Monday, 12 June 2017 14:37

DSL Directing - A Decade On


lifschutz sophieWritten by Sophie Lifschutz

Professional Director and DSL faculty member


I graduated from Drama Studio London (DSL) back in 2007. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I feel both exactly the same and also light years away from that over-eager, neurotic directing student of yore.

I found my way to DSL via a fairly traditional route: I desperately wanted to act as a child and patiently did my time in school plays in such key roles as a servant, a waiter, etc. In higher education (Drama & German at Bristol University) a chance encounter with a Dario Fo farce revealed to me that I was not in fact an actor but a director. After directing a few university productions, I applied to DSL on the postgraduate directing course and was delighted to be offered a place.

There followed a very challenging, exciting year. I was the only director in a sea of actors. 59 of them to be exact. And one of me. So, in addition to my own classes in stagecraft, text analysis, etc, I got to sit in on a lot of their training, including voice, rehearsals for scene studies and some memorably bonkers improv classes. I assisted on the famous DSL panto, attempting to keep track of sausages, tiaras, etc as we squeezed the actors into our minivan and let them loose on local Ealing primary schools.

The things I learnt ranged from the very specific craft of directing to the psychological. Thanks to Crispin, I now have a tangible framework of where to put actors on any stage configuration that I still use to this day. I vividly remember him using the volunteer student actors as moveable props on the stage: “you see! A triangle!” He would say triumphantly as the three students looked on in mute bewilderment. I did see. It wasn’t always easy. There was one excruciating one-on-one text session with Pickles where I had inexplicably not done the homework: nowhere to hide as the only directing student. I found those Stanislavski sessions incredibly useful. Being observed and corrected by Pickles in the rehearsal room was both traumatic and probably the most insightful lesson any director can have.

The course was incredibly practical. It mirrored the actors’ and I worked my way up from directing a monologue via a single scene to a one Act and then a full-length play. I gradually grew in confidence as the year progressed. I found my directing sea legs and we ended up taking my production of James Saunders’ RETREAT to the Edinburgh Festival where it won a FringeReview Award. There followed 5 happy years of directing Off-West End and on the London Fringe. After a verbatim play I directed in a tiny pub theatre transferred to the Tricycle, the National Theatre became interested in my work and I did their NT Studio course, followed by several years of staff directing at the NT, and at places like Shakespeare’s Globe, Chichester Festival Theatre and on tour in the UK and beyond.

On a whim, I applied for the BBC’s multi-camera directing course and ended up doing some very intensive training with 2 fellow theatre directors and one 1st AD. We all walked away one month later with the offer of directing a block of Eastenders, which we white-knuckled our way through. 40 episodes later (and a few of Doctors), it’s been a deeply satisfying, life-changing career move. I still direct theatre, and I’ve found that the naturalism of TV has pushed my theatre tastes more towards writing, devising and creating work from scratch.

I count my DSL friends as amongst my very best. I have hired and re-hired countless former students. Over the years, we have meshed into one happy family, with marriages, relationships, collaborations and businesses all coming from that intense time together. As an adult, I have found my way back to Ealing via my husband who works in Ealing Studios and it feels comforting to have my alma mater just around the corner.

For more information about my work, please see my website and my blog which has some thoughts on how to build an acting career: www.sophielifschutz.com/blog