Photo Source: https://www.viterbo.edu/connections/%E2%80%9Ccreativity-and-imagination-celebrating-play-risk-averse-world%E2%80%9D-humanities-symposium

Shauna Graham, Contributor. 

Philip Crawford
Head of Creative Learning at the Lyric Theatre

Looking for taster acting courses for creative graduates looking to expand their horizons, and branch out into this selective sphere? Enter the Lyric Theatre, where creatives can make the most of its connections with professional acting tutors. There are many opportunities to be part of live shows, whilst being given a crash course on the reality of acting and building their craft. The Creative Learning Division of the Lyric have a range of programmes, such as drama studio providing training for professional actors, theatre schools for 6-18 year olds, and outreach programmes designed to reach local schools and prisons. Currently the Lyric welcomes 18 million people per year through their doors, and is always looking to develop new relationships with institutions and people of all backgrounds wanting to experience something a little different.

As a point of interest and a taste of the impressive work the Lyric has been doing with and for the community, they have a very strong relationship with Hydebank and Maghaberry prisons respectively. This is where they give opportunities to fallen creatives looking for outlets; and to participate in something greater than they previously had. For example, they’re allowed to participate in stage production in which they were given the opportunity to build the set of a play that was produced. The play produced happened to be ‘Blackout’ which revolves around a young man who truly goes off the rails, and a fantastic acting gig for five graduate actors to work with the creative centre for six weeks to bring this effort to production.

The focus for graduates looking for a taste of the theatrical would be the drama studio which began in 2011, taught by both Ciaran Lagan and Philip Crawford. It’s been reputed that 45 students have graduated this programme only to go on to be accepted by the best acting schools in the business (e.g. Rada and the Stella Adler acting school in New York) that have formed strong relationships with the Lyric. At £150 for the entirety of the course, it is an absolute steal to ease your way into a career that may begin a love affair with the stage that will never end. On top of this, at the very end you have a stellar opportunity to be part of a full production in the spotlight. The course runs for 6 hours on Saturdays and Tuesday evenings; and attendance is encouraged at each of these to truly get as much out of the course as possible. With these you’ll have access to some of the best tutors available such as David Quinn for actor training, David Calvert for stage combat, and Ciaran Lagan for professional actor training, alongside an impressive array of professionals from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In Northern Ireland, it’s notoriously difficult to get opportunities like these, as most professional actors have another source of income they rely on. Also in terms of securing that coveted role there will many obstacles on your way ahead.  Remember that your dedication and commitment to the profession will be key, and to build up resilience through the rejections that come. In fact, Philip attests that this was one of the reasons to begin the drama studio, as in light of the celebrity culture and emphasis on shows like ‘the X factor’ people. It’s shows like these that seem to have developed ‘stars in their eyes’ syndrome for many young dreamers out there. The younger generation of actors ‘have no real feeling’ for the actual experience of being a professional in the entertainment industry. In light of the importance of the mental health campaign, it’s worthwhile to consider your plan B option if this career doesn’t turn out to be for you. Philip would advise caution, and to approach the career with a sense of realism, as it does take huge commitment to carve out your own piece of history in the industry. The Lyric Theatre with its excellent creative learning department is continuing ‘to break down barriers’ and make people aware that they ‘deserve to be there.’ Philip Crawford and the team are welcoming applications to the programme until 18th August this year. His advice to all those wishing to avail of this opportunity to ‘come prepared’, and to cultivate within themselves true sense of being ‘hungry’ for that next sought-after role.

download (1).png
Photo Source: Derry Journal

An interview with Shanice Atkins
Freelance journalist for ‘The Derry Journal’ and Press Officer for Mark Durkan

Shauna: Firstly, tell me a little about what you liked about English and whether it helped you to follow the career path you’re on today.  What sparked your interest to become a journalist after your initial bachelor’s degree? 

Shanice: After leaving school the expectation was that I’d go to university. So I duly committed to continuing my education at Queen’s University to study Joint Honours English and History. I’ve always had a passion for telling stories, for finding the truth, to stay curious and ask questions, so my interest in journalism was galvanized from an early age. I think growing up in Northern Ireland and our tumultuous past spurred that on, from around the age of ten I began asking questions about our politics, our history, ‘the Troubles’ everyone always referred to on the news – to be quite honest, about things I struggled to understand. My parents tried to protect me by telling me it didn’t matter, ‘sure we have peace now’ but it only ignited a desire for knowledge. So instead I turned to my grandparents, my aunts and uncles; what became clear was that everyone had a story tell. What wasn’t so clear was where the truth lay.

Shauna: Did you find it still relevant today to study, and were you a bit confused where to go afterwards?

Shanice: In regards to my education though, my careers teacher advised me to enroll in a ‘solid degree’- something subject-based rather than a straight-out journalism degree. ‘Keep your options open’ were the words she used. Whether that was the right advice or not, I’m not sure. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my degree – both the English and History – but I went in blind, without thinking about the career-end goal, but rather my love of learning. I remember the panic setting in on graduation when the guy beside me joked about the ‘room full of graduates with zero job prospects.’

Shauna: Did you find this a difficult career to get started in?  

Shanice: I was totally unequipped for the working world after leaving university, but convinced myself I’d take a year out to decide on a Masters, and in effect delay career searching for yet another while. But after two years passed in a soul destroying call centre, and following the birth of my daughter, I built up a lot of resentment towards myself for not following my passion. Being a young mum massively gave me the kick I needed – being told by everyone I could no longer do this or that was the real driver that pushed me forward. I enrolled in an NCTJ course and qualified as a journalist later that year and haven’t looked back. It was the best decision I ever made. As the old adage goes “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Shauna: Is there still really a place for journalism in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in your opinion?

Shanice: As with any career I suppose, there’s a lot of networking involved; it takes time to establish yourself within the industry. Also with print media taking a huge hit in recent years, and many local papers here going into administration, it’s certainly been tough. But I think journalism, and print journalism in particular, just requires creative thinking. As for local papers, they have become somewhat lack lustre and resigned themselves to their fate. Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic but most haven’t moved with the times, certainly many don’t write for a younger more informed audience. It has become a simple relaying of facts. Readers want more in-depth analysis, something that’s going to challenge their thinking. Indeed, papers like ‘the Strabane Chronicle’ and ‘Impartial Reporter’ have honed in on that and are doing well.

Shauna: And how important is what you do to you personally and for others?

Shanice: I think there’s a place for good journalism in Northern Ireland and indeed the wider world. We look at the unprecedented global political climate, the rise of ‘fake news’ and whilst we have insurmountable information at our fingertips; it has never been more difficult to access the truth. The job of a journalist is to ensure those in power are held accountable, that the public can access fact from fiction. That’s needed now more than ever. Look at the recent events in Derry and tell me journalism isn’t needed. It helps rally people together for the greater good and to stand up to injustices in society. The public service that good and ethical journalism provides is invaluable. Supporting it should be a priority for everyone.

Shauna: How do you find your current position when working freelance? Any pros and cons of it? Were there any true highlights in your career that really stood out to you when you worked on it?

I love what I do but admittedly the platform here is limited, and like many other journalists I’ve also segued into political PR as a press officer for local politician Mark Durkan. It requires a lot of work, many late hours and it can be difficult to switch off. But there is a sense of achievement knowing you’re following your ambition which makes it all worthwhile. Yet a stand out moment for me was a simple one. I’d met with a resident about a grievance over a local planning issue. I’d got the quote I needed in two minutes and he began chatting about his brother who has passed in the 80s. I was invited back for a cuppa and to meet his wife, they continued the story of their ‘Popstar brother’ who they nursed in his final days after he contracted AIDS. The prejudices that not only his brother faced as a gay man but the family too, were appalling. This man relayed how they became pariahs in their own community following his diagnosis. He recounted the pain but also the humour in his brother’s last days. I had to hold back tears the entire time- when asked why they hadn’t told his story in detail before they replied that no-one had ever asked. Being able to tell the stories of others is paramount. It is very rewarding being entrusted with that task.

Shauna: It’s an impressive position to have and I think it’s amazing to have come that far. Well done. So finally, If you were going to give advice to students who wish to become journalists, what advice would you give to break into this?

Shanice: To aspiring journalists I would say, be prepared to work hard. It is never too early to start, whether creating a blog only one person follows or reaching out to media outlets to pitch ideas. But in my own opinion, so many journalists nowadays conduct business over email- I myself am guilty of it- I’d say where possible, meet people face-to-face. We’ve lost that human connection somewhere along the line.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s