Clare Packham: Director

Clare Packham is a third year Theatre student. Sitting down in the kitchen with a mug of tea, we had a cosy chat about everything from plays about elderly escorts to women in comedy. A ruler straight iconic fringe and Lisa Simpson earrings I feel epitomise Clare, however do not do her inspiring determination, wit and intelligent creativity justice.

Clare calls herself a director, but is really multi talented as a performer as well. She would opt for the word 'theatre maker' but believes people would call her, and I quote, a 'wanker'.   An active participation in Bristol theatre scene, both inside and out, as well as her hometown has seen Clare's success blossom. I have no doubt in her success in the future. 


Hi Clare. Thanks for doing this for me!

C: Anytime!

I'm doing a few articles on creators in Bristol, and my first thought was indeed, Clare Packham. So can you introduce yourself a bit? 

C: I'm Clare, you know that. At the moment I'm working at the Tobacco factory. I'm assistant director for something called Young Theatre Makers Perform. They do it across the year across with different age groups for 13-18 year olds. It has a full professional team, including me, even though I look like a 13-18 year old. The play is called Navajos. It's about pre-war Nazi Germany rebellion groups. Big Extinction Rebellion Vibes. The play is timeless, but also rooted in pre-war Nazi Germany. It's with Jay Crutchley, (regional directors scheme) he's doing his with Tobacco Factory. 

Have you always done this? Or is it a pre-uni passion?

C: Yes. I can trace it back to primary school. I was a very shy child,. But, I had a camera. Well, my parents had a camera. A very shit one, but a camera none the less. My way of becoming popular, I didn't achieve this, but my way of making friends was making them films for their birthday. So we made a feature length film about a Build- A- Bear named Tommy. In the first few minutes of the film Tommy is murdered. This girl is cradling this bear crying 'Tommy! Why do you have to be so dead!'. If you look at the raw footage you can hear me directing behind the camera. It's kind of hilarious. Also videos of me doing stand up in the garden. It's not when I realised I wanted to do it, but it's where it started.

When did you realise you wanted to do it? 

C: In 6th form I think. End of secondary school I was like I want to be a playwright but didn't write anything! I had loads of ideas. Most of them about elderly escorts for some reason. I have a very well fleshed out idea about an elderly escort play that I will never write. Or I might write. 

What a shame for the world. 

C: I know, I really wanted to do that. I thought I would be this amazing playwright. I was watching Robert Icke’s Oresteia.He writes most of the stuff he does, whether it's a classic or a new play. There was me being like I want to be a writer, what I learnt from this play that I’m not so interested in writing decisions but directing decisions. In sixth form I created lots of performance opportunities. For myself. I was like I'm not a great actor and not going to get cast in anything so I'm going to put on things instead. So I put on a showcase. There's a charity called Act for Change, it's about diversifying the arts, about continuing the conversation about who should play what and where opportunities lie. We supported them. It was basically me ripping off the miscast cabaret, but with scenes. 

I was in lots of orchestras. My conductor was on this board for Horsham arts. He asked if I wanted to do a play for Horsham festival. I did The Tempest in a nature garden. It was a natural amphitheatre. Well, it was a wooden stage and some grass that was raked. That was the first thing I really did, then I came to Uni. 

Obviously you've had lots of experience. Do you think at University there's more agency to do things like that? How different do you think it is. 

C: It is different. I realised this is what you make of it, it’s a training ground. I can make loads of mistakes here, and no one is going to care in 5 minutes. Live in your mistakes and take risks. You also meet so many talented people who will become your favourite collaborators.

In terms having this agency at university, where in the real world there's this big disparity in genders in terms of directing, do you think that will change you as you advance in your career?

C: I think it will both help and hinder me. At the moment there are quite a few schemes and things to help disadvantaged people. I wouldn't call myself disadvantaged. I'm not working class, I'm not a person of colour ect. But I am a woman. I think things are changing in that there are loads of female directors, but it's about where their work is being put on. There are lots of entry level female directors, but Rufus Norris is still the artistic director of the National Theatre. If you think about how many artistic directors are women that's where the difference is. In Uni 60-70% are women. It's about how we get to here. 

I think it has the appearance of change, but it's not the reality. 

C: Definitely. There are all these women making this incredible work but it's not being seen necessarily. In this country we value actors, but if you think about the directors you value they're not often women. You say you're going to see this mans film, because he is a man. With a female director you would say I'm seeing it because Patrick Swayze is in it.  I feel like there aren't many female directors people can name  that I can say I want to be like you. But there are plenty of female directors on a lower level that I'm inspired by, but how do we get them up there. 

In the same vein, do you have this thought in mind when casting? 

C: I think all the stuff with gender blind casting is a good and a bad thing. I think people have different interesting thoughts about things, but its dependent on the play. I think certain plays should be cast blind, but other should be gendered to say specific things. Regrettably, gender is always going to be an issue imprinted on everything. No one is going to watch something gender blind. Whatever gender they identify as is going to be portrayed and that's going to bare a meaning. I believe in specific gender casting, but not necessarily in line with that role. We should be diversifying theatre, but know that no audience is blind to gender. One day we’ll reach a world without oppressive binaries, but for now we’ll have to stick to criticising and interrogating it. 

In terms of me casting things, we have more women than men. It should be the best person for the part, and you should be able to change the part for that person. More I choose plays that have people who aren't men, as more of those people audition and deserve to have that chance. 

Do you reflect these views in the content you hope to create?

C: Yes, I think so. At the moment me and Caitlin (Caitlin Eacott) are writing a show called Lube and Learn. It is about people of all genders and experiences, and the history of Sex and Relationships Education performed by 2 women. It’s with our new company PINCHY theatre. We are still going to be talking about the male perspective etc, but we are still going to be presenting as women. We are not going to impersonate men necessarily, but it will be a man through a woman's body. The show would work with a man and a woman, but we wanted the writers to do it. We've done the interviews and planning. Making that decision meant we needed people who don’t identify as female as dramaturgs to give advice on how to guide it.

C: At the moment we get male dominated media. I think it's fresh to get the women to tell the story of men, because we've had our story told by men for so long.

Exactly. I think I come back to this point. We can relate to stories about white straight men even if we're not white straight men. So men can relate to other things. 

C: it's true. 

Do you think content women create is held to a higher standard? If it fails, then all female created content is bad

C: if you look at female stand ups, they are definitely held to a higher standard. I used to want to be a stand up, and I was told by a woman that I can't do it because women aren't funny in the same way as men. There's this idea in comedy that women have to talk about women's issues. Women on all male panels have to talk about vaginas. I'm all for talking about vaginas, I'm writing a show about vaginas. But I think they're held to the fact that if you are a woman you're doing it as a woman. Men can do stand up about anything. 

They can do really bad stand up and it's still okay. 

C: There's a level of trust with male comics. A notion that he's a professional and got here for a reason. When it's a women, there's an expectation that it has to be good. Also as women we say that, because there aren't many of us. If one of us is shown to be bad it ruins the chances for everyone else. Which is ridiculous. 

Yes. It's the same for comparisons to Fleabag. I love Fleabag, but everything created by women in compared to for a measure for success. 

C: it's true! Every single one women female show is held up to it.

If it hasn't reached the same success, it’s irrelevant

C: I think Fleabag is excellent, but it's also not the first. She's not the first person to write and perform things. We had Victoria Wood for goodness sake. Why is that the one thing that women can do at the moment. 

Do you have any advice for someone new to this whole theatre game? 

C: If you're going to do something, make it different to the last thing you did. Never do two things that are the same in succession. If you're going to direct Oliver!, go direct something like Jerusalem after. Don’t limit yourself to things you think you're good at. Go from Chekhov to the post dramatic. If don't like musicals and think you're bad at it, go direct one. While you're at Uni nothing is accountable. You're not losing money, not losing your reputation. People will see your show they won’t remember in 5 years. Make mistakes and take risks. Do things you think you can't achieve. You won’t have another chance to do it. You got to make big mistakes while you're not losing money. 


This article is part of our themed week introducing our amazing Top Tier writers and their work.