The company performing Macabeth at Ivybridge visited by Ann Laity the Mayor, in September 2019.

Taking to the Stage

The South Devon Players Theatre and Film Club is based in Torbay, Devon and was set-up in 2005/6 to create opportunities and experience for local performers seeking to work professionally in theatre. The company was founded by Exeter alumna Laura Jury (Masters in Education, 2013) and has progressed well including winning awards both locally and in New York in 2019. They are also currently undergoing a rapid expansion.

Laura works as the Company Director, Secretary and co-founder of South Devon Players Theatre & Film Club and we recently caught up with her to find out what inspired her to follow this career path and what it’s like working in the theatre industry.

Laura said: “It was a decision born of struggling to find performance opportunities, outside of amateur theatre with little possibility for career progression, in the area. It was a very frustrating time, and I met some other likeminded people; we decided ultimately to make our own opportunities, and then also have the door open to other people who felt the same way.”

The experience of studying at the University of Exeter is one that Laura feels has helped her hugely in her career and says that: “This was really the course of study which gave me the skills to manage a team of diverse people, problem-solve, research academically for information and data which directly informs practical work, and the more academic side of arts research.

“Learning to impart knowledge, is also hugely useful in providing workshops, and training cast and crew who come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging  from those who are learning from day one, and those coming in, with more experience.” 

The process to starting the company has however been a challenging one with the biggest obstacles being funding and perceptions. Laura said: “We have survived often by ticket sales, and funding rehearsal space/core costs, with fundraising and all kinds of odd things. I’ve found it very hard to find any kind of arts funding in the South West.

“The other big challenge is the perception that if you're local to an area then it’s just something that is not very serious; so you find yourself avoided in favour of companies coming in from further afield. I have spoken to other theatre producers who also find the same misconceptions in their company's home area, which vanishes as soon as you go further afield. The only answer to that is tenacity; show your work, going further afield where you get the reviews, then coming back to your home area.”

Despite these challenges the company is now on a steady upward path, with larger scale touring, national and international awards won, as well as theatre performance invitations now coming in internationally. 

Laura’s ultimate ambition is to grow the company into a self-sustaining, theatre company, providing creative employment for people in the South West.

When asked if she had any advice for current students or alumni looking to work in this industry she said: “Tenacity, and the willingness to never stop learning, are your two biggest tools.  Things don't come easy in any way shape or form, you will find all kinds of pitfalls, and also all kinds of new things to learn. If you want to do something like this, it is perfectly possible, but at the same time, it does not come easy. Be prepared to enjoy the journey as much as the final product of work.”

Date: 14 January 2020

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