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Alumnae Offer Creative Industries Perspective

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Five former pupils from Bolton School Girls’ Division returned, virtually, to deliver the seventh Perspectives lecture hosted by the School. The presentation, which is attended by pupils and is open to the public, focussed on what life is like, working in various creative industries. Y13 student Taya Panter introduced the speakers and told how the creative industry in the UK is a growing sector, contributing £115.9 billion in 2019 towards the economy – some 5.9% of national output.

Each alumna spoke for 10 minutes before the evening was opened up to questions. Luci Fish (Class of 2010) opened the evening. The audience learnt how Luci had become an actor and award-winning voiceover artist. She recalled her A levels in English Literature, English Language and History, going on to a degree in Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds and training at the prestigious Drama Centre London where she graduated with an MA before going on to work in film, television, radio and on stage. Luci explained how, after a couple of years of acting, she began to crave something more stable and became a voiceover artist, working across many channels - on commercials, video games, radio drama, e-learning courses, animation, telephone systems and narrating audio-books. She recounted how the pandemic showed us that no job is safe and we do not know what the future holds; it made her believe that it is important to do something we love and that we are good at. She told how she regularly records from her own recording studio at home, as well as in London and Manchester. Considering what skills are needed to succeed in her profession, she said they are largely what she learnt in school – independence and an ability to hold yourself accountable, determination and passion. Luci has worked for Pokémon, Sainsbury’s, Spotify, NSPCC, H&M and Coca-Cola.

The audience then heard from Nicola Currie née Darley (Class of 1974) who is a contemporary still life and botanical painter based in Worcestershire. Nicola recalled joining Bolton School in the Sixth Form and causing a stir as she wore make-up and was a southerner – or at least came from a few miles south of Manchester. She told how she did A levels in Music, RE, English and General Studies, having her interest piqued in early childhood by her father being a watercolourist. Her RE teacher encouraged her to study Theology at Durham and her career as an artist did not begin until she was in her forties when she did an Art degree. Her earlier career experiences including teaching in Africa, writing for children and working in PR all fed into her art. She explained how she taught in comprehensives and in a college for the blind. She talked about her interest in art and spirituality and how this linked to her first degree but gradually she said she was drawn to becoming a painter, specialising in still life and botanical work. Like Luci, she said it was a passion that she wanted to explore. She explained how she loves that a day can start with a blank canvas and end with something unique and original. In terms of the skills required, she spoke about being artistic, resilient, adaptable and a good communicator as well as having an understanding of finance and administration. Nicola relayed how she is currently Artist in Residence at Spetchley Park Gardens near Worcester and these gardens are often the starting point for her paintings. Her work, she said, is a journey into colour, which she finds intellectually stimulating and an opportunity to engage with new ideas and different cultures – food for her soul!

Caroline Blair is a Soprano who left Bolton School in 2018 with A levels in Latin, French and Music and went onto to study for a degree at the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of Marie Vassiliou and Christopher Glynn with an Entrance and Leverhulme Centenary Scholarship. Caroline spoke about the difference between a Conservatoire and a university, with the former being a lot smaller and a bit more like a workplace, which she finds suits here. Lots of what she does is very practical and one-to-one based. She said these days you need other skills too to thrive in the singing business, such as being able to record, to sound produce and to act. Caroline also told of the importance of being adaptable, relating how she had been working with a number of opera companies and, during the pandemic, at Pret a Manger. She told girls that there are various routes into a musical career and that some of her friends chose to do non-Music degrees but were still pursuing their love of the subject. In terms of prep, she said instrumentalists could get work with the national youth orchestra or the national youth choir. She closed by saying that music has been a brilliant thing to be around during the pandemic and that she is looking forward to moving onto postgraduate study.

Deanne Cunningham (Class of 2001) talked about her circuitous route into the industry. She recalled being a little bit lost aged 16 or 17 in terms of a career and did not know anyone who worked in the film and television industry. She studied Chemistry, Biology and Religion and Philosophy for her A levels thinking she might be a doctor. She actually studied law at Oxford and qualified as a corporate solicitor before realising her heart lay somewhere more creative. Deanne moved into television via the BBC’s graduate Trainee Production scheme, which she described as a fantastic stepping-stone into the industry. Since then and over the past 14 years, she has worked as a freelance script editor and producer across a variety of film and television productions. Her credits include: Cold Feet, some of which was shot at Bolton School; The Tunnel; Endeavour; and Humans; as well as stints as a storyliner on EastEnders and Waterloo Road.

In the last couple of years, Deanne explained how she had pivoted into script development and how she currently works as Head of Development at a Glasgow film and tv production company, Synchronicity Films. She is developing a range of scripted projects for both UK and international broadcasters. Answering the question of why she got into this industry, she said the honest answer is that she finds it really good fun and creatively rewarding as she is still a TV, film and theatre fanatic! It is also a privilege, she said, to work with really talented people and to see the delight that your work can bring to other people when they enjoy a show you have helped make. She spoke about the joy of being encouraged to bring your whole personality to work, something which was not always the case in corporate law. Deane spoke about film and television being a booming industry and, whilst she would probably be richer if she had remained a corporate lawyer, how there is money to be made in television if you are in the right area. In terms of skills required, she felt flexibility was important and as well as being able to handle the instability of short-term contracts. She also told how you have to be able to work hard and, at times, to be persistent which is easier if you are doing something that is your passion. She said you also need to be able to push yourself forward as not all jobs are advertised. Equally important, she said you need good people skills and creativity and that if you wish to work on the production side, then organisational and budgeting capabilities are a must.

The final speaker was Eilidh Gibson (Class of 2016), who introduced herself as a freelance theatre director and facilitator, who is currently the Resident Assistant Director at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. Her job, she said, involves liaising with the local community to make sure the theatre’s work is grounded within the area in which it sits. Eilidh explained that whilst at Bolton School she did A level Drama which inspired her to go on to study the subject at Loughborough University. During her undergraduate degree she realised that there is more to Theatre than just being an actor. After directing a production of The Little Shop of Horrors for the university she realised what fun it was to bring a vision to fruition through direction as well as having oversight of all aspects of a production.

After her second year at university, she told how she decided to take a year out to work in theatres across the UK, undertaking many roles including as a Technician at Bolton Octagon, an Assistant Director for Prime Theatre and Horrible Histories, a Scenic Artist and Carpenter at Pitlochry Theatre, an Arts Administrator at Watford Palace Theatre, a Casting Director at Royal Court Liverpool and Development Officer at Theatre by the Lake, where she is now. She told how she then went back to Loughborough for her final year with the clear plan of now becoming a Director.

Eilidh decided that she wanted to undertake further study and enrolled on the prestigious Theatre Directing MFA at Birkbeck, University of London. From there she ended up taking a production of Boudica into central London and then took up a role as Resident Assistant Director at The Citizen Theatre in Glasgow. From there, she moved to her current position at Keswick. Thinking about why you might go into a career in the Arts, Eilidh said it should be because you love it and it is your passion and you have a chance to create some wonderful shared experiences. She also liked how her role helps her create stories that are firmly rooted in the local community. She spoke about how she hopes the pandemic will allow us to break down some of the stigma around theatre and be an opportunity to make it more accessible to all. Like those before her, she advised that you need to be a good networker and you have to be flexible in your early career – the longest she has stayed anywhere yet is 4 months!

The question and answer session addressed how to finesse an accent, how to deal with rejection, how to get started with an Art career, the pros and cons of selling Art via social media, whether working as an artist in residence helped your career, how to build your CV for university application and employment, favourite genres of tv, how to find tv work experience and how Covid has positively affected the creative industry.

You can watch the talk in full via this link.

‘Perspectives’ is a series of free, public lectures hosted by Bolton School Girls’ Division, currently taking place on Zoom. They are free to attend and open to pupils in Year 10 and above, parents, alumni, and all other members of the School and local community. If you would like to be kept informed about forthcoming Perspectives lectures and other public enrichment events at Bolton School, you can join our emailing list here.

The next Perspectives lecture will be on 2 March at 7.00pm and will focus on Careers in Sport - click this link to sign up for the event.

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