Student POV: Assistant Director for The Golden Age, Elizabeth Hagerty

By Elizabeth Hagerty

Last spring I applied to be assistant director for Emerson Stage’s production of The Golden Age by Louis Nowra, directed by Benny Sato Ambush. I wanted to find out what went into directing an Emerson stage production, and The Golden Age brought along a set of unique challenges: 31 scenes, 10 locations, and 22 actors. We are also going to be the first Emerson Stage production to use the Paramount Black Box Theater. Assistant directing is a wonderful way to help a professional director and learn a great deal along the way.

If you don’t know exactly what an assistant director does, that’s okay. Ask ten directors and you’ll get ten different definitions of what an “AD” should do. Luckily, Benny has given me the opportunity to be very involved with the process behind this show. I’ve sat in on designer and dramaturgy meetings, and I helped Benny make decisions during auditions, callbacks, and casting. More recently, I’ve discovered that during rehearsals for The Golden Age my primary focus is to be best friends with the text.

What do I mean by being best friends with the text? Well, while the cast is blocking or running a scene I am constantly checking the script to make sure our choices in the rehearsal room match the playwright’s intentions. Louis Nowra is a fantastic writer, and it’s very important that we honor his intentions for the story. There is a lot going on in the script, though, so it’s easy to overlook a stage direction or forget a key word. That’s where I come in handy. I can point out discrepancies or forgotten moments, which is helpful to both Benny and the cast.

There are other jobs I’ve taken on as assistant director that have taught me about different facets of directing. This play is being performed in a ¾ deep thrust, meaning the audience sits on three sides of the stage. This is a difficult seating arrangement for movement onstage, and it’s important not to obstruct the view of the audience members. I often sit in different areas of the rehearsal room to make sure that area of the audience won’t be blocked by an actor.

I also have done some research to help Benny and the actors. A few of the characters in The Golden Age are on the autism spectrum, so I researched and created a presentation on the disorders for the actors to help with their acting choices. Information I gathered informed the meaning of some actors’ lines and changed the intentions behind some of their actions.

The Golden Age is a serious undertaking of a play. I knew I wanted to work on something ambitious as an assistant director, because at Emerson it’s important to learn by challenging yourself. In the future I’ll be able to take my experiences as assistant director and apply them to directing my own productions, whether they be intimate, an epic, or like this show, both.

For more updates, check out The Golden Age Blog at

Elizabeth Hagerty is a BA Theatre Studies major at Emerson College.

Similar Posts