Alumna Emma Maxwell, Class of 2009, completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. At the moment Emma is working as a Stage Crew member at Norwich’s Theatre Royal, Technician at Norwich Playhouse and freelance Deputy Stage Manager/Assistant Stage Manager. Below, Emma shares with us about her academic and professional journey after GIS.
I am a 27 year old crew member at a large theatre that receives touring productions. These productions vary from West End musicals to dance and international tours. I am also a freelance Deputy Stage Manager working on productions around the UK. I have always enjoyed theatre after starting Drama lessons in year 7 at GIS. By the time I started my IGCSEs I knew I wanted to pursue a career in it somehow!
How did you start your career in theatre and drama industry?
At university I chose to meet people by joining the various theatrical societies and working backstage on productions. I also Deputy Stage Managed (DSMd) on shows within the Drama department where the tech team taught me not only stage management, but lighting design and operation and various other technical elements to theatre. I was able to get work experience at Wicked on the West End and gained a huge amount of experience by DSMing several shows across my 3 years at uni. I also was the resident DSM at a theatre company and helped take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. This on-the-job experience was invaluable.
After finishing uni, whilst on the hunt for a job, I worked for 6 months at a pub. Ironically, this is the reason I am where I am today! A regular customer ran a local Youth Music Theatre company and invited me to follow-spot on their production of Miss Saigon at the Playhouse in Norwich. A week after this I got a call from the Playhouse Technical Manager offering me a job as a technician.
A year later, the Theatre Royal Norwich needed extra crew for a ballet and I started working there as a member of stage crew. This means I help unload the lorries, build the sets and work in the wings on the shows. This can be anything from setting the props and set on stage to flying in cloths and scenery from above. It’s hard and often heavy work with long hours but we have a great time and spend most of it laughing! I have now worked there for 4 years. Besides all of this, I also do freelance stage management; these jobs have all come from connections made through work at the Theatre Royal.
What productions have you been involved in?
I have worked on many productions as a member of crew at the Theatre Royal. Some of my favourites have been Singin’ in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Shrek, all the Matthew Bourne productions and that’s just to name a few! I did a mixture of jobs on these and enjoyed them all.
The only in-house (meaning that Theatre Royal Norwich create the production themselves rather than a company touring it in) production we do is the pantomime each Dec/Jan. At first I ASMd on these, meaning I helped to prop the show and then was in charge of a wing on side of stage for the duration of the run. For the last two years I have been DSM; this means I am in rehearsals, and communicate any changes back to the relevant teams (any lighting/sound requests, any script changes, costume or prop requirements etc), I write down all movements of actors and make note of any cue points in the script. During the show I call every cue, giving a go for every sound effect, every lighting change, literally everything goes on my cue. If I don’t give a go, it won’t happen. It’s a very important and exciting job because you have to be on it at all times! If you mess up, the audience may notice or something worse could go wrong.
Outside of this I have ASMd on various shows including a site specific and promenade piece called Wolf’s Child, with a Cornish company called Wild Works. This show was created around a manor house in Norfolk in 2015 and was performed in the woods in its grounds. We revisited the show in Cornwall in summer 2017. To date, this is one of my proudest achievements. Also working outside in the British weather had its challenges!
How did GIS help you with your career today?
‘Introducing me to Drama and the amazing teachers who taught me. They taught me to work with others, but also to be independent and that it’s not all about acting! I wouldn’t be doing this today if it weren’t for my drama teachers, Ms Whelan, Ms Lee and Ms Lewis.’
What advice would you give for our current students who’d like to go into this industry?
‘Take the work experience and network at any opportunity. Use that network because that is your route to paid work. If you make a good impression, are keen to learn and have a good sense of humour people will want to work with you again. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure and always get stuck in! Humour and determination are key when you’re working long, unsociable hours!’
We would like to take this opportunity to wish Emma Maxwell all the best and look forward to hear all about her future projects and successes. If you wish to share stories of your life after GIS, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org