The Brit School’s Olivia Chew: ‘Our mission in production arts is to increase diversity backstage’
How did you start off in theatre?
At 16, I wrote to the Starlight Express wardrobe team and begged to work for nothing. I began helping with basic sewing and washing. From there, I studied on the art foundation course at Wimbledon School of Art before moving on to the costume interpretation course there.
What is your best piece of advice for students today?
Work hard and be nice to people.
What would you change about training in the UK?
Our mission in production arts is to increase diversity backstage. We need more female lighting and sound designers and technicians. People of colour are under-represented within the industry and students from lower-income families need to be able to see the viability and worth of a career in the arts. We are committed to being at the forefront of this evolution.
What is the best part of your job?
The students. The chance to help these amazing, talented, kind and interesting young people to flourish is an honour.
And your least favourite?
Watching the increase in anxiety and mental health issues in students across the country. At the Brit School we work with Mind and have an on-site counselling service, student yoga and mindfulness courses. So much more needs to be done but the funding just isn’t there.
Which practitioners should students be looking up to?
Our alumni are the best examples of working hard and making your mark. They include lighting designer Louisa Smurthwaite, Rebecca Gee, who is an assistant stage manager for Sonia Friedman, and Andrew Bruce, director at Quantum Creative Lighting and Video Design.
What is the one skill that every successful theatre/dance professional should have?
Be able to self-evaluate.
Olivia Chew is director of production arts at the Brit School. She was talking to John Byrne