Alumni & Friends - The Inspiring Story of a Red Phoenix
A phoenix is a mythological bird with a colourful plumage which renews itself from its own ashes. This strong and colourful metaphor has come to mean a lot to one of our graduates; so much so that she has taken on the name of the bird in her professional life, as a reminder of the transformative effect that education can have. She wanted to be a storyteller since the age of four and after gaining a degree at QMU she has gone on to achieve her goal. She is now ‘Red Phoenix’, a successful and award winning storyteller, delivering storytelling workshops to schools and community groups.
Red Phoenix is actually Terrie Howey, who joined QMU as a mature student in 2003, after working in theatre for eight years. With the aim of exploring writing, directing and drama, she went through her own transformation to became a professional storyteller and found her own company, Red Phoenix Storytelling & Productions, just a few months after her graduation. During her degree Terrie worked closely with lecturer Ksenija Horvat on concepts of dramaturgy – the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on stage.
This year her effort and determination was once more rewarded, when she won the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Her aim was to examine successful systems of support, development and mentoring for storytellers in North America, thereby improving and cultivating opportunities for youth tellers in the UK.
Terrie has been touring America and Canada for six weeks and we recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her trip and her experiences since graduation. Terrie’s energy and enthusiasm emanate over the phone. She knows what she wants and she enjoys each moment to the full.
What is your favourite memory from Queen Margaret University?
My time at the Gateway Theatre. Learning in there was absolutely amazing. I remember turning up on my very first day, meeting all the students from all the different years and gathering in that space - just the amount of excitement and enthusiasm in that room was electric. I think that excitement lasted for the next four years! It was brilliant just to have access to that space and the theatre facilities and the freedom to really explore and experiment with performance media. You get an experience in your studies that you definitely don’t get out in the real world. In the real world you have to be right the first time, whereas university gives us a great space for making mistakes and learning from them.
What do you think was the most useful part of your degree? Are there some skills that you still use every day?
It was great to learn about both the artistic and the administration sides of being an actor and performer. I learned invaluable skills such as how to market myself, how to promote my shows, how to create education packs for schools interaction – all of which are essential skills for my current job. A lot of storytellers are finding it difficult to find work because of the economic climate and finding that the school work is dropping off. It used to be fairly standard for a storyteller to give a performance and then deliver a one or two day workshop. But the schools don’t have the money to let the storyteller do that so we find they are only booking the performance part and the audience are missing out on the learning that goes with it. However, with my training in dramaturgy and my ability to create tailored education packs I can both demonstrate the tangible benefits of delivering the full programme when people enquire about it and also offer a unique and valuable learning opportunity to schools. If I hadn’t come to Queen Margaret University and if I hadn’t had the guidance of [Drama and Performance Lecturer] Ksenija Horvat I wouldn’t never have learned how to do that.
As a mature student, in what way do you think your degree helped you?
I came to the university after working in theatre for 8 years. I wanted to explore drama from a different angle, and do a bit more writing and directing. I met Ksenija who explained to me what a dramaturge was, and I realised I had been carrying out the role of a dramaturge for a number of years without really realising it. As well as teaching me new skills, my degree really helped me pull together and refine all of the skills I had been using beforehand and focus them towards my future goals. Being a student also allowed me the freedom to take on relevant part-time work at Mary King’s Close and at the same time I became involved with the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
You won the ‘Principal Leach Scholarship’ in 2006 for being the most outstanding student across the school. What do you remember from those days?
The leach scholarship arrived at exactly the right time for me – just as I was finishing my time at QMU and working on my final pieces of assessment. It really helped me in putting together the finishing touches on my final two performances. Being able to pay actors was a real advantage! Also, to then be able to explore supporting evidence for my thesis was a real boost and something of a luxury. It put a really positive spin on those last few months at University. Once I moved back to south England I had set up my company within 5 months of graduating and I was carrying out my very first performances under ‘Red Phoenix Storytelling & Productions’ almost instantly. It was quite exciting and also quite scary! It all snowballed quite quickly and I very soon built a reputation, not only locally but nationally. I also became involved with the Society of Storytelling, which is a national organisation supporting and promoting storytellers, and I’m now the Hampshire representative for them.
How was the experience of winning with the Winston Churchill Award?
It was fantastic. I had an interview at Westminster, which is a very daunting experience! I had a panel of four people in front of me and when I sat down they asked me the question, ‘what is storytelling?’ I really wish somebody had recorded that interview because I have no idea what I said! I was all prepared to talk about the project I had applied to fund and about my other work, but all of that went out of the window and I spent the whole interview explaining storytelling, the history, the theory behind it and also the positive effect it can have on communities and relationships. I remember leaving the interview thinking, ‘they didn’t ask anything about my project, they don’t care about my project, I definitely haven’t got it…’ It just goes to show what enthusiasm and passion for a subject, coupled with a solid background knowledge can do in the right situation.
Have you got any new projects coming up in the near future?
I’ve always got a thousand and one projects! I’m thinking of maybe writing or co-writing a book, which is something I’ve never done before and would not have been in a position to do had it not been for QMU. I’m severely dyslexic - which I didn’t find out about until I got to University. On my first day I told them I had never been tested but that I thought I may be dyslexic. They arranged the test and when the results came back it turned out I was indeed very dyslexic. I spent a lot of time working with the Effective Learning Service at QMU and they were fantastic in helping me learn how to cope with my disability - and actually by the time I completed my degree I found that dyslexia wasn’t a disability at all.
How did The Effective Learning Service help you?
It changed my life in many ways. Up until that point I had just felt stupid and like I didn’t understand the world. Suddenly somebody was able to give me a reason why I had felt like this. Not only that, but they gave me the tools to overcome it. That was revolutionary to me. In fact the software that I was given as part the assistance, I still use it to this day. I don’t think I would have been able to continue my degree if they hadn’t detected that I’m dyslexic and I don’t think I would be able to run my own business now without that knowledge and the tools and techniques they provided. They helped me learn how to cope with the condition and how to find my own way of dealing with it.
I had such a great time at QMU and it was an amazing place for learning. I’ll always be incredibly grateful for that. I really don’t think that I would have got the support, the understanding and the specialised learning in any other place.
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