Job of the week: Movement director
The movement and theatre director Simon Pittman on choreographing an all-female eight-hander and what you need to get ahead in performing arts…
Full name/age/job title:
Simon Pittman, 31, Movement Director & Theatre Director
Please give us an overview of your average day
I’m currently working on Out of The Cage, opening at the Park Theatre this month. The play is an eight-hander about the women munitions workers in World War I. Today I sat in on scene rehearsals, we generated choreographic material using industrial tools, spent some time finding a way to create a sequence about a character suffocating in toxic fumes, and staged a song.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
There is an outdated misconception that a movement director spends rehearsals teaching moves to actors, drilling counts in dance calls, and creating set pieces. Or that movement direction is the same a choreographing dance. Although I do choreograph, good movement direction is about helping to tell stories in richer and more engaging ways.
The worst way to work with a movement director is to ask them to come in and problem solve a few specific moments you want to insert into a piece. This rarely works. I’ve found that the best collaborations with directors and performers are more porous and continuous.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
The process of creating movement and choreography takes time. You don’t always have full ownership of the material until it comes together in the final week.
Or maybe it’s starting the Monday morning warm-up on week three of rehearsals when your whole body aches and refuses to move!
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you start out achieving it?
My Dad was a musician and music has always been important to me. In my teens I wanted to act. There were a few shows I saw that just blew my mind when I was younger; Complicité’s Mnemonic or Strange Fish by DV8 Physical Theatre. I think these experiences stretched my understanding of what theatre could be and made me decide I didn’t just want to act, but become a theatre-maker.
I decided to train as a director on the Birkbeck Theatre Directing MFA. I devised shows and took them to Edinburgh with Rough Fiction. I wrote 40 letters a month to people I admired or to people who made shows that amazed me. I invited lots of people to plays I directed even though most people couldn’t make it. It just so happened my first job was working with Steven Hoggett for The National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly. Since then I have found myself working as a movement director more and more.
What can you do to get a head start?
Don’t be afraid to ask. Knock on doors. See as much work as you can. Seek out people and work that inspires you. Ask for coffee, advice, support. Everyone was in your position at one point or another.
Get your work on and get people to see it. DIY. Invite people and don’t worry if they don’t respond or turn up. More often than not they are listening but just very busy. Keep your letters concise.
Be yourself and don’t be in a rush. It’s not about selling yourself. Focus on what you are making and why you are making it, rather than chasing success or a certain position in your career. If you make great work, strong relationships and are generous to people you work with, more of the same will follow.
Be open to opportunities, and don’t just look in one direction. I was seeking directing work and was offered an assistant movement directing job – that job has lead to more directing work than anything else.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
In Out of the Cage rehearsals the focus has been about finding a movement language that serves the content of the play – “making the play more itself” if that makes sense.
It’s also about understanding what a writer or director has in their head and maybe even give them something even better.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
Don’t take the word “no” personally. And remember there will be far more jobs you don’t get than ones you do.
Know why you are taking a job. An agent once said to me “keep your career and your art separate. In time they will join up”. It’s fine to work on something to learn from someone, or to experience larger scale work for example.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
IdeasTap is a great resource. Obviously.
Check out the Young Vic Directors scheme if you are looking at directing and theatre making.
The House network of regional theatres is a great connection – opportunities for funding, events and support.
ITC give great advice on setting up a company and realising work.
Arts Council England provide a range of advice and funding opportunities that are accessible with some good advice on applying from people who have already done so.
There are some amazing theatre research groups, blogs and organisations such as TaPRA that are worth seeking out. Academia shouldn’t be dismissed as stuffy or ‘off the pulse’. There is some amazing work and some amazing opportunities to be found to develop craft and work within universities.
Birkbeck University have also developed an excellent list of affordable rehearsal spaces in London.