This week, Fiona Lindsay ponders over routes into the theatre business...
How do you train to be an actor? How can I design costumes for the stage? I want to compose music for productions - how do I get into this? Do I have to be qualified to produce shows?
I’ve been asked countless questions like these throughout the course of my career in the theatre and entertainment industry. But it’s hard to give a specific answer to any of them – there’s no one particular set route to take, only a number of familiar, well-trodden paths.
Mine was a fairly traditional route into the industry; going straight from school to drama school, and at the end of my final term being selected for a role in a popular Scottish TV soap opera. Just 20 years old, I felt very much out of my depth - hugely lacking in experience beyond my formal education and the odd inter-rail adventure to Greece. Securing the role I found to be the easy part, but what was harder was learning how to tackle all the necessary administration involved in building your career.
What stood me in good stead and the thing that has possibly been the DNA of all of my work in the industry - was being immersed into collaborating with others, both in terms of making and devising work. During my second year of drama school, there were two optional modules that you could take; Theatre in Education and Lighting and Sound, the first being run by a great instructor call Steve Lacey.
As I was technically challenged (and still am), the TIE option chose me. I loved being free to make up stories and bring them to life from scratch. It was always stimulating to consider the nature of your audience and this presented great challenges. Two years of doing this module enabled me to think freely and creatively, without ever putting a lid on ideas.
The experience of relentlessly showing our poor theatre in diverse venues; including care homes, community centres, schools, prisons and shopping malls (!) was invaluable. This kind of exposure helped me to develop an intuitive understanding of the moment and how to adapt things to suit any particular situation.
My 19-year-old self (leaping around in a bright green lycra and soft blue leg warmers) didn't appreciate just how valuable and career shaping Steve Lacey's classes would prove to be. I now realise that the experience and skills gained in these classes, has helped me to forge a life in a notoriously difficult business. I've drawn massively on being able to transfer my skills to a variety of areas of performance and production.
With my mum seeing two daughters go into theatre, the old adage ‘don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington’ apparently fell on deaf ears. My sister Katrina has taken a completely different path to me to fulfil her life in theatre and a job that she loves. Her passion for performance led her to art school and on to a theatre design course. For three years she enjoyed creating imaginative worlds and telling stories without words. Having always had a very particular palette; she chose to spend her time getting better at the things she truly loves - costume, hair and non-realistic settings.
Katrina was very uncompromising in how she wanted to make her art. After graduating, her focus was on making her own work with like-minded practitioners. There was no transferring of skills for her, but hours and hours of practice, fine-tuning her interpretation of text. This is what's enabled her to forge her own life in the business, but one that's very different to mine. The golden thread that binds us is a passion and enthusiasm for what we do and a certain tenacity to keep going against the odds.
I've worked with some wonderful women over the years: performers, producers, directors and practitioners, whose blend of dedication, aspiration, imagination and grit is awe-inspiring. Almost all have travelled a bumpy but exciting road and continue to push on to be the very best they can.
This week we publish the transcript of my interview with Harriet Morahan. Hattie and I first met while she was playing Ophelia at the RSC, her first job following university. Since then she's grown up through the profession to become one of our most accomplished and emotionally connected leading ladies. Though her recent work has been stunning, there is no doubt that her best is yet to come.
And that's the thing about this funny old world of theatre. There is so much opportunity to get better, to learn, to forge a path, to make a contribution to our creative and cultural landscape.
So in response to those how, what, who questions that are asked about how to work in theatre and entertainment, here's today's answer - take a leap of faith, be brave, get close to those who are already doing it.
Today we publish the transcript of our interview with Hattie Morahan, which you can read here.