Sunday, 2 June 2013

My Application for Artistic Director at the National Theatre.

Dear Nick Starr (Any relation to Ringo?)

My name is Jess Gow and I would like to apply to be Nicholas Hytner’s successor as Artistic Director at the National Theatre. I believe that I am perfect for the role having worked consistently in professional theatre for the past thirteen years as a stage manager. Admittedly I have never directed a play as such (small detail) but I have spent tons of time in rehearsal rooms and reckon I have a pretty good idea of how it’s done. I have also stage managed some proper turkeys so I am also fairly clued up on what not to do.
I am thirty one years of age which may be considered too young but they let Jamie Lloyd direct stuff and he’s seventeen.

So, lets get down to business. Let’s start with programming.

·         I want to start my time at the Nash with a bang; a large scale production of the popular 80’s movie ‘Labyrinth’. David Bowie as Musical Director, David Tennant as the Goblin King and Hayley Atwell will play Sarah (the role made famous by Jennifer Connelly). Whoever designs it has a lot of artistic freedom and does not have to stay completely true to the film but it is only right that, as a mark of respect to Bowie, we ensure that Tennant’s wet look leggings are as eye wateringly tight. (From what I've heard, a codpiece shall not be required).

·         As this shall have a pretty hefty budget, it will be followed by a season of ‘Plays Written For Props’. I will gather a group of playwrights (Simon Stephens, Jonathan Harvey etc) and they will all have two hours in the National Theatre props store. During this time they each select ten props which they can take away with them. Over a decided time scale (three months, six, whatever) they have to write a one act, 90 minute play using only these props. Ideally set in modern day. The plays will then be performed by a cast in rep for four weeks. Tickets shall all be ten quid as we will save a ton on props, set, costumes, pesky designers etc.

·         An avant garde piece called ‘Olivia Colman Reads Harry Styles’ Twitter Feed’. Basically, we get Olivia Colman to read out Harry Styles’ Twitter feed. Again, very low in budget but I have it on good authority from at least seven people that they would be happy to pay money to see this.

·         Once we have saved on the cash we once again put on a snazzy number with high production values. I’m thinking a stage version of ‘Clueless’ written by Richard Bean. Carey Mulligan shall be Cher and Ben Whishaw shall be the step brother. Daft Punk will collaborate with Annie Lennox and update the 90’s soundtrack. We will add in extra matinees to cope with school demand as ‘Emma’ is on the syllabus. You’re welcome.

·         I would just like to take this moment to congratulate you on ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’. It truly was such an inspired and ingenious idea to take a well loved book and turn it into a ground breaking play. With your permission I would like to follow on from this success and commission a writer to take a popular novel and adapt it for the stage. There are so many celebrated books to choose from but I currently have Jilly Cooper’s ‘Riders’ at the top of my list. Plus it's got horses in it. Horses go down well at the National.

·         Similar to the ‘Plays Written For Props’ rep season, I would like to introduce the ‘Plays Written For Actors’ concept. Again, we get a bunch of well loved writers who get to select their own casts. 50% of them will be found during the usual audition route. But the other 50% will be sourced from drama school showcases which the writers will attend. The writers will again have a set amount of time to create the plays for their selected actors. All actors, regardless of experience, will be on the same company wage.

·         Following on from this, I would like the National to stage the complete Falsettoland trilogy. Book by James Lapine and Music and Lyrics by William Finn. Three one hour musicals which are each individual works of genius. Get it on your Ipod, Starr. And get back to me.

·         Theatre Swap. We take a popular yet technically simple play to a very small regional theatre to entertain people who would otherwise not make it to London to see a play at the Lyttleton. In return, the regional theatre’s local youth theatre or amateur dramatic society get to perform their show on the National stage. Many of our finest performers start their careers and discover their talents in pokey little theatres and draughty village halls. It would be nice for a wealthy and prestigious establishment like the NT to give something back to these people and offer a platform to those who might not be able to afford drama schools or university.

·         No Shakespeare for at least five years. We all know how they end plus there are only so many new and funky ‘concepts’ we can explore. Let’s just take a long overdue step away from the Bard and investigate some new or totally unknown writers who still have the ability to surprise and shock. I would rather shit in my hands and clap than sit through yet another ‘updated’ production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

That’s pretty much all I have in my head at the moment in the way of programming but it’s enough to keep me going for a while. Although I do have lots more ideas about how I’m going to run this joint;

·         The introduction of Krispy Kreme Monday. Lots and lots of Krispy Kremes get delivered. Every Monday.

·         Before the start of each rehearsal period, stage management get to pore over a Paperchase catalogue before putting in an order. Obviously there will be a budget for it but not a very tight one. Good stationary makes for a productive rehearsal period. Fact.

·         When casting people, regardless of fame or experience, we take a very close look at references and discuss the actor with their past employers and directors. If they have a history of being unreasonable, unprofessional, rude or just plain nuts, then they will not be offered the privilege of performing on our stage. Because for every obnoxious yet talented ‘name’ that can apparently perform a role, I can show you at least twenty decent, respectful and accomplished actors who will pull off the role just as well and make the building a very pleasant place to work in at the same time. I don’t give a kipper's cock about how many Oliviers they have won or whether or not they are a theatrical ‘legend’. If they are a pain in the over worked arses of my backstage team or have a habit of being excessively dramatic and causing unnecessary agro then they will not be welcome through that Stage Door. As Noel Coward once said ‘We’re putting on a play, not fighting in a bloody war. Why can’t people in the theatre behave like normal human beings?’ In fact, please can we have that framed and screwed to the wall of every single dressing room? Thanks. (I would just like to take a moment to say that I am fully aware that lots of incredibly famous and well known actors are an absolute delight to work with. This post is in no way attacking established artists and neither is it making a sweeping statement that all famous people are difficult to work with. I know that is not the case.)

·         As much as I would like to eliminate upset and frustration by instigating my new casting rules, I understand that this will not entirely eradicate the issue. So for this reason, one room will be turned into a sound proofed and padded room complete with a punchbag and boxing gloves. Anyone from any department can use this room at any point of the day. But only one person at a time to ensure that people just punch the bag. Not each other.

·         For tech week there is also a budget for Haribo, Diet Coke and M & S sandwiches. And sushi.

·         At the end of Tech Week we have counsellors on hand for Post Traumatic Tech Therapy. This is basically Extreme Bitching to an independent party who you know will not repeat it to anybody.

·         I would like to put some money into the development of a new app. This app would mean that the DSM could do a backstage call from anywhere in the building using his/her phone. If people can operate a lighting board from their phone I really can’t see how this is that difficult.

·         An on site crèche. Working in theatre as a parent can be incredibly difficult, especially if your partner does too. So why not have a facility where rehearsing/performing parents can leave their kids and ease up the stress of dropping them off or picking them up after. Broody staff can also pop in for snuggles.

·         For additional financing, take the unwashed sheets used from the beds of Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant etc and sell them on EBay.

·         Portaloos for the people who queue for day tickets early in the morning. The streams of piss around the car park are unedifying.

·         When deciding which plays to programme, invite your Front of House team and Box Office staff to also read the plays and give feedback. Nobody knows your patrons as well as the people selling ice creams and ripping tickets so why not see what they have to say?

·         Additionally, when in the early stage of a show such as workshops and rehearsed readings, why not ask Front of House to audition and get involved. Sometimes the biggest talent in a theatre can be serving gin and tonics at the bar. They just haven’t been discovered yet.

That’s about it really. Some stuff might be a bit new and ‘out there’ but it all seems pretty simple and achievable.

I look forward to hearing from you.




P.S, I get like a crown, right?


Phew! This blog has now been seen by a LOT of people. Have written a little summary of it all here and would love for you to check it out.

Lots of people have now nominated me for Best Lifestyle Blog at the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards. Voting closes tomorrow so I would be delighted if you could click the below link and nominate me too. The shortlist of blogs will be put on the Cosmo website and I would love to bring the stage management profession to the forefront of a major woman's magazine.
Thanks for reading guys. As always, feel free to click 'Share' at the top of the page and put on Faceboor or Twitter. You can also follow me on Twitter (@agirlinthedark) or 'Like' my Facebook page (Girl in the Dark). To tweet the link, the Tiny URL is


  1. Some damn good ideas. If you need a TD, give me a shout.

  2. I'd totally hire you! :) I especially love 'Plays Written for Props', it's brilliant! Also, why hasn't anyone thought to "take the unwashed sheets used from the beds of Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant etc and sell them on EBay"? That would solve all theatre funding problems everywhere...

    1. I love 'Plays Written for Props' too. Reminds me of selecting an assortment of materials from The Art Room Resources (I'm an ex-teacher), presenting them to the pupils, and asking them to produce a masterpiece using only the given materials. Think charcoal, sequins, emulsion, hessian etc.

    2. Although, if I were a Hot British Actor, I'd be more then a little creeped out by that fundraising endeavour... :)

      But seriously, someone should make a "reality" tv show out of 'Plays Written for Props'!

  3. From one ex stage manager. Love it!

  4. Perfect. Flawless. My theatre student brain is in love with everything and my Tech brain is rejoicing. Remote DSMing would be a dream I'm sure. I love this!

  5. Dear Jess,

    I am leaving at the same time at Nick Hytner.

    Much love,

    Nick Starr*

    *not actually Nick Starr

    1. Dear Mr (not really) Starr,

      You're actually leaving over 6 months before Nick Hytner.


      A. Pedant*

      *I really am a pedant. Sorry.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Dear Nick Starr

      I'm not actually applying to be Artistic Director of the National Theatre.


  6. Wonderful. Can you sent amended version to Mr Cameron and ask if these principles can also be applied in government.
    Well done and more please.
    a former NT CSM who still gasps at the amount of money poured down the public drain.

  7. I've voted for you! And, as a young actress, I completely agree with everything you've said in this. Jess for AD of the Nash! x

  8. I'd vote for you.

    Can send you a few plays too ;)

  9. Great read ~ brightened my day: I'd love to be a fly on the wall at your interview for the post!
    Can I work for you when you take that crown?
    Nomination accomplished! :)

  10. I am so up for a large scale production of Labyrinth. As a person with no relevant acting experience or talent whatsoever, I think I would be perfect for consideration for a part (on the basis of the new and inclusive approach you appear to be proposing that the Nash adopts). I am too tall to play Hoggle so I propose I audition for the role of Ludo instead (assisted by the minimal dialogue that this role requires). I have a dog which I would like to put forward for the part of Ambrosius. He is a Pekinese, rather than an old English sheepdog, but I don't think we need be size-ist or hair-ist about these things, do we?

  11. Reposted and Cosmo nominated. You speak strong truth.

  12. Good luck Jess, I would love to see the Labyrinth on stage. :)

  13. Hahaha! You absolute legend. You have my vote 100% xxx

  14. 'kippers cock'

    You said cock...tee hee.

  15. You have no real ideas but hope to hire someone who does and find some in the prop room. Very poor, stick to strange arrangement.

    1. It's just meant to be funny!!

    2. Ha ha haaaaaa! Sorry, I didn't quite catch the last bit. Stick to strange what?

    3. I believe strange arrangement is what we know as stage damagement, Jess.

      PS, fab. I think you actually should have applied for it.

      (Mark Lovell) - can't get the name etc option to work...

  16. Never mind AD, you need to be Executive Director...

  17. This made me laugh out loud, and I also think there are some damn god ideas in there.

  18. Love your ideas. The DSM App is a must have, it could alert you when you've missed the 15 min call and save making out of breath calls as you race all the way to prompt corner from the far end of the building! Sparks always get the gizmos first - nerds.
    J opera DSM in Wales

  19. Oh my god this makes me gasp with recognition and joy. (I'm on lit/artistic staff in a US theatre.)
    You should take your ambitions international. Not that we have childcare figured out here at all either.

  20. You are a genius and made me laugh. I would give you the job.

  21. Been there, done that. I suggested all of the above in one form or another to "Sir" forty years ago. Plus "aging" and "distressing" the concrete, but Oh no, too radical darling.

  22. You do know that one of Jamie Lloyd's first shows was Falsettoland, don't you?

  23. I think you have some amazing ideas.......... I would be more than happy to join your team, im qualified in childcare and would happily run your crèche. ..brilliant idea!! 8

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  25. No Shakespeare? Seriously? Think you will find NT was founded to explore his work just as much as the RSC. Play for Props is nice idea maybe loinked to the Connections project for young people? I would like to see someone out of left field. No Oxbriidge! British Theatre has been dominated by English degree directors. Go back to the roots of NT and get an actor in! My vote is Branagh but equally any established stage actor would do

  26. I'd hire you in a heartbeat. This is the best application for the job I've read yet

  27. Your charming friend PM recommended your blog. I have not been disappointed. Very amusing.

  28. Just want to say to one DSM on tour to another DSM on tour, great blog love reading and knowing that we aren't alone in our thoughts....the portable call system I have prayed for forever why it hasn't been invented yet is truly stupid!

    Think you were behind us (Black Coffee) in Malvern, enjoy!

    Cat Cooper

  29. For your archives... Referenced in Australia!