Anastasia Booth, Class of 2015, is an Assistant Stage Manager in the theatre.
What was your experience at Manchester High like?
My Manchester High experience was one of support and challenge. I am dyslexic and the School have a wonderful support team for those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, my support tutor helped me find ways to best understand my dyslexia and find ways to get the most out of my learning. I had never had that kind of support before, and these support methods are ones I still use today.
I remember going to look at high schools and being told about all the extra treatment I would receive, and that there were certain subjects I wouldn’t study because they were particularly difficult for those with dyslexia, languages being the main one. Manchester High did not see my dyslexia as an obstacle to my learning just as a challenge I would eventually overcome, which I did. Languages, the subject I would not have studied at other schools was one of my favourites and one that I did well in.
How do you feel it helped to shape the person you are today?
One of the reasons I loved being a student at MHSG was the constant challenge and the encouragement to always do better. These two things have totally shaped my character and helped me to become who I am as a person and who I am in my career. There are constant challenges in theatre be it working with passionate and creative people, to figuring out how to manage a challenging budget and still create productions such as “Grand Hotel” (a musical I worked on in 2017). I find myself utilising all of those maths skills that I never thought I would need (I even use trigonometry when working with scenic ground plans).
To quote French Playwright and Actor, Molière “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it” and I am a firm believer that challenges are what makes life fascinating and overcoming them is what gives us purpose. Whist I definitely did not realise it then, it was being a student at Manchester High that gave me that outlook and drive to always do better.
Were there any teachers who made a particular impression on you?
My drama teacher Mrs Haves was and still is a big inspiration for me. I knew that I wanted to work in theatre and particularly back stage since before I started at Manchester High, and whilst I had to perform to keep drama as part of my curriculum, she encouraged me to direct bits of work in class as well as work on the backstage elements of the school shows in my extra-curricular work.
Mrs Hobson was also a teacher I admired, and one of the reasons I particularly enjoyed German. She has an amazing passion for the subject and an assertive but charming character, which made you want to do well.
Are you still in touch with anyone from your time at School?
I am still in touch with some of my peers from Manchester High and there is a group of us who still try to go for a dinner over Christmas every year!
What did you do after Manchester High? Tell us about your journey in your own words.
I left MHSG after year 11, and went to Loreto College, although I still kept ties with the school over those years coming back to Stage Manage ‘Oliver!’ I went on to study Stage Management at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (part of the University of London) and achieved a 2:1. As part of our course, we had to do a placement. I did my placement with a company called Peut Être Theatre, which was meant to be just for the autumn term, but they asked me to stay on with them. I worked with them on two of their touring production for my final year and have been working since then.
What has been the highlight of your career?
The highlight of my career so far came in my final year of University (January 2018) when I got the opportunity to tour a show to China. It was with Peut Être Theatre, who create dance theatre for young audiences, on a show called ‘Shh…Bang!’ I had always dreamed of taking a show on tour abroad and China for me was always a dream destination for this work as I fell in love with the culture after a family holiday.
Making this dream a reality before I had even finished my degree was a huge achievement for me. The job came with its challenges, mainly the language barrier, their different approach to creating a show and understanding different job descriptions, but we had a hugely successful run, mostly performing to sold out audiences. Touring with a dance performance was really special as the removal of language as a communication tool made this such an easy performance for the audience in China to access.
What advice would you give to girls considering your career?
My advice for someone hoping to go in to the theatre or the performing arts industry would be to take the opportunities that come to you, as you never know where they are going to lead. I didn’t particularly think that dance theatre was something I wanted to do and if someone had told me at the end of my 2nd year of university that in the January I would have achieve my life goal of touring China, I would not have believed them. However, the opportunity came up to work with a dance theatre company; I took it and achieved that dream.
The only thing to be cautious of is that you are not taken advantage of and always make sure you are getting something out of the experience. Theatre can be an intense and demanding environment to work in and there is no point putting yourself under all that pressure and spending a lot of time doing something if you are not taking anything away from it.
Do not just expect opportunities to come to you, go looking for them as well. If there is a show, project or company you are particularly interested in working with, find a way to do it. Doing your research and finding passion projects will make you stand out from other people and encourage you to work hard on the projects you are involved in.
My advice for anyone looking to go to drama school would be not to give up. I was lucky to have gotten in my first time round. However, it is not the reality for everyone, particularly on performance pathways. Find another cultural experience or foundation course to broaden your knowledge of the industry. I would also encourage prospective drama school students to go to a school where they feel comfortable.
Interview/Audition day is stressful, however, if one stands out for you as a better or more comfortable experience, then the chance is their style of teaching will suit you better as these processes usually mimic in some way the process of teaching. At RCSSD the interview was highly collaborative, which was done to mimic their collaborative teaching approach. This is a style that suits theatre, but also suited me as an individual.
Who are the inspirational figures in your life?
My inspirational figures are not famous, but people that have influenced me and been my mentors through my schooling and career. My parents, my mum for her generosity and work ethic and my dad for his ability to create such an amazing work/life balance.
David Stockwell who was the leader of the youth drama group at my church, he first introduced me to the process and different elements of putting on a show.
A woman called Janet Hinchcliffe who was the General Manager of a youth drama group I volunteered and later worked with called 2Faced. Whilst most 11 year olds wanted to go to the school to learn to act I wanted to learn about teaching and directing and she made that possible. It was with them that I learned about Stage Management. Janet has an amazing sense of calm and resilience even when things got stressful which I admired and are skills, which have helped me in my career.
Mrs Haves from MHSG who encouraged me with the non-performative side of theatre through my extra-curricular work and then Danny Price (from Loreto College) who continued this encouragement.
Helen Gibbs who was the first professional Stage Manager I worked with, she introduced me to “how it’s actually done”. I worked with her on two shows ‘Footloose” and ‘42nd Street’ in Birmingham with a project called Stage Experience. It was the professional insight in to Stage Management from her that showed me that it is what I wanted to do as a career. (Exempting my parents) Helen was the first person I told that I was going to the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and she was so supportive.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I am a firm believer that you should have long term and short-term goals. Touring to China had been a goal of mine for such a long time that now having achieved that I am enjoying the work I am involved in and creating now.
My immediate goals are to continue what I have been doing building relationships with new theatres and other stage managers, as well as continuing to tour and working on shows that strike passion and excitement for me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have not had a lot of spare time recently! Hobbies is one of the things I have struggled with since I started professionally working in theatre, as when I was in school it was what I spent all my spare time doing. I still enjoy going to the theatre but have found that I enjoy styles of live performance and theatre I do not work in a lot more enjoyable to watch, like the Ballet and live music.
I love being outside and in the fresh air I have found that it really puts everything I have achieved in to perspective as well as giving me time to reflect on what I am currently doing or just take my mind of everything all together. I love being crafty, be it sewing, glass engraving, baking or gardening
I also love travelling, which is great for the work I do and I am hoping to visit Russia and Japan at some point!