out sessions facilitated by industry specialists. The level of intensity plays a key role in moving directors outside of their comfort zones.
The Lab is managed by a dedicated Program Manager and Theatre Works' Creative Director, along with the Artistic Sub-committee and members of Theatre Works Board of Directors.
The Lab has a ripple effect across the entire industry, allowing participating directors to forge new relationships with each other, guest directors and other artists. In addition to the directors, over 30 artists from a broad range of disciplines – including acting, physical theatre, dance, puppetry, design –take part in the Lab as guest artists during the workshop component.
The feedback is consistently excellent. While directors find the program challenging, they leave with a sense of community that remains connected long after the Lab.
‘I have got five shows buzzing around in my head, three more styles, a potential five more collaborators, people I can turn to [to] talk about stuff. There's four or five directors here that I've just clicked with and I go, let's chat, let’s keep each other above water. It's a very lonely job and what we've found is a tribe again.’ - Participating Director
Directors Lab: Melbourne has become recognised as an outstanding professional development program for theatre directors in Australia.
Future plans include developing a diversified fundraising model by engaging Theatre Works donors, philanthropic and corporate partners. Theatre Works is also exploring a potential new partnership with Playwriting Australia.
Next steps include working with an external research agency to conduct a performing arts industry survey. The survey will assess perception changes of Australia's theatre sector strength as a result of the Lab. It will also assist in determining the shape of the Lab going forward.
Kate Hancock, General Manager, Theatre Works
The Foundation was delighted to support this innovative project, bringing the Directors' Lab to Australia. Professional development for artists is a particular interest of our Arts Program, and Theatre Works put forward an excellent proposal which elaborated on the expected benefits for Lab participants and for the Australian performing arts sector in the long term. The results of the first and second Directors' Labs have been outstanding, and Theatre Works have been great collaborators and communicators throughout the project. We are optimistic that this project will continue to find financial and industry support, and the ripple effects from each Directors' Lab will be felt for years to come.
Louise Arkles, Arts Program Manager, The Ian Potter Foundation