Image of stage lights

Reflections | It’s never too late to do what you love | Christina McDougall

Posted on November 15, 2018

Hear from one of our CA interns English Touring Theatre, Christina McDougall talk about her journey from broker companies & fraud analysis to theatre & creativity…

After 10 years of not working in theatre I am excited to finally get another chance at it.

I always loved performing from a young age in school productions and after school clubs but never had the opportunity growing up to attend theatre shows or be a part of any drama clubs.

Growing up in a community where theatre was seen as an exclusive club for white middle class people, I never felt the desire to watch any plays and drama clubs were extremely expensive.

I couldn’t see any characters that represented me or my peers — as a child and teenager it can be very intimidating to be among an audience of people who are seemingly completely opposite to you. However, after studying drama at high school it sparked my passion for acting and I found it was a great way for me to express my emotions in a creative way. In college I studied performing arts where we put many of our dance productions on at the Lyric theatre. I remember the feeling of pure happiness when I was finally able to perform on a stage.

I studied performing arts to university level but after a year I decided to leave due to personal reasons. Frustrated with not knowing what to do next on my journey in the arts my old dance teacher advised me to do a one year stage management and costume theatre placement that her friend was running. The placement was located at a variety of theatres including the Royal Court, English Touring Theatre and Polka Theatre.

I spent the year learning how to sew and create costumes as well as shadowing stage managers and making props. This placement allowed me to see beyond acting and allowed me to gain skills that I never dreamed of having. I loved being a part of different theatre companies and being able to watch endless rehearsals and performances.

Once my placement had finished I was so excited to find a job in a theatre but not one theatre company was interested in giving me a chance. It felt as though despite the experience I had gained and my clear passion for theatre, every door was shut. Seeing other interns with less experience than me get the roles I desired made me question so many things — was it because theatres are not ready to meaningfully diverse?

After nearly a year of persisting I decided to take a step away from theatre and try looking for non-creative job.

I spent the next seven years working for a broker company as a sales trainer and compliance officer. I would often use the games I learned in drama classes to help train agents to be more confident on the phones. I then went on to become a fraud analyst for a fashion company.

Even though I loved fashion, my heart was no longer in the role and every day I longed to be back in the arts doing what I loved.

Over the past three years I have tried to do as many creative things outside of work as possible, including acting (music videos and short sketches), writing plays and teaching myself to play the violin…with the help of YouTube.

After three years as a fraud analyst I finally decided to try again and look for a role in theatre. I was completely petrified at the thought of it as it would be a huge career change plus starting from scratch at my age seemed very daunting. I felt completely out of touch with the arts world which worried me.

I came across Creative Access through my sister-in-law. She had recently completed a training programme with them and said they are a charity helping people from diverse backgrounds get into the arts. This was exactly what was missing 10 years ago when I first tried to get into theatre. I always felt that theatre wasn’t diverse enough, making the sector feel alien to me.

Reflections by The Andrew Lloyd Weber foundation stated: ‘… the stage needs to reflect the diversity of the UK population or it risks becoming sidelined. If the situation continues, there is real danger that not only will black and Asian young people stay away from the theatre as a profession, they will stay away as punters. And without them in the audience, theatres will become unsustainable, as they are forced to compete for a dwindling ageing, white, middle-class audience.’

London’s BAME population stands at around 40% yet theatres and their audiences struggle to represent this ever-growing diverse population in the UK.

These figures highlight just how important it is for theatres to invest in being more inclusive. Creative Access post vacancies weekly and once I saw there was a job role for a Production Assistant at ETT I couldn’t wait to apply — a full-circle moment having worked here briefly during my placement year. I knew this would be my second chance at getting a job in theatre.

I am so grateful to Creative Access for serving underrepresented communities in theatre. Until theatre’s diversity problem is addressed effectively, organisations like Creative Access will continue to be needed.

I’ve also found that my non-creative work has been useful for my career in the arts. My skills as an analyst required me to be extremely organised and pay great attention to detail which are skills that have been transferable to my current role at ETT.

I am thrilled and excited to be a part of such an exciting and established theatre. ETT as a company have made me feel welcomed and part of the team.

Every day in my job is completely different, which I love. I could be watching a rehearsal one day and sourcing press night gifts the other. Currently we are touring Othello and I have been able to watch the development of the play from rehearsals through to its first press night performance. I get to meet a large variety of people and I feel that I am finally on the right path to my dream career.

It feels empowering to be given this opportunity and I would say to anyone thinking of a career change that no matter your age, race or background, never give up on what you want to do. All things are possible.

This blog update is courtesy of Medium