Michelle James is a former student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and has recently graduated with a BA in Musical Theatre. She is now entering the world as a professional actor and creative under the slight name change of Michelle James. We caught up with Michelle as she reflected on her time at RCS as well as her thoughts about the future.
First and foremost I would like to thank the Isle of Man Arts Council for its continued support throughout my training, I am extremely grateful and proud to have told so many people about how wonderful the Isle of Man is and in particular is thriving arts scene and rich culture.
I have so many wonderful things to say about the last three years it’s hard to know where to start.
The Conservatoire itself is a wonderful building and community to be part of. It’s strong grounding in collaboration have left me with a lasting legacy that working together with people across disciplines can and will achieve greatness. I believe that I have not only trained as a multidisciplinary performer and actor but an artist ready to create engaging and exciting work across communities. Being in Scotland has been a blessing. A country that is passionate about its culture, I have found myself thriving in a fellow Celtic nation, soaking up all the quirks that Glasgow as a city and Scotland as a country has. I could not have felt more at home and find myself constantly inspired by the world around me.
Pippin - Michelle plays the Leading Player in the Actor Musician verision of Pippin. Performed at the National Piping Centre directed by Emily Reutlinger May 2019. Photo by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
The undergraduate course in Musical Theatre at RCS is a very unique and creative course. It allows students to develop themselves as people and celebrates differences and individuality. The four stranded course delivers the highest quality of training across singing, acting, dancing and instrumental musicianship. They don’t only produce the now common ‘triple threat performer’ but instead actors who are also exceptional musicians as well being able to sing, act and dance. Alumni have been seen to branch out to all corners of the entertainment business with great success.
Throughout the third year, you are given the opportunity to synthesise all the skills you have developed throughout the first and second year in 3 productions. They take three different forms of style and scale and perform in three very different venues. Following the ethos of the Conservatoire the productions benefit from cross Conservatoire collaboration, with students on the design course making costumes, set, props, the production course running the show and everything that goes with it, sound, lights, stage management and musicians from the music school playing in our bands and orchestras and so much more that brings the whole institution together. I have been very lucky to have been part of such a creatively alive world. Upon graduation I was honoured to have been awarded three prizes: The programme prize for Musical Theatre, the Buchanan prize for Voice and the Conservatoire wide Dorothy Innes Prize for good studentship.
Bat Boy: The Musical - Michelle and Conall Ross playing Shelley Parker and Bat Boy. Performed at the Chandler Studio Theatre and Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones Nov 2018. Photo by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
So what’s next? Well a bit of an unpredictable life, I’ve already learnt from the last few months you just don’t know what is around the corner. The phone can ring at any point and you can have an audition the next day and a job the next week. You just don’t know. But I’ve accepted a spree of ‘riding the wave’, enjoying the excitement of the endless possibilities and learning new things at every audition and experience you have. It’s all about running your own race and not worrying about what’s happening in the lanes next to you. I’m looking forward to staying in Glasgow for the next few months and being part of Johnny McKnight’s (Scottish King of Panto) panto Cinderfella at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow at the end of the year. And after that who knows, but it will come, patience is key. I have also trained as a Pilates instructor whilst at the Conservatoire which I am extremely passionate about and love teaching across Scotland and I continue to teach performance classes with children and young people both of which keep me ticking over.
1. Take every opportunity you can get. Never say no, you don’t know what might come of it and what experience you will get. Growing up on the Isle of Man is a perfect place to put this into practice. There is such a rich arts community across so many platforms and so much support and encouragement from the Arts Council, various organisations, teachers, groups, communities, competitions, festivals etc.
2. See as much theatre, art, films, radio as you can. Talk to people - ask them if you can help, be part of things that you’re interested in.
3. If you’re serious about making this your career - do some training off island, summer schools and workshops, enter competitions, watch theatre off the island across the UK and the world.
4. Get in touch with fellow Manx people in the industry - there is a wealth of people from the Isle of Man working or training professionally in the arts industry in UK and across the world, and they are always willing, in my experience to answer questions you might have or put you in the direction of the right people.
Michelle and Harry Mills in Sunday in the Park with George. Characters Mr and Mrs an American Couple visiting George Surats ‘island’. Performed at the Royal Atheneum Theatre directed by Dougie Irvine. March 2019. Photo by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
5. Learn as many skills as you can, and have many strings to your bow. The arts, and in particular the theatre industry, is an extremely competitive and cut throat industry. The average professional actor in the UK works for 6 weeks a year as an actor. Average. Meaning lots of actors work less than that. You have to have another way of earning money when you’re not acting. If this is doing something you hate, it won't be easy, try and find other things that you equally love or are passionate about.
6. And most of all - just go for it. Work hard, really hard, as hard as you can, and have fun.