Behind the Curtain with Ciara Fleming, Resident Assistant Director.



Can you give a brief description of your role as Resident Assistant Director at the Gate Theatre?

As Resident Assistant Director, my role involves working on all the Gate productions across this year. I work closely with the creative teams and of course the directors, helping to achieve their creative vision. As well as working on Gate productions, I also collaborate with the Production and Community Engagement departments on projects such as workshops and developments.

What is your favourite part of the job?

A brilliant thing about this position is that I have the chance to work closely with so many different directors. This has given me an insight into varied ways of working and going from one show directly into another has allowed me to have a dynamic sense of the similarities and differences in their various working styles. I have especially enjoyed observing the way that each director so far this year has curated or adapted their style to fit the material to hand. The New Electric Ballroom, The Price, and Fun Home all sit on very different shelves of the theatrical library, and I have seen each director bring forward their strengths and methods to suit the particulars of the piece at hand. This may seem like a given, but moving quickly from one production to the next has allowed me to observe the specificities of this close at hand, which has been very rewarding.

How have you found collaborating with the other departments at the Gate?

Collaborating with the other departments in the Gate is something which has added to my sense of belonging in this role. In independent theatre or freelancing, we are of course always collaborating with other artists. The cadence of this changes however, when your collaborators are under the same roof as you, every week of the year. This naturally helps the frequency and fluency of collaboration, and I am enjoying being part of a larger team in this sense. In some of my quieter weeks between one production opening and the next beginning rehearsals, I have had the opportunity to collaborate more closely with other departments on ‘their turf’ and got an insight into the way their day-to-day goes. This has resulted in my working on projects or ideas with lots of other departments, from Marketing to Community and Engagement, to Producing and Programming. This breadth of experience is invaluable and is something which can’t happen quite so easily working in the independent sector.

What has your experience been like working on Fun Home so far?

Organised chaos…! The nature of a musical piece is such that there are even more moving parts to this production than usual. This makes for a frenetic, elastic energy to proceedings that is exciting to be a part of. I have really enjoyed working closely with the Junior Company. If you’ve seen Fun Home, you will know that these young actors carry a large share of the show on their shoulders. It’s been a joy working with them on this piece, and it was important to us that the junior members of the company be truly integrated with the adult cast in having their voices heard in the rehearsal process. This has been one of many brilliant aspects of this process, all underpinned by the loveliest cast, crew and creatives going. Everyone working on this piece brought so much heart, talent, and fun to bring the Fun Home to life.  



Have you had a highlight moment during your time working on Fun Home? 

During Fun Home rehearsals, the junior company would join us each day in the afternoon, after their pesky prior commitment (school) finished… In the early weeks, we often separated rehearsals, or gave the adults an earlier finish while the junior cast went to town learning their choreography and music. One such day the adult company were packing up to go home while the junior cast started to run through their number Come To The Fun Home. It hadn’t dawned on me that due to our separate rehearsals the adults hadn’t seen this number progressing the way we had. My eyes went past the junior company singing and dancing their hearts out and landed on all six of the adult cast frozen in the middle of packing their bags, literally open-mouthed. It was both hilarious and truly delightful to watch the six musical theatre legends of the adult cast be genuinely stopped in their tracks by the sheer energy and voice that erupted from our junior company. (Needless to say, the junior cast themselves were oblivious, and stayed focused on the task at hand) This was the first time during rehearsals that I got a glimpse into what audiences might feel when watching the show, and it ignited a spark of excitement about what this version of Fun Home would hopefully grow into.  

How did you prepare before rehearsals started?

As with every show, preparation began with as many thorough readings of the text as possible. For this piece, I also did some further research around the social and political backdrop of the play, to present early in rehearsals. Fun Home moves back and forth between three different time periods, and many specific locations. As such, it is essential for the cast and creatives to have a clear and common understanding of these elements. This type of research is always a great gateway to any text, and I try to focus my thinking on what aspects or avenues will be most helpful to actors in their process. In addition to this, I did lots of practical preparation with other departments, regarding schedule and practicalities. Scheduling rehearsals to include cast, musicians, choreography and junior cast requirements meant an even higher-than-usual level of organisation was required. I collaborated with these various departments in advance of rehearsals beginning, to get a sense of the needs of each department and the best way to integrate them all into the rehearsal period.

What advice would you give someone aspiring to be in your role?

The best advice I could give is twofold; firstly, there is no such thing as bad experience, and secondly to talk to everyone you meet along the way. Having worked in costume design departments, I have experienced every possible role backstage and they have all provided insight and lessons that I’ve used in my directing work. This being said, it’s also essential to speak with people you meet along the way, particularly if you are interested in positions that are different to the ones you’re working in. Most people you meet will be generous and enthusiastic about helping you get to where you want to go, but in order to do so, they have to know where that is.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

There are too many to count, and I am terrible at remembering them verbatim… Most could probably be summarised as some version of ‘don’t be afraid to ask’. So many people have assured me that asking someone for advice or guidance, or to collaborate is rarely the annoyance you think it is, and is most often taken as a compliment, even if they are not in a position to say yes. As many times as you hear this advice, the only way to convince yourself it’s true is to simply put it into practice. Again. And again. And again. Though I’m now a true convert, it would be a lie to say it’s totally banished the anxiety of that ‘Send Email’ moment. In seriousness, I have received so many wonderful nuggets of advice and wisdom from lots of different people across the artistic community. Our willingness to talk, and share thoughts, and build one another up is one of my favourite things about this industry. 

Who is your inspiration?

Barbie. Her commitment to girl power (and to pink) is a constant inspiration. To skewer some seriousness into a soon-to-be-dated reference however, Barbie is a confident multi-hyphenate, which makes her a great role model in my book. I am a real believer that experience in other artforms and avenues is of huge benefit to any artist, but sometimes I need a reminder to lead with this. Who better than Barbie to remind us that having a variety of jobs and experiences can be a superpower!  

What should audiences expect from the Gate’s production of Fun Home?

A family drama that will call to mind the connections we make with the people we love, the stories that make up our family trees, and the power of artistic expression to make sense of it all. This musical has so much to say about acceptance. Of ourselves, of others, and of our personal mythologies. It is easy to see why it has become such an important touchstone within the LGBTQIA+ community as well as with anyone who has ever felt the struggle of not quite ‘fitting in’. I am really looking forward to audiences getting to know this story, through the work of our brilliant cast and creative team.