Welcome to the July 2018 edition of the Sarah Ellis Coaching Career Inspo Blog!
This is a monthly interview with someone who has followed their passion, dreamed big and now has a successful and exciting career. Whether you are searching for your passion or looking for guidance and insight from those in your chosen industry, the Career Inspo blog will have something for everyone. From Chief Executives, to inventors, from property moguls to artistic entrepreneurs, the 2018 line up is certainly set to provide plenty of inspiration and motivation!
This month I interviewed Kate McGregor, Artistic Director of the award winning theatre company Theatre6. Kate is also a freelance Theatre Director and has worked on over 25 professional productions since 2008, both in the UK and Internationally.
Sarah Ellis: Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed for the Career Inspo Blog! Please can you start by sharing why you chose to pursue a career in directing theatre?
Kate McGregor: I loved being involved in making theatre from my early teens but I knew I never wanted to act. I wanted to create my own shows. I’ve always had an eye for visuals and a strong sense of how a story can unfold on stage. After completing a degree at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama I spent many years working with disadvantaged and community groups – adults and young people, which in turn inspired me to want to create my own company and build my own unique approach to making theatre work.
SE: What was your route into this career and how did you get to where you are now?
KM: In order to boost and refine my skills as a professional director I did a one year postgraduate diploma in Directing at Drama Studio London where I received one on one directing coaching and the opportunity to work on 9 directing projects in 9 months. It was a very intense course, working alongside a professional actors’ training, but one of the most influential experiences of my life. I walked out of my postgraduate feeling ready to start my company and embark on my first professional show. Since then I’ve kept training and learning. I did the National Theatre’s two week director’s course and won a bursary to be Trainee Director at the Salisbury Playhouse. This August I will be part of the Director’s Lab in Chicago were 20 directors from all over the world gather to share their craft and improve their skills.
KM: A life in theatre is hard; exhausting in fact, not well paid and with a relentless work schedule. I don’t have the security of sick pay or holidays, I have to wait months for invoices to be paid, there isn’t a career progression and everything you do is self-motivated. If you stop pushing yourself, your career is over because no one will do it for you. However, directing a show and seeing audiences enjoy it is one of the most fulfilling things I will ever do in my life. Regardless of the stress of making it happen; the constant fundraising coupled with anxiety and self-doubt, you sit at the back of the auditorium on opening night and have the time of your life. You listen to people laugh and cry at the story you’ve told and all the tough times that have come before just melt away. It is the most purposeful, powerful and humbling experience. On top of that you make wonderful friendships that run deep and stay with you. I’ve developed some creative partnerships that have defined my life, people that inspire me every day. I feel incredibly lucky to have the privilege of doing what I do. I am always grateful that I can get up in the morning and think, “right, what shall I create today?”
SE: What have been your biggest challenges and learning curves? And what reignites your passion on the tough days?
KM: My career has been full of challenges that I thought were too big for me. Things I thought I’d never be able to achieve. I face these moments quite a lot and have got used to breaking things down moment by moment to get through it – one building block at a time. As Theatre6 becomes a bigger more ambitious company, the thought of bringing a show to the West End or launching a 7 venue UK tour is quite terrifying! It’s just about starting somewhere, often talking to the right people who’ve done it before, believing in the project you’ve chosen (even when there is criticism or scepticism from others) and the faith in the idea that ‘if you build it, they will come’.
I’ve definitely had lots of moments when I’ve thought that I’m out of passion. That I’m tired and miserable and the thought of starting a brand-new project on a large scale by myself is overwhelming. But then I remember that my company is my opportunity to be myself and have a voice, to talk about the topics that inspire me and that always brings the excitement back. Talking to a co-creator about a new idea is always so exciting and it helps me remember that I am very, very lucky.
SE: What have been the key moment and most memorable experiences in your career so far?
KM: Our biggest project to date was a remounting of Moira Buffini’s first play, Gabriel. I discovered the script when I was training at Drama Studio London and the story never left me. 7 years later I found it in my stock of plays and I got a very clear picture in my head of what I could do with it. Making it actually happen on stage was a 3 year process of getting the rights for the play, meeting with Moira, choosing our cast (which involved me inspiring some incredible talent to join me on the journey) and raising more money that we’dever raised before. There were some scary moments and some beautiful moments which will stay with me forever.
The play was about the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands in 1943 and was set in Guernsey. A man is washed up on the beach and two girls from the island save him, risking their lives. Gabriel is the name they give him and he turns into the angel they all need to survive. From my perspective, there were a lot of ‘angels’ floating about that made this show possible – support from many people who wanted to see this production made. Our excellent reviews and the experience we had working together on it was unforgettable. It just felt like, more than any other project, we all pulled together in the right way at the right time and created something very special. I think it’s safe to say that all of our team will look back very fondly on Gabriel and the enjoyment it brought so many of our audiences.
SE: What key strengths do you have that make you great at what you do?
KM: Resilience. A commitment to the belief that telling stories defines us and make us better humans. Utter stubbornness. Empathy and the ability to see things from a multitude of perspectives. Most importantly, a child-like joy that surrounds me when I make theatre and think about making it.
SE: Do you have a role model or mentor? If so, what have you learnt from them that has helped you in your career?
KM: Lots of people inspire me, particularly other women who are directors and producers and those who run venues. I don’t have a mentor but as my company grows I think I’d benefit hugely from that type of advice and support. It’s something I’m working on!
KM: Say yes to every opportunity. Avoid being judgemental or closing down offers because they don’t quite fit in your master plan. It takes many years for you to refine exactly what your key skills are and what you personally have to offer that’s different to the next person. Follow what makes your heart beat a little faster and keep trying to get back to that feeling again and again. Be happy to be tired. Don’t expect to get paid particularly well but always know your worth and fight to be heard. Be happy to take other jobs when times are tough because you always learn something from it and it helps you realise just how much making theatre inspires you. Be kind to yourself, always: your biggest cheerleader is you.
Many people have said what I am about to say, but I believe it now more than ever. You are enough. Just as you are. If you stay true to yourself you will always be unique. There is no other person in the world that does what you do or is like you. Being safe in this knowledge is the first step to growth and success.
Kate is directing a new adaption of Persuasion by Jane Austen, adapted by Stephanie Dale with original music by Maria Haik Escudero. The tour begins at Theatre Royal Winchester on 10th September. Visit Theatre6 website to find out more infomation: www.theatre6.co.uk/whatson
You can also learn more about Kate and keep up to date with her work by visiting www.katemcgregor.co.uk