Jo Davies, production coordinator
Jo Davies became interested in the backstage aspect of the theatre when she was a small child from watching pantomimes with her dad and brother. She explains her career journey, her role as production coordinator for Wales Millennium Centre and offers tips for getting into theatre. Jo won the Theatre Skills Award 2016 alongside Martin Hunt.
I was born and bred in Bridgend in South Wales.
What job do you do?
I currently work as the production coordinator at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
How did you get into theatre?
As a small child my dad used to take me and my brother to see the pantomimes at the New Theatre in Cardiff and the Swansea Grand.
I would often find myself staring into the wings once an actor had left the stage, wondering what was behind there. I think this is where my interest in the backstage aspect of the theatre began.
At my comprehensive school they used to do a musical every January. I started off in the chorus (most notably as a member of the Salvation Army in Guys and Dolls) but I soon realised that the limelight was not for me so I began doing costume changes for the leads instead.
What qualifications do you have?
When it came to choosing what to do when I finished school, I chose to study Drama with Film and Television Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Mainly because I was at a loss at what else to do but also because I knew that drama and theatre were still big passions of mine.
Learning through doing and gaining as much experience as possible meant I knew just as much as someone who had done three years of training.
Whilst there I volunteered as stage crew on the annual Arts Centre community panto and got my first paid theatre job as stage crew on Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s summer season High Society.
After that, I knew that working backstage was what I wanted to do for a living.
After graduating I got my first professional stage management job as deputy stage manager on Annie, that year’s summer season at the Arts Centre.
I will forever be grateful to the then technical manager, Wyn Jones, for taking a chance on me that year and agreeing to employ me when I had very little proper experience. Thankfully, I didn’t let him down (or so he said anyway)!
After university I moved to London and carried on building my career as a freelance stage manager. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be getting paid for doing a job that I love.
I got to work with fantastically diverse and wonderful people on some very exciting shows and I have made some friends for life. However, after almost eight years in London the homeland was calling me back.
So in 2012 I moved back to Wales and in 2013 I started working for Wales Millennium Centre.
What do you do for your job?
The job is very varied, which I love as it keeps it interesting and keeps me on my toes.
I don’t do as much stage management as I used to but I still get to dip my hand in every now and then.
When we recruit our apprentices we look for a proven interest in theatre.
One of my main responsibilities at Wales Millenium Centre is to look after the technical apprentices and make sure that they know what they need to do and to schedule their time.
Along with my boss Martin Hunt and with support from Cardiff and Vale College, we have recently launched a Shared Apprenticeship Scheme as a way to address the lack of technical theatre apprentices in venues around Wales.
We have become the primary employer of around 10 apprentices that are based in theatres across Wales. We help with costs for some of the venues that could not afford to host an apprentice otherwise.
Martin and I have also trained up as assessors of work-based learning qualifications, so we can now go and assess the apprentices ourselves.
This gives us a greater input into the qualification and what they are learning, which means it is more relevant and up to industry standard.
How do I get into theatre?
1. Get as much exposure to the industry as possible.
When we recruit our apprentices we look for a proven interest in theatre as this shows that the passion and willingness to learn is there.
This may be shown as working on school or college productions, or volunteering for your local am dram company.
2. Try to meet as many people as possible that work in the industry.
Do your research. Contacts are so important and often times it’s who you know rather than what you know that gets your foot in the door.
I used to worry that - as I hadn’t attended drama school - this would hold me back.
But learning through doing and gaining as much experience as possible meant I knew just as much as someone who had done three years of training.
3. Take every opportunity you can
With creative apprenticeship schemes being much more widespread than they were when I was 18, there is now even more opportunity to gain valuable experience and training in theatre.
Nominations for the 2017 Creative & Cultural Skills Awards will open in September.