My Way: Indhu Rubasingham, theatre director

'I made props and swept the stage ... I loved it '

Indhu Rubasingham is a theatre director whose productions include The Ramayana at the National Theatre and Yellowman at Hampstead Theatre. She is directing Disconnect by Anupama Chandrasekhar at the Royal Court theatre Upstairs from 17 Feburary to 20 March.

What did you want to be as a child?

A pop star. I wanted to play the synthesiser and sing very well.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

I thought I'd be a lawyer.

How did you first get into theatre?

At 16 I got a work placement through school. I hadn't a clue what I wanted to do but I knew I didn't want to go to a lawyer's office so, as a joke, I put down TV, film or theatre. I knew that, being in Nottingham, there wouldn't be anything, so I was really surprised when I got a placement at the Nottingham Playhouse. I made props, buttered sandwiches and swept the stage and I loved it.

Why?

It was the magic of it. I would come out of the theatre at 5pm and watch everyone leave their offices in suits and they looked so robotic, whereas in the theatre things felt more alive.

You took a degree in drama at Hull University. Was it worth it?

Absolutely. It allowed me to discover directing, which I'd never thought about. I wasn't literate in drama, I'd never gone to plays with my parents or anything like that, but as a student I directed my first play, which was selected for a festival and won an award. That was the moment I thought, oh, I've found my niche, this is what I want to do.

How did you work your way up?

I moved to London to do a postgraduate course at drama school. I left after a term when I got a bursary from the Arts Council to be assistant director at the Theatre Royal at Stratford East. I sound determined now, but I had no plan then. Getting the bursary was my big break. I worked on panto and became assistant to Mike Leigh. It was an incredible training. They offered me my first production and eventually I stopped worrying so much about my next gig and more about what projects I wanted to do.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Some days I do, some days I don't.

What's the best decision you've made?

Being bullied into directing The Ramayana at Birmingham Rep.

What are your audition tips?

Be prepared, come having read the script, have an understanding and an opinion about the play. Be yourself, don't try to be something you're not or try too hard because that makes people uncomfortable. I want to recruit someone I would like to work with for four weeks.

Who are your heroes?

My parents – they gave me the confidence and security to follow an unstable and unpredictable career.

How do I get to be where you are?

The industry has really changed and it's become harder and harder with fewer bursaries and public funding. So, write letters, ask for meetings, badger people - but don't make a nuisance of yourself.

What's the best perk of your job?

The travel. I do a lot of international work through the Royal Court Theatre and instead of travelling as a tourist I get the opportunity to investigate other cultures, like Cuba.

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