Want to know what’s it like working for an immersive theatre company? Did you even know that you could? In the latest blog for our series ‘jobs you didn’t know existed’, former #CAIntern Jessie Francis talks us through her very exciting role as a creative assistant at the trailblazers of immersive experiences, Secret Cinema…
What does your role entail?
This is always a fun question, to answer. I am a creative assistant at Secret Cinema – an immersive theatre company that brings beloved films, television franchises and even occasionally music to life. In our shows, the audience are not passively watching the narrative unfold, but actively find themselves in the story, uncovering deeper layers of character motives, backstories, mysteries and secrets. Essentially, it’s a bunch of people creating the most elaborate fan-fiction you have ever witnessed.
Being in the creative team, we are responsible for ensuring our shows encompass cohesive and innovative storytelling or world-building across the narrative structure, the set, the performances and some marketing assets. I also bring additional skills to the role through my illustration and video editing skills – so it’s wonderful being able to contribute to the creation of our shows through my many multi-hyphenate interests.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Any part where I get to dive into story, or a character, or world development. I adore how research can inform a narrative and create a story that audiences can logically follow and understand; which then enables us to push the boundaries of surrealism and theatricality. So, whether you’re faced with Regency Lady Gaga performances, epic scale alien battle sequences or intimate conversations with characters in rooms, where you have no idea how you entered (or even where they are), the roots of the story and world are always grounding you and driving your experience.
How did you get into this role?
I will always be grateful to Creative Access for pushing job roles and careers that I never knew existed, because I didn’t go looking for this job at all. I didn’t even know to look for this job.
I graduated from university in 2019 with a first in animation, and when asked what I wanted to do, I didn’t have a specific vision; but I knew I wanted to work in a story department, or in a writers room, or in story or character development. I was like Lily Allen in the beginning of her LDN music video: ‘Um I’m just wondering have you got any like sort of punky electronica grime kind of like new wave grime but kind of like maybe more broken beats like kinda dubby broken beats but a little bit kind of soulful… do you know what I mean?’. No one knew what I meant (I don’t think I did either.)
I started off in 4Creative – Channel 4’s in-house creative team – on a 3-month traineeship (courtesy of Creative Access) where I edited and wrote scripts for trailers. I then went on to work as a scene build and prop design artist for Blink Industries x Netflix’s charming, spooky, queer animation series Dead End: Paranormal Park. I was job hunting for my next role prior to my contract ending, and on a whim, I applied to a Secret Cinema creative assistant role that was advertised on the Creative Access opportunities page. It turned out that many of the skills I possessed, and was interested in pursuing, made me the perfect fit for a company where everybody wears many different hats and brings so many varying abilities to their roles.
What’s been one of your favourite projects that you’ve worked on?
It would have to be Secret Cinema presents Bridgerton. It was my first show, and I remember sitting in the writers room surrounded by talented creative directors, performance directors, actors and writers and just wanting to absorb all the knowledge everyone had, whilst simultaneously wondering how the hell I had got there. It was surreal and amazing.
What would your advice be for anyone looking to break into this sector?
My only real advice would be to not limit yourself to what you believe you are qualified for. I read somewhere once that men apply for jobs even when they are underqualified, but women only apply if they believe they are overqualified. This has stuck with me, and so I applied for anything that caught my interest and didn’t get caught up in the details of what I had studied or been trained for. Skills can be transferable, softwares can be taught – YouTube and google are your best friends.
At my core, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller and artist, and so although editing trailers, designing props for animation and creating immersive theatre all seem vastly different, they all share the core function of visual storytelling. So don’t limit yourself, and don’t feel embarrassed or flaky for career or industry pivoting. Everything you try and everything you learn will inform and equip you for whatever you do in the future – no matter how disparate it may seem from where you came from. I still adore animation, and would love to return to it one day, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my time in theatre – a medium I was so interested in as a child, and never thought I was talented enough for. And who knows, there’s probably a world in which both can be combined.
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