Me&MyJob: I love teaching people to act up
Philip Crawford, Creative learning coordinator, Lyric Theatre Belfast
What does your role involve?
In my role as creative learning coordinator at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, I am responsible for creating and managing all aspects of the theatre’s education and outreach work.
Working with a wide range of people across the community from children to young people and adults, I am responsible for ensuring their needs are met throughout the organisation.
This is done through a variety of projects including the co-ordination of eight weekly Theatre School workshops for drama enthusiasts of all ages, outreach drama projects with primary and secondary school pupils, many of which take place off-site, and professional development courses for actors and young people who want to enter the profession.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
For the past three years, I have worked freelance for the Lyric as director of an award-winning primary school project called Pat & Plain.
The aim of the project is to up-skill primary school teachers in drama as well as giving children the opportunity to explore their cultural heritage through theatre.
Working in association with the Ulster-Scots Agency, Dan Gordon was commissioned to write six plays which would be performed by schools across Northern Ireland.
The teachers involved are given 30 hours mentoring in production, direction, lighting, sound and costumes and general advice on how to put on a theatrical performance.
The final play, which is based around RMS Titanic is due to be performed to coincide with the ship’s 100-year anniversary in April. The project won the award for Cultural Diversity at the 2011 Theatre Management Association Awards in London.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I have always had a passion for the performing arts and an avid interest in theatre but I had never thought about making a career out of it. Education on the other hand, has always been a huge part of my professional life — I worked as a teacher for 15 years.
This role in the Lyric has allowed me to marry my two biggest professional interests and I am enjoying every minute of it.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
I trained as an actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and then went into teaching. Three years ago, I launched Happenstance Theatre Company — that was a steep learning curve, but a hugely valuable experience.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
As Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre, the organisation plays a key role in engaging the local and wider, national and international, communities in theatre and the associated activities which the Lyric has on offer: whether that may be encouraging people to come and see productions, or by inviting people to take part in any number of the in-house or outreach projects being run across the region.
Ultimately our aim is to make both children and adults feel at home in our stunning new building — to be welcomed, entertained and most importantly inspired.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
Making personal contact with as many potential audience members as possible is hugely important. Getting out into schools and community groups, telling them who we are and what we do and then being here to meet them when they come to the theatre is a crucial part of making people feel welcome and at ease.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
You certainly need to enjoy working with people and, as in all jobs where that’s the case, a good sense of humour comes in very handy. Patience, imagination and good organisational skills are useful too.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
The biggest rewards come from designing a project, watching it come together and then seeing people enjoy it. We ran a series of comedy workshops recently for a group of pupils from a range of secondary schools across Belfast; to hear them enthuse after the classes were finished — in the knowledge that they’ve acquired new skills — makes it all worthwhile.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve just finished directing a play called The Boat Factory, written by and featuring Dan Gordon. There’s a terrific piece of advice in it, which Dan’s father passed on to him: “Don’t stand and wonder how to do it — do it, and wonder how you did it!” A good antidote to procrastination!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
I’ve done a few jobs before this one, from dentistry to acting, and at some point every day I draw on and appreciate the experience I’ve gained from all of them. Teaching is a useful background and a good working knowledge of theatre essential.