Tell us about your background
I was born in Glasgow and lived in Switzerland, my father worked at Cern, Millport, Glasgow then a small village in the Borders.
My father was from Shettleston and, after working in electronics for several years, progressed to full-time playwrighting and luthiery. My mother was mixed race from Calcutta, she worked for an advertising agency in India and subsequently provided admin and secretarial support for my father.
I had a strong interest in music and drama at school and was accepted onto the DSD course at the RSAMD after an audition, aged 16.
What was it like studying in Glasgow?
I thoroughly enjoyed studying in Glasgow, firstly at the RSAMD Annexe in Athole Gardens, then under the direction of Professor Grace Matchett, later at the RSAMD, St George’s Place, Glasgow University and Jordanhill.
Whilst studying I also worked at the Third Eye Centre (now CCA), run by the playwright, Tom McGrath, and home to theatre, music and art exhibitions. Almost all my spare time was spent there, immersed in the arts, and thoroughly enjoying my work. I occasionally led workshop sessions in Glasgow Youth Theatre on Parnie Street.
I also worked in children’s homes in Edinburgh and Aberdeen as a student, with children who had complex physical and emotional needs.
How did your time at the RSAMD prepare you for the world of work?
Aside from the practical and historical study of drama, I think the greatest gift from that period was developing the ability to think creatively and constructively.
My first teaching appointment was in Glasgow, following placements in the east end and a List D school for girls. Unfortunately, at that time there was no syllabus for drama in schools. I had a timetable of predominantly challenging classes which was, at once, exhausting, enlightening and enjoyable.
After working in Glasgow for several years, I moved to Shetland. At that time, Shetland Islands Council did not employ drama teachers. I became a member of the Shetland Folk Festival Committee, played with local traditional musicians and taught in Additional Support Needs and project related drama productions. I was commissioned by Shetland Arts Trust to compile a report on the prospective Shetland Youth Theatre, the results of which were presented to the SIC and led to its permanent establishment. I worked with the Youth Theatre and John Haswell (ex 7:84) on three productions, It was Herd Wark But…, Bonhoga by Grace Barnes and Dracula.
I was co-opted onto Shetland Arts Trust and later appointed Chair of the Drama Committee.
What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?
I was asked to stage a Nativity Play with a challenging, lively secondary school class in Glasgow. I was potentially on a hiding to nothing utilising the traditional format. I read the story of “The Nativity.” Ostensibly none of them believed it, but all agreed that it was a good story. Between us we produced a polished, semi-scripted improvisation, presented on the floor of the Assembly Hall.
At one of the ‘acting stations’, The Inn, there was a chair under which Mary had discreetly placed the motorcycle helmet prop for her pregnant tummy. One of Herod’s men, muttering whilst traversing the entire length of the hall, in full improvisational focus, grabbed the helmet and proclaimed, “We’ll never catch them noo, they’re away on a motorbike!” He was possibly no stranger to the concept of persecution, pursuit and escape, but a professional actor could not have sustained audience attention better.
The elderly RE teacher described the children’s efforts as a “travesty”, a high accolade indeed. The kids were engaged, creative and challenged a concept and format still accepted as the norm in many schools; they did it well and with aplomb.
Any final points or words of wisdom?
I’m always reluctant to offer advice. One person’s wisdom is often another’s arrant nonsense.
I now assist my husband in an educational consultancy, act as representative for my father’s work; Hector MacMillan, playwright, author, and luthier, and have recently completed my first novel.
I suppose it might be misguided for anyone approaching a career in the arts, especially regarding the recent past, to assume that their future career path will be linear, sometimes life has other ideas.
It might be helpful to cultivate resilience, adaptability and to engender a degree of positivity, both professionally and personally.
Image credit: Hidden Door Festival “Sunset Song” Installation. Celie Byrne.