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Director’s Diary

Jonathan Kaufman 23 May 2019

Assistant-directing someone else’s project today! My playwright sister Lucy runs a writing class in Barking (see our Postcards event next month!) and she’s directing 6 short plays on the theme of The Activists at Barking Broadway Theatre today (show this evening at 7.30pm if you want to get along).

I’m off to help direct, and it should be a very rewarding day. Performed script in hand, the actors don’t have to learn the lines, and with a very short rehearsal period (about 90 mins on each 10 min play if we’re lucky) it’s mostly about unlocking the playwright’s intention, making some character choices and quickly blocking the piece (that’s deciding where the actors move) so as to give the play some dynamic movement.

It’s always fun doing ‘scratch nights’ like these, as you get a fantastically partisan audience – with the writers all bringing their friends and family – and the actors love playing a variety of characters over a short period. Anyway, must get going. Some short plays to stage!

Jonathan Kaufman 23 May 2019

(top centre with SAFE cast)

So here I am once more handing over directorial duties to someone else – this time, the fantastic Monique Moulton, who is directing and facilitating the SAFE theatre project with our brilliant cast of young actors – and once more I’m experiencing that very strange experience, for a director, of ‘letting go.’

This last happened for me on Anansi the Spider, when directing duties were taken up by the multi-talented Hjalmar Nordén, rapidly becoming a permanent fixture at Sydenham Centre with 11 shows with Spontaneous Productions now under his belt.


I’m sure Hjal will agree that it took me a little while to get used to having someone else make the decisions in the rehearsal room, though I quickly realised that I had no need to worry, and the show was in very good hands.

It’s something all director/producers must go through – the necessity of stepping away sometimes and leaving others to take control – but it was a very new experience for me, and took some getting used to. Now, of course, I’m getting to quite enjoy taking on producing / co-ordinating duties and leaving Monique to work with the actors – she’s going to do a brilliant job I know! But to anyone out there readying themselves to hand over creative duties, make sure you’re prepared for feeling a little spare, at least to start with!

Jonathan Kaufman 21 May 2019

Planning…the bane of all event organisers’ lives! Sometimes it seems like most of my job consists of planning for the next show (my brother Julian calls it ‘show creep’), while very often completely failing to enjoy what’s currently happening. Oh well!

Jules Verne - Around the World in 80 DaysAt the moment, I’m even thinking ahead to 2020 and spent yesterday drawing up a whole 12-month schedule. Of course, thinking this far ahead means we’ll be able to start teasing our upcoming events much sooner than usual, so what can you look forward to next year? A new play about Ernest Shackleton’s doomed Antarctic voyage perhaps? An open-air version of Around the World in 80 Days at the Horniman Museum? A 20th anniversary revival of my play about the victims of Jack the Ripper? And lots of exciting new shows for families of course.

I’m even thinking of breaking that old rule of theatre – never work with children and animals – and staging a version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (or Sydenham?) with a supporting cast of child actors, so watch this space for details of how your little one can take part!

Now, on with that planning…

Jonathan Kaufman 19 May 2019

A show’s ending always brings mixed feelings. As our triumphant run of Eye of Day: The Mata Hari Story drew to a close last night, I felt both proud and sad to see the show come to an end. Without doubt, we had some of the very best feedback on the show from audiences – with many personally telling me it was the show they had enjoyed most at Sydenham Centre so far.

We will puzzle over why we didn’t quite get the audience numbers the show deserved for a while, though – was she perhaps too unsympathetic a character for a South London audience to care about? Was the image of a scantily-clad young Mata Hari on the flyer and poster just not PC enough in this post #MeToo era? Has the Brexit-effect made people too cautious to spend their money on theatre tickets? Perhaps we’ll never know!

But theatre by its very nature is ephemeral – which is what makes it a wonderful medium of course, and a metaphor for life perhaps? – so already I’m thinking about the next show, and the ones after that too… But we do hope we’ve thoroughly entertained – and educated a little – those who came to see the show.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle aka Mata Hari – I hope we did you proud?

Jonathan Kaufman 17 May 2019

Having said a couple of days ago how good directing is mostly good casting, I have spent most of this morning seeking actors for our knife crime theatre project SAFE.

Only having just secured our funding – and finally have a script we can use – this has been a rather last-minute affair, and so with limited time for auditions, I find myself scouring Mandy.com (formerly Casting Call Pro) for showreels of suitable actors.

The showreel – ah what a joy this particular technology has proven to be! – in the old days, you had very little to go on except a list of credits and maybe some review quotes from the Leaming Spa Gazette. Now, every actor worth their salt has a short video sequence showcasing their skills. They’re great fun to watch, especially the extracts from low-budget horror films, and give you a good idea of whether  a candidate can actually act or not.

Hopefully, we’ll have our cast together in a few days’ time. For now, imagine me square-eyed, watching showreel after showreel, looking for the next Idris Elba…

Jonathan Kaufman 16 May 2019

Had a brilliant session working with some young writers at Lewisham College for our forthcoming SAFE theatre project.

We’re getting young people to tell stories about knife crime and gang culture – with a positive spin! – and we came up with a great story using the ‘Sliding Doors’ device – imagining two storylines flowing from a split-second decision.

Can’t wait to get started with rehearsals next week and bring these young people’s ideas to the stage! It reminds me of why I became a director and producer in the first place, nurturing and encouraging new talent.

Thanks to Collet Hunter of James Ross Hunter Youth Support for collaborating on this amazing event, and to Lewisham Council for a grant to make it possible.

Jonathan Kaufman 14 May 2019

It’s Tuesday, and a very productive meeting at Sydenham’s best-kept secret – On the Hoof Bistro – with my web manager and admin assistant has generated all sorts of good ideas! Not least the suggestion that I keep a Director’s Diary.

As I’m very used to giving actors ‘notes’, here are a few notes to self on what makes a good theatre director and producer:

  • Keep your head while all those about you are losing theirs (not as easy as it sounds!)
  • Like Francois Truffaut in Day for Night, the director’s job mainly consists of answering lots of questions. The trick is to sound like you know the answers!
  • Directing is largely good casting. Get the right people and directing becomes a piece of cake!

Now, where is that cake?