QMU graduate launches theatre company

By Press Office

A Drama and Performance graduate from QMU has launched her own new theatre company after becoming the first student in Scotland to win a $15,000 scholarship to attend the prestigious National Theater Institute in Connecticut, USA.

Emma Harley, 21, from Dunfermline in Fife, also secured a £5,000 grant from the Dewar Arts Awards, £1,400 from the Santander Universities and £1,500 from Cross Trust’s Vacation Studies in the Arts to help fund her studies in America.

Emma took part in the four-month intensive programme at the end of 2016, working under professional theatre practitioners honing her skills in directing; contemporary, screen and Shakespearean acting; design; playwriting; voice-work; singing, movement, stage combat and dance.

Since returning to Scotland, Emma has set up the new Pandorum Theatre Company, which is already planning to run a show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Emma has previous experience directing a number of her own shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Edinburgh Student Arts Festival in 2015 and 2016 with financial support from QMU’s Student Development Fund and her own crowdfunding activity.

Emma has set up the newly formed Pandorum Theatre Company after merging Facepalm Theatre that she had set up in 2016 with the original Pandorum Theatre Company that she established in 2015. The new Pandorum Theatre Company is now based within the Business Innovation Zone at QMU, where Emma benefits from access to small business start-up support and guidance from the campus-based Business Gateway, as well as QMU’s rehearsal facilities.

Commenting on her scholarship award and experience in the US, Emma said: “I’m really proud to have been the first Scottish student to secure a place and scholarship with the National Theatre Institute. It has been an incredible achievement and an opportunity that has boosted my practical skillset and academic knowledge of contemporary performance, as well as my potential to create and produce performances around the world.

“The Institute has a real sense of community and I feel really lucky to have been able to work with such a talented group of artists. I’ve made lifelong friends, made some incredible contacts from around the world and even met my current partner - all of whom I hope to collaborate with in the near future.

“My experience at the National Theater Institute couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Having just graduated from QMU, thinking about my future prospects and going through a traumatic time in my personal life, I really needed an escape. Attending the Institute was more productive than I could have dreamed. Not only am I much happier in my personal life, but I’ve also broadened my horizons and developed the skills I‘d already gained as a theatre maker during my QMU degree.

“QMU has definitely given me a solid grounding for life as a theatre practitioner. The structure of learning theatre history and critical theory is an incredibly important basis to have, and combined with learning multiple disciplines and techniques involved in the process of creating theatre definitely allowed me to hit the ground running at the National Theater Institute.”

What are your top tips for future students thinking about applying to the National Theater Institute?

“In terms of going to the Institute itself, I would say go in with an open mind, an open heart and a willingness to work harder than you have ever worked in your life. The days start at 7.30am and classes don’t finish until 10pm, sometimes later. And after that, there is homework, extra reading, lines to learn, plays to write and scenes to rehearse. If you go in with a positive attitude, you won’t care about the late nights and early mornings - you will have the best time of your life.”

What are your top tips for future students applying for funding?

“I applied to the National Theater Institute after a former alum and ambassador visited QMU to run a workshop about it. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to apply because of the high costs involved but my application for the scholarship was successful. It was only then that I started looking into other funding options to further support my travel, tuition and living costs.

  • “Make lots of time to search for trusts, funds, bursaries and private donors. Make a checklist and keep track of everyone you’ve emailed, sent letters to, or are in the process of applying to. The number of funding options available are quite overwhelming, so this will help you keep your head clear.
  • “Consider making a crowdfunding page. I didn’t do this, but some of my classmates managed to partially fund their fees this way.
  • “Ask for help. Your lecturers want the best for you. I know mine did. I would not have been able to make the trip without their support.
  • “Don’t sell yourself short. Make your funders believe in you as much as the people who made this opportunity possible.
  • “Start applying for funding as soon as possible. I didn’t think to look for additional funding until after I had been offered a place, so I missed many deadlines for various funding sources. Most funders have a long turnaround process, so be prepared to wait before you hear if you are successful.”

What new skills & knowledge have you developed at the National Theater Institute?

“I’ve honed my skills, discovered a previously hidden talent for playwriting and can now memorise lines quicker than I would have thought possible.

“I’ve been exposed to an incredible number of different working practices in multiple aspects of the creative process, as well as becoming more aware of physical and mental wellbeing for artists. I feel like I’m still absorbing and learning from my time there.”

How do you think the experience will help you progress your career?

“I was the first Scottish student to attend the National Theater Institute, so my training and experiences are unique within Scotland. I have made many connections, so if I decide to work globally, there are people who I can work with and support me in international work.

“The training I received was not only conservatoire-style but also taught me how to be a complete theatre artist. I’m now able to turn my hand to a variety of different disciplines, which is incredibly useful if you’re working within a small company creating new work.

“The timescale and intensity of the programme meant that I got as much practical training in just four months than some other theatre makers would be lucky to get in a whole year. I’m hoping that all of this experience will not only help me in progressing my own small theatre company, but in getting work with other practitioners and companies to build my network and standing within the theatrical community.”

Business Innovation Zone

Student Development Fund

Notes to Editor

Find out more about the National Theater Institute.

Learn more about the Dewar Arts Awards.

For further media information contact Lynne Russell, Marketing Manager, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, E: lrussell@qmu.ac.uk  T: 0131 474 0000, M: 07711 011239 and Jon Perkins, Press and PR Officer, E: jperkins@qmu.ac.uk T: 0131 474 0000.