The inside view of the JMK Leverhulme Bursary at Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Joe Mellor

Ahead of our conversation with new Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman next Wednesday, we asked emerging director Joe Mellor – winner of last year’s JMK Leverhulme Bursary to assist David Thacker on Arthur Miller’s A View From a Bridge at the Bolton Octagon – to write about his experiences as assistant director at the theatre…

As an emerging director, the opportunity to assist such an established and highly regarded director as David Thacker has been incredibly beneficial. The skills that I’ve learned assisting David, combined with the support and opportunities he’s provided, means that this placement through the JMK Trust has improved me as a theatre maker immensely.

In any assistant directing role, there are various tasks which consistently fall to the assistant to conduct. Contextual research, note taking and line learning may not seem the most glamorous of tasks, but they are vitally instrumental in David’s process – anyone who knows how he works will know he’s a stickler for 100% accuracy on lines. Being so instrumental meant that even in the early days, I was heavily relied upon to move from the page to the stage.

Once up on its feet, David used many techniques to ensure complete authenticity and commitment in the conversations happening between characters. Each different technique, with its own pet name (‘circle of trust’ or ‘Mr Truth’ for example) turned the screw tighter and tighter in creating a superbly engaging production. As a director it was great to witness this wealth of techniques and apply them to my own directing toolbox. Not every technique will work in every situation, but that’s why it’s imperative to have a wide selection to use as and when required.

During this period, David’s trust in my abilities was growing and therefore I was given more and more responsibilities. Working with a large (and very talented) student company, I worked with the movement director blocking and rehearsing any scenes they were involved in. With this student company and two of the senior company, I rehearsed and performed a short verbatim extract to be performed at the investigation day. Overall, this process was very hands on.

Having worked on the production ‘A View From the Bridge’, it could be argued that much of the pleasure I found came from having such a great text. However, after being invited back to work on the relatively unknown ‘Hindle Wakes’, I can happily state that David runs a positive, creative and stimulating rehearsal room, no matter what the text is.

Of course David has now stepped aside to welcome Elizabeth Newman as Artistic Director, and I hope everyone in the north west is as excited about this appointment as I am. Focusing on developing emerging artists, Elizabeth has made it very clear that the Octagon wants to help up and coming theatre makers in any way possible, with new posts within the theatre showing how serious she is in delivering this. I hope that I’ll see many of the faces of people I’ve seen making great work on the fringe at her talk on Wednesday, to hear more about the exciting events unfolding. And encourage as many as possible to apply for great schemes such as the one I was on, as it’s been tremendous in developing me as a theatre maker.

Find out more about our JMK In Conversation with Elizabeth Newman at the Octagon Theatre on Wednesday 1st July here.


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