Associate Head of Acting
- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Ali de Souza is the Associate Head of Acting at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
He graduated from Queen Margaret University College in 2004 with a Master of Fine Arts in Advanced Screen Practice.
You studied and taught at QMU, what are your most memorable moments?
I have lots of fond memories both from being a student on the MFA Advanced Screen Practice (Directing) programme and as a teacher at QMU. Twenty years ago, we were based at the Gateway Studios at the top of Leith Walk. The Drama department was, and I know still is, a close-knit community of creative, wonderful people who cared passionately about the power of acting. I loved being at the Gateway – we did brilliant work both for theatre and screen. Some of my favourite times were making short films with the BA actors and then Head of Technical Theatre, Scottie Anderson, using scripts commissioned from established and emerging writers, and shooting all over Edinburgh.
Tell us more about your career.
I became an actor by simply telling people I was an actor after graduating with a MA in Psychology from the University of Dundee.
Perseverance, tenacity and a lot of self-belief meant I eventually secured my first professional job with Buckhaven Theatre Rep Company for two years. And, I learned my craft there, working with wonderful directors like Rita Henderson and Colin Gray, and wonderful actors like Julie Ellen (another QMU graduate). To be paid to do something I love was a dream come true, and I loved the day I cashed my first cheque - £110 for the week!
After about seven years of working in theatre and on screen, I decided I didn’t know what I was actually doing so I trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which I loved. I continued working as an actor, and it was just after finishing my MFA at QMU that wonderful Catherine (Cathie) Owen, then BA Acting programme leader, asked if I would take on some screen acting teaching. That’s when I discovered I loved teaching more than performing.
Tell us more about what it meant to teach at QMU.
I didn't really know what I knew about acting until I started teaching it. I found that training actors allowed me to learn every day. It keeps my creative soul nourished, through exploration of the craft in the studio and in the rehearsal room. I love teaching and I love directing.
"At QMU the staff team were so supportive and so talented. I learned so much from colleagues such as the fantastic actor-trainer Robin Wilson and the brilliant director Maggie Kinloch. Cathie taught me so much about how to run a programme, about learning and teaching strategies, and about management and organisational skills. I am indebted to her."
These people are all still great friends. Cathie is now a Humanist Celebrant and officiated at my marriage in 2019. I also worked with the wonderful singing teacher Marion McNeill, who passed away in 2015. I was very lucky to be surrounded with all that creativity and it fed, and was fed by, the talent of the super actors who trained with us. It gives me such pleasure to see so many of them on TV, film and in theatre.
Tell us more about what your current role involves.
I am currently the Associate Head of Acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which I joined in 2009. It's a full-on, fantastic job and no two days are the same. As well as keeping the BA Acting programme on track, I teach screen-acting and Acting with Shakespeare, and I am heavily involved in recruitment activities and I often direct shows.
What advice would you give to students and new graduates starting out?
These are extraordinary times to be a student and to emerge from university. Over the last two years, through experiencing events such as #MeToo, the murder of George Floyd, the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard, the pandemic, and the climate crisis (to name a few), there are many things that have rocked our ways of being and thinking.
People have found a voice that they did not know they had, and that is wonderful, powerful and long overdue. Together – student, graduate, employer, educator – we must work together to sustain and help each other make the best use of this voice. We can do it through the power of theatre and film but also through a sense of community where everyone is working from a place of support, kindness and hope. I’d ask everyone to work from a place of curiosity, ambition, courage and humility, and then you won’t let the opportunities pass you by. Turn on your headlights!