Launched four years ago, Michael Grandage’s MGCfutures charity is committed to giving tomorrow’s creative talent a leg-up in the theatre industry, through its mentoring, bursaries and network of support. Beneficiaries including a playwright, a director and a hat maker tell Susan Elkin how the scheme opened doors for them
Former dancer Dean Hescott-Burke, aged 31, decided in 2014 to retrain as a theatrical milliner. This year he has worked for the Royal Opera House, Garsington Opera and feature films including Mike Leigh’s forthcoming Peterloo, among other projects. He attributes his career success to MGCfutures, which awarded him a bursary to buy hat blocks in its first batch of recipients last year.
“Before that, I was knocking on doors, getting some work, but quite often being fobbed off,” says Hescott-Burke. “Then suddenly, once I could say that I was supported by MGCfutures, lots of doors flew open and, almost overnight, big job offers began to arrive.” Explaining that while the “stupidly expensive” hat blocks are, of course, useful, Hescott-Burke adds: “But it is the contacts, support and mentoring provided by MGCfutures that have made the biggest difference.”
In 2013, director Michael Grandage set up MGCfutures as an independent charity. “The opportunities in the industry are not decreasing, but the number of people coming in at the bottom is increasing, so the ones who are really talented and committed need a leg-up. That applies whether they are on the lower rungs of the career ladder or changing career within performing arts, as Dean has done – and as I once did, when I moved from acting into directing and producing,” he says.
Grandage thinks he was lucky. “There were always people there to support and advise me, and without that network of help I would not be in the position I am today. And that’s what we want to ensure for our recipients,” he explains.
“A number of schemes offer modest cash support plus access to informal mentoring from experienced people. I looked at several but typically they’re focused on acting, directing and producing,” says Hescott-Burke. “What attracted me about this one was the emphasis on backstage work such as prop-making.”
“There’s so much more to creating theatre than what the audience sees on stage and we want to help people to understand how integral these jobs are,” says Grandage. “So there’s a lot of information about working in theatre on our website – the sort of thing I’d have been very grateful for when I was growing up in Cornwall. That was before the internet and phones of course, and no one could tell me about anything except acting.”
Playwright Isley Lynn, 29, wanted research and development funding for her new play Revolutions, having already had some success with Skin a Cat, which played at the Bunker in Southwark earlier this year.
A recipient of a 2016 MGCfutures award, she was grateful for the opportunity to get all her creatives into one room. Her piece is about a woman deserted by her husband who takes up pole dancing. “I’m really surprised and delighted at the level of engagement I’m getting from MGCfutures,” she says. “They even came to see my other play. And when I went to the interview they had obviously done a lot of research about me and my work in advance. It was all very impressive.”
Recently promoted to artistic director at the Other Room in Cardiff, the only pub theatre in Wales, Dan Jones, 26, is astonished at the effect of his MGCfutures 2016 award.
“It was for the play Blink, which I directed in Swansea with my company Critical Ambition last year,” he says. “The award meant that we could pay the actors, work with high production values and I could take a fee and pay my own bills. The guys from MGCfutures, bless them, came all the way to Swansea to see it.” He even attributes his new artistic director post to the support he received from MGCfutures. Like Hescott-Burke, he thinks it gave him a level of professional status he would not otherwise have acquired.
At present, MGCfutures is funded partly by the Michael Grandage Company, by Grandage himself and by a handful of personally approached donors. “We now need to fund-raise more systematically and extensively,” says Grandage. “Especially as the charity has two more strands to its work: Theatregoers for Life, which enables 15-19 year olds to see live theatre, and online resources designed to provide quality careers advice about the range of jobs in theatre.”
Two cohorts, 2016 and 2017, of bursary recipients are underway (and the support is ongoing, beyond the year of the award). Applications for 2018 will be sought soon. Grandage has trustees and a strong team led by Stella McCabe to manage the scheme. The director tries not to get too close to the selection process himself, although he reads all the applications.
“Stella is terrific,” says actor and choreographer Lanre Malaolu, who won a bursary for his one-man show about mental health. “She started making practical suggestions about developing my project even during the interview.”
So far then, MGCfutures is quite a success story. What does Grandage find the most satisfying thing about it? “Seeing strong, interesting work that we’ve helped people to create,” he replies, beaming.
Other mentorship/ bursary opportunities
Write to Play
Graeae scheme offering bursaries, mentoring, workshops and training for D/deaf and disabled playwrights, especially those from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
No Strings Attached
Grant and mentoring scheme run by Farnham Maltings for young theatremakers, including disabled artists.
Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme
Paid placements in regional theatres with mentoring and support.
Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation
Spends £600,000 annually on traineeships with mentoring (including £100,000 on those from BAME backgrounds).
Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer Scheme
Provides a cash fee plus mentoring and support to emerging composers. Operates via Mercury Musical Developments and Musical Theatre Network.