Kate Saxon is a BAFTA winning freelance director of theatre, television and video games. She has directed projects ranging from The History Boys and The French Lieutenant’s Woman in theatre, Eastenders on television and Fable III and Alien: Isolation in the games world. We catch up with her to discover what her job is really like and what advice she would give someone keen to follow in her footsteps.
Describe how you became a director, was it something you always wanted to do?
No it wasn’t: I started as an actor first. As a teenager, I acted professionally with the Royal Shakespeare Company and then I went to university and drama school. All through that period, I thought I was an actor, then I carried on acting professionally until my late twenties, however, deep down, I didn’t really feel it was for me.
I like to have an overview of the whole picture and when I was in rehearsals, I found myself wanting to stay for the production meeting, talk to the designer, or I wanted to talk to the writer about the scene we had just rehearsed. I realised that my mind was not focussed on the art of an actor: I wasn’t really interested enough in interrogating that craft myself. During this time, I started directing youth theatre and community theatre to support my acting. I realised I was enjoying that more than acting so I took a circuitous route via community directing, and in a couple of years I was directing professional theatre at the age of 29. Over the years, I began working in performance capture and voice for games as well, and then also in television, so now I juggle all three disciplines.
What does your typical day look like?
It is not regular at all. I work freelance, so it will really vary, if it is a theatre project I am working on, I will span a couple of months in pre production, maybe more. I will then work with the writer if it is a new play or perhaps spend time editing if it is an old play. The next step is to pull the creative team together; designer, composer and so forth, and work with them; then cast it, and then finally direct the rehearsals through to opening night.
With television, there is time set aside for aspects like finalising the script with the script team and casting but then there are also camera plans to devise. Working on camera is new for me: I only started to direct television a couple of years ago, but I started directing performance capture and voice for games over ten years ago. Theatre really is where my heart lies because that is where it all began, however, at the moment I am enjoying new discoveries. I think if you are in creative work, you tend to thrive on new ideas and collaborating with different people so, for me, it is really exciting learning new forms.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
I think probably the theatre production of John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman that I worked on. Playwright, Mark Healy wrote an adaptation of the book whilst John Fowles was still alive. Fowles had never let anyone adapt it for the stage before so we worked quite closely with him throughout the production process. The play was developed by a company in America so we workshopped it in New York with actors over there. The first production was in the States and then we did a second production of it which toured over here in the UK. It was very exciting to create something new out of a brilliant classic text and the reception was really good which is why we were able to bring it to the UK.
Do you have a favourite production that you have worked on?
Well, The French Lieutenant’s Woman would be an obvious choice, but there are lots to be honest. I directed a Tom Stoppard play for the first time a couple of years ago called The Real Thing and that was brilliant because he is such an erudite, clever writer. But, there is also the work on directing games: Fable III for example,was immensely fun and had a huge starring cast. I worked alongside a golden wishlist of actors for months and months on end, directing their performances: my baddie was Michael Fassbender, my butler, John Cleese, Simon Pegg was the revolutionary… the list goes on!
Photo: The Public Reviews
How did you end up in Walthamstow?
When I first came to London after university, I lived in Stoke Newington and rented there. I got to know Walthamstow because it was close and then I became one of those people who couldn’t afford to buy in Stokey and ended up having to buy in Walthamstow, but that is a long time ago now. I have been living in Walthamstow for 14 years now and I love it. When I bought in Walthamstow, I didn’t expect to stay this long, but it has just been lovely. My street is really friendly, we have street parties a couple of times a year, everyone chats to each other which I really like and it is such a diverse community with lots of hidden gems.
Are there any things about your job that frustrate you?
It can be hard at times to get all your projects lined up. I might pitch a project to someone and they’ll say, “Yeah, maybe” and wait a while and then they may come back to me offering a different project – so the one I pitched still doesn’t happen but I’m doing something else. There are always those kinds of compromises which can be frustrating, but for me it’s an acceptable compromise you get from working freelance. I wouldn’t want to give up my freelancers freedom.
If you could do anything else for one day, what would it be?
A pilot probably, I would fly.
What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?
I wish I had realised younger, what it is I wanted to do, because a lot of bursaries for directors are age dependent. You had to be under age 25/30 or something along those lines and I was too old by the time I realised that directing was what I really wanted to do. This meant I couldn’t work my way through the trendy London theatres on bursaries or apply for trainee assistant jobs because I was too old. So, I think if you are a young person out of university and driven to become a director, then get to know what opportunities are out there and jump on the bandwagon quickly.
I would also say that there is no definite route, many directors get there by creating their own work – putting it on at fringe theatres and growing that work. I thought I would never be able to work in television because I had no television experience, but then eventually I got onto a BBC directors course and they trained me to direct Eastenders. I’ve now directed other tv programmes too. So keep looking and keep diversifying.
To keep up to date with Kate Saxon’s latest projects, follow her on Twitter @SaxonKate
Featured Image: Darren Bell
Words: Grace Molan