An Artistic Director’s Assistant: The Time Lords of Theatre

Sonia Jalaly, PA to Indhu Rubasingham, lays bare all the truths of what it takes to be an artistic director’s assistant

A busy press secretary at the White House: much like Sonia's day-to-day job.
A busy press secretary at the White House: much like Sonia's day-to-day job.
© Pete Souza/Creative Commons

To put this story into context, I’ve worked in and out of the Tricycle Theatre since 2013. In that time they’ve let me perform my one woman show on their stage (brave of them) and for a while they even made me finance assistant and let me do their payroll (braver). So when I applied to be Indhu Rubasingham‘s assistant last year I had a good enough idea of what I was letting myself in for. Five months into the role and I can now confirm that’s long enough to have developed an obsession with colour categories on Outlook but not long enough to have stopped having anxiety dreams about her diary.

So what have I learnt so far?

1. Sauvignon blanc is never acceptable. If in doubt, get prosecco.
2. A Wispa is not an adequate replacement for an Aero. If there’s no Aero, get prosecco.
3. When co-ordinating an artistic director’s diary it is essential that you are in possession of the magical powers of a time lord.
4. You should never admit to knowing your boss’ PIN number. This makes people uncomfortable and they will look at you suspiciously.
5. There is literally no end to the new and creative ways people find to pronounce two simple words. ‘Hello can I speak to Indhoo Rashhabinganam?’ Or ‘India Rashingam’. Or ‘Hindu Rubaduba’. Or my personal favourite ‘Hairdo’. Usually after the second or third attempt people just ask for the artistic director in fear that their soft pallet might implode.

When I first told people I was starting a new job as PA to an artistic director, they looked at me like I was a lamb on the way to the slaughter. A doe-eyed Anne Hathaway heading straight for Meryl Streep, brandishing an axe. By the time I started I was convinced I was going to instantly change my personality and become the kind of person that gets excited about stationery and shops in Cos. I secretly hoped that might happen to me. At least then I would be organised and would have something to wear to weddings.

Sonia Jalaly
Sonia Jalaly

As it happened, it turned out I had no idea what a PA did until I was doing it. Much to my relief there is actually a lot more to the job than the cliché coffee runs, trips to Pret and, contrary to my friends’ beliefs, my life does not revolve around Indhu’s dry cleaning rotation. In reality the job is basically to know everything, remember everyone and yet appear to have heard nothing. Like Carson in Downton Abbey. Or Mata Hari.

Following Indhu around for the last five months has been a crash course in running a theatre. It’s an incredibly exciting time for the Tricycle Theatre and I feel very lucky to not only be a part of it but, as Indhu’s PA, be pretty close to the centre of it. I’m beginning to learn that programming an opening season while running a major capital project can only be described as a miraculous acrobatic stunt, and what Indhu has in store for our first year in the new building is well worth the wait. Kilburn’s not going to know what’s hit it. In the meantime I will continue to soak up the conversations, the ideas and the strokes of genius with an Aero ready in one hand and a bottle of prosecco in the other.

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