Alumni profile - Miniver Theatre Company
"It all started when we took a show up to the Fringe with QMTC, we really enjoyed all aspects of the show, from the creation of the piece to the final performances. We decided this was something we wanted to continue beyond Queen Mary, once we had both graduated. So the two of us decided to set up our own company so we could continue making theatre independently."
What inspired you to create your own theatre company?
Megan – it all started when we took a show up to the Fringe with QMTC, we really enjoyed all aspects of the show, from the creation of the piece to the final performances. We decided this was something we wanted to continue beyond Queen Mary, once we had both graduated. So the two of us decided to set up our own company so we could continue making theatre independently.
Can you explain what QMTC for anyone who might not be familiar with it?
Andrei – QMTC is a student-based theatre company which is financially supported by the School of English and Drama (SED). The company enables students to have access to facilities to rehearse and perform without the worry of having to pay for security or porters. The added bonus is that every August, QMTC goes up to the Fringe in Edinburgh for two weeks. It is arguably one of the biggest theatre festivals in the world and the costs are immense and grow every year. SED subsidises a lot of Fringe to give students the amazing opportunity to perform there. Megan and I were part of QMTC for three years; we were both on the committee (I was the production manager and Megan was the secretary) and it formed a huge part of our University experience.
What has been so rewarding about establishing your own theatre company?
Andrei – the best thing that’s happened so far is that we have been recognised quite a few times at the Fringe; it really is the best reward to come from a show that you have been a part of. It usually means that people have either really liked or really hated the performance which is better than a neutral, lukewarm reaction. After the Fringe finished, we’ve done four independent shows of our production – the final performance will be on Sunday 24th November. Our second production was in Swindon and we had 20 odd people come along to the show; we were really happy as we didn’t expect people to see our promotional poster and go: “that looks really good, I’m going to pay to go on a Saturday night to see a show I know nothing about!” – it was really encouraging for us.
Megan – if I had the ability to time travel and say to my younger self: “you’re going to set up your own theatre company and do a tour”, the past me would probably have fainted! It is always nice to fulfil something that you’ve always wanted to do. To turn your dream into a reality.
How big is your theatre company currently?
Andrei – the production that we’re currently working on consists of 8 people, but the company is run and organised by Megan and I. Moving forward with different productions, we have a pool of people that we would love to work closely with.
Everyone in our current cast, except for me, is still studying at Queen Mary; a lot of people that study at Queen Mary also come to see our shows which we are very grateful for. There was also a QMTC production about two weeks ago that I went along to so we still have really good connections with the people that we studied with and the people that are currently studying. It is a really nice community to be a part of. We hope that is continues.
How did the both of you meet?
Andrei – you didn’t like me at first did you Megan?
Megan – laughing… No.
Andrei – we met during first year; Megan was flat mates with one of my best friends so we ended up seeing quite a bit of each other.
Megan – eventually, we worked on a show together that brought us closer. We were and still are very different people with very different skill sets. But we both bring different things to the company and complement each other in our own unique way. People are really quite confused when they find out that we’re best friends as we are such opposites!
Seeing as there are two of you in the company, do you share roles or are your roles strictly defined within the company?
Megan – Andrei is very good at the production and organisational side of things. We joke and call him the logistical genius. My role revolves around the writing side and the social media. I control the website, that kind of thing.
Andrei – with our current production we’ve both had a more hands on approach. When we were part of QMTC, I was also an actor whilst Megan was more so the director and writer. Going forward, because I work full time and Megan is based in Sheffield, we both plan to oversee our current and future productions and to hire people, as professionally as possible, to come in and act as directors. We will still be checking in as much as we can but unfortunately, adult life doesn’t allow us to get as involved as we’d like!
How long did it take you to write the script for your current show?
Megan – probably a few months. I can’t quite remember but for the Edinburgh Fringe Pitch Night, I made sure that the script was completely finished. I like to know everything that is going on. I’m a bit of a control freak in that way!
Where did your inspiration come from for this current production?*
Megan – I was in an English class at Queen Mary and we were looking at recorded accounts of Shakespearean theatre; we were discussing that there is no way that you can know for sure what a production was like, you only have accounts to go off of. I remember thinking how could you possibly recreate a show that is no longer being performed and this inspired me to write a play about someone who kidnaps a bunch of actors so that they can perform their piece again for him.
What made you both choose to study at QM?
Andrei – for me the appeal of Queen Mary was that it had a good rating and reputation, it was in London and it would allow me to study drama which I was most passionate about. I came to London wanting to be an actor which only changed during my third year when I studied a module called show business which was more about finance and theatre. I found it so interesting and I still do.
Megan – Queen Mary was definitely my first choice; I went to two open days just to make sure! In particular, the unusual nature of the course was a major source of attraction for me and the University itself seemed fascinating. The stories and anecdotes of the students and teachers gave me the impression that I’d have a fun and whacky experience at Queen Mary and that is what appealed to me the most.
A – When I came to Queen Mary, I had three other friends who similarly came to study in London at different universities (we are all originally from Romania). None of these friends have such a strong friendship group as I do after my time at Queen Mary; all of my close friends now are undoubtedly those that I met at university; I didn’t expect to come out of university with such a close friendship group and community, but I am glad that I have.
What are your current roles outside of your theatre company?
Andrei – January of this year I started to actively look for theatre jobs; I was applying to two or three jobs a week but I couldn’t find anything. In September I applied for a really junior position and I got an email to say that there were 164 other applicants which was really disheartening. But luckily enough for me, that same day I got an email about an opportunity at a search firm. I am now working with companies from Western Europe and outside of the UK and placing people there in HR departments. It’s not theatre which I want to pursue, but at least I get my theatre dose from our company.
Megan – Currently I teach children drama, dance and musical theatre; I am actively looking for more positions so that I can do this kind of work more frequently. I am trying to secure more dance and drama teaching jobs in particular, as I feel really passionate about both.
Megan, how do you find being in a teacher role now compared to being a student? Is there much difference?
M - thankfully it wasn’t too much of a change because I have been teaching for quite some time (since 2009). The biggest thing that changed for me since graduating is that I feel like I have a lot more to give. I have a lot more knowledge and experience of dealing with people so I feel more confident in my ability to teach and with the content that I have to teach.
Going back to the performance and production side of things, how does it feel when you’re in the moment?
A – one of the best things about QMTC is that it so fluid and everyone can try a bit of everything. Megan for example acted a bit during first and third year and I also wrote and directed a play whilst at Queen Mary. You realise what you like and what you don’t like to do and what you want to pursue in the future. For us, the most surreal moment was performing at Fringe with QMTC; the Fringe is a nice environment where people support each other, but at the same time where people actually pay to see you perform. A brilliant post-Fringe moment came after we set up our company and we put on our first show in a London theatre. It was a truly amazing and surreal moment where 18-20 people came to watch.
M – performing and directing is like a massive injection of self-confidence to me as I get quite worried and fret over the quality of my work. Therefore, being able to put on a show does wonders for my self-esteem which is great!
What is the story behind the name of your theatre company?
M – my Grandmother calls peonies ‘Mrs Minivers’ because of a film – I think it was her dad’s favourite. I needed a name for the theatre within our current production so I plucked that name out because I thought it would make my Grandmother happy. When we were looking for a name for our company, Andrei thought the name would be perfect due to its personal significance. My Grandmother has a few memory issues so I’ve told her a few times now and she seems chuffed every time I tell her!
A – a peony flower is also embedded into the symbolism of our logo to continue this link!
What support have you received since you established your theatre company?
A – I’m really lucky as my parents really do believe in and share my dreams so they support me, not as much as running a theatre company in London would require, but they do help us out quite a bit. Financially, now that I’m working full time it is easier, however, our tour this summer was pretty much funded from our savings. In terms of non-financial support, we have amazing support from our friends. Not only did they see our production 3 or 4 times at the Fringe, they also came to watch it in London. Where the majority of our friends are in the theatre industry, they give us constructive feedback and we are able to run our ideas past them, which is very helpful to our creative process. We further know that we can reach out to Queen Mary at any time; I recently emailed an old lecturer about funding and he was really happy to help me and provide tips. Queen Mary’s technical support team and the School of English and Drama are also really helpful; since graduating, they have offered me paid opportunities at the University.
M – we wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t have the encouragement and support that we have. I couldn’t imagine having set up our theatre company if we didn’t have family and friends who believed in us and our vision. My parents are always there to give me a confidence boost when I need it. Like Andrei said, we’ve been recognised off the back of our production which is really lovely, as is the positive feedback that we’ve received. For example, the adjectives 'captivating', 'gripping' and 'funny' have been used to describe our current show!
A – we hope that we don’t come across as arrogant to anybody reading this. We don’t expect people to think our production is amazing, it’s just that any positive feedback or recognition we receive seems more important to us as we never expected to have this kind of following in the first place.
What are your plans for the future?
M – I’m writing another production and going forward we want to have a similar kind of structure to our current production, so a production and a tour, but obviously this won’t come to fruition for quite a while.
A – our plans are dependent on funding which can be difficult but ideally, we would like our next production to be finished by the 1st of January, to perhaps perform at the Camden Fringe in August and then to do a tour in October, November and December 2020 around smaller theatres in bigger cities around England! We are currently exploring the possibilities of touring in Newcastle, Oxford and York. So far, we’ve found that it is best to talk to as many people as possible in order to learn from their experiences; at the end of the day Megan and myself are both in our early twenties with little experience trying to turn our dreams into a reality. Everything combined is quite a big task which we didn’t realise when we first set out but we wouldn’t be doing it all if we didn’t really like it and if it wasn’t worthwhile.
Do you have any memorable moments from your time at Queen Mary?
A – third year was probably one of the best years of my life as I finally got to choose the modules that I really wanted to do. It was an amazing time to learn about some quite niche subjects that I’m passionate about. Overall, my favourite moment has to be graduation. Reflecting on my university journey, I came to this country and to Queen Mary not knowing anyone, but at graduation I was surrounded by so many friends and people that I could talk to. In Romania graduation ceremonies aren’t as impressive so it was really special for me and my family who also attended.
Was it your first time coming to London then Andrei?
Yes! I literally came to London on the 10th of September and started University on the 17th. It was overwhelming and very reckless on my behalf. I applied through clearing and threw myself headfirst into the unknown. Fortunately, it worked out really well for me despite the London culture being completely different to Romania. From a professional point of view there would be no point in me returning to Romania as the cultural scene is not as big or thriving. London is my new home.
M – about this time last year, around December, a few of my classmates and I were doing a project that involved us dressing up as clowns and then going to Oxford Street in the middle of the night, about 3am, to dance in the dark under the Oxford Street lights. It was a really surreal experience that will always stay with me. I come from a small town in the North of England and we don’t have anything like the Oxford Street lights so it was a really fun and bizarre project. Another memorable moment was at Edinburgh Fringe. Earlier in the year Andrei and I were involved in a pantomime for which I had done the choreography and one of the songs was Dancing in the Moonlight so when the cast were all partying in Edinburgh and that song came on, everyone did my choreography even though it was many months later. It was a really lovely and happy moment.
Moving to London was a massive culture shock for me too. I’d been to the city a few times before Queen Mary but in a touristy capacity. I would get really excited when out and about in London whilst at University. I still find it amazing that there are so many iconic buildings like museums, art galleries and theatres on your doorstep.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options?
M - Make sure you blow your own trumpet when searching and applying for job roles and looking for future opportunities. Don’t sell yourself short and make sure you don’t underplay your skills and your experience. You’ve earned the right to be honest about yourself and what you’ve achieved during your time at Queen Mary and beyond.
A - find a way to do what you love, no matter the circumstances. Obviously, if you love working in a bank - lucky you. But for me, given that my passion is notoriously known for being a low-income field, I think it’s really important to find a way to do it even when you work 40-50 hours in a week in a completely different area. It will be tough at times, but it will be worth it in the end (hopefully).
What sparked your passion for theatre and performance?
A – I just really like the attention.
M – I was quite lucky in that my parents took me to dance classes when I was a toddler and I have never stopped dancing since. I’ve always been engaged with performance but I remember watching an old video recording at my Grandparents’ house throughout my childhood of my Auntie in a local pantomime. I would watch it every time I visited. Over and over again. It was my absolute favourite and I was embarrassingly eager to get involved with theatre myself.
Do you have a favourite spot on campus? If so, where is it and why?
M - I’d have to say the Pinter Studio in the Arts One Foyer (just off Mile End Road). I have so many good memories associated with that space.
A - Arts One foyer – it immediately makes me think of QMTC festival nights and chatting with my friends.
Lastly, do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field?
Megan - I definitely look up to my younger brother (seriously and literally as he’s now outgrown me by quite a bit). He’s an extremely talented musician and the bassist for his band Lucid Dreams. He makes me very proud and I could definitely learn a thing or two from him about showmanship.
A - I genuinely don’t know what to answer. I suppose I don’t really have that one person to whom I look up to all the time. I’m just really lucky to have two amazing parents who have supported me and from whom I’ve learned a lot, and then just as lucky with a group of incredibly talented friends, who have taught me so much over the years. (Or at least how to get rid of the Romanian accent!)
*Megan and Andrei's current production is called 'At This Stage'; the final performance will take place Sunday 24th November 2019 at 7.30pm at the Old Red Lion Theatre. The story behind the production is as follows:
‘Have you ever loved a show so much that you wished you could kidnap all the actors, keep them in your basement and get them to perform it again for you? No? Just Rupert?
A troupe of young actors are ready and willing to let go of their most recent production and move on to bigger and better things, but Rupert isn’t going to let that happen. He can’t let the show die. There are a few things you should know when trying to save a play from death. Thing number one: the actors aren’t gonna like it. Trapped in a basement, forced to rehearse and fearing for their lives, there is only one way for the performers to gain their freedom. They must act their way out.'
For more information, visit: https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/at-this-stage.html