Producer and director
Helen Milne is a freelance producer and director.
She graduated with BA (Hons) Drama and Theatre Arts from Queen Margaret University in 2010.
What sparked your interest in performing arts?
I think it was my late mother and her relatives who most inspired my passion for the performing arts. My mum was very involved in producing Aberdeen University’s student shows and was also a theatre administrator before she got married, so I think I’m living out her dream in some way. She would tell me stories about the shows she worked on and gave me a little cardboard theatre which was magical. I put on shows for the family with my sister and best friend. We charged for tickets of course, which must have been the producer in me!
When I was at secondary school, I performed in my local am-dram group's panto every year.
I was also lucky enough to get involved with a community arts Festival with spectacle events company, Vision Mechanics. It was inspirational, having the chance to work with professional theatre makers and the local community instilled a real sense of belonging and a desire to be part of this exciting creative world where anything could happen. The following year I went off to Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow and performed in 'Our Town' at The Citizens.
Why did you choose to study at QMU?
"QMU has a strong reputation within the theatre industry in Scotland, and the course I studied, Drama and Theatre Arts, provided the chance to learn about a broad spectrum of theatrical skills including directing, acting, arts journalism and playwrighting in the first two years, and then I specialised in directing in third and fourth year."
What did you enjoy most about your course?
The really high calibre of teaching from tutors who have strong industry experience including Dr Donald Pulford and Kate Nelson. Also, visiting lecturers from theatre practitioners such as playwright/performer David Leddy, artist and director Laura Cameron Lewis, and the arts journalism legend that is Joyce McMillan. The learning gained from them, certainly helped shape my creative voice and practice.
The biggest thing I learnt from QMU was to be versatile. It’s a really exciting industry but also very challenging especially now post-pandemic. You need to be adaptable, embrace change and uncertainty as the industry is constantly shifting and every production has very different demands.
What are your most memorable experiences of being a QMU student?
Working with the students at Telford College to present an evening of excerpts from The Traverse’s archives.
Co-directing David Greig’s 'Oedipus The Visionary' at The Citz with the final year acting students.
And, my two fourth-year work placements, the first was working on Dundee Rep’s Christmas show 'Beauty and the Beast' directed by Jemima Levick, and the second on English National Opera’s 'La Bohème' directed by Sir Jonathan Miller.
Tell us more about your career path since leaving QMU.
After leaving QMU, I came full circle and got my first professional job as a tour booker with spectacle events company, Vision Mechanics.
Then in 2014, I was selected for the Creative Scotland Producers’ project attached to Aberdeen Performing Arts, and then I went on to be a Resident Assistant Producer at Theatre503 in London.
My career highlights include producing 'Islander' at the Edinburgh Fringe and Off West End at Southwark Playhouse. I’m also still super proud of my first ever Fringe show 'At The Illusionist’s Table'. A lot of blood sweat and tears went into making the show on a shoestring budget. I undertook almost every role on the production for the first couple of years including director and production manager just to make it happen, but it ended up becoming the start of my freelance producing journey.
Tell us more about what your role as a freelance producer involves.
Producers are strange beasts and are ever-evolving depending on the demands of a production and the creative team. In basic terms, producers work closely with the director and the rest of the creative team to ensure the production is delivered on time and on budget.
Producers generally juggle many tasks behind the scenes to facilitate the production process including overseeing the management of budgets, contracts, fundraising, marketing, scheduling and liaise with the team to ensure everything stays on track.
Sometimes, I will instigate the idea for a show and enlist a creative team and on other occasions, I'm approached by other creatives with a project they want to make happen.
What advice would you give to students and new graduates starting out?
As one of my QMU lecturers once said ‘shoot for the stars!’ and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice.
The theatre community is generally very supportive and happy to offer some time and support for a coffee and a chat, particularly to aspiring theatre makers who are just starting out. The worst that someone can say is no.
Another thing is to persevere, and that it's okay to fail, see it as an opportunity to learn from so don’t give up, just go for it!