Actor and writer Vanessa Donovan also works in human resources for the NHS. As part of a series of Q&As celebrating the contributions of theatremakers during the coronavirus crisis, Donovan tells Giverny Masso how the role has adapted and the writing projects she is working on…
How did you get into theatre?
I’ve had an interest from a young age. I used to watch The Cosby Show and I thought: ‘I want to do that’, so I started going to a weekend drama school at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. While I was there I auditioned for some Channel 4 children’s shows and I was selected. Off the back of that I auditioned for the Central Television Workshop, which was a free workshop run by ITV. I got in and I started doing that once or twice a week and my love for acting grew.
What are some of your acting highlights so far?
One of my theatre highlights was Mad as Hell at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre where I played the Jamaican wife of Oscar-winning actor Peter Finch. It was a great role because I’m of Jamaican heritage, and it was such a colourful and vibrant play and I had so much fun. I also had my first guest lead in BBC Doctors [in 2018].
Tell me more about your writing...
In the past year I’ve written my first feature film so I’m in the process of trying to find a suitable producer and other collaborators. It’s a female-led boxing film. I’m writing a second film and I have some short film ideas, which I want to execute through this period. I’m inspired by Michaela Coel and Noel Clarke. They have made their own opportunities – not waited for a casting director to cast them.
Tell me about your HR career...
I did a master’s degree in HR and I saw a job at the Birmingham Women’s Hospital helping to organise work experience. That was my first job in the NHS, then I moved into mental health, where I was working in learning and development. While I was pursuing acting and working, I was getting more auditions and the £50 train tickets to London were becoming unmanageable, so I moved to Old Street. I walked past the learning and development department at Moorfields Eye Hospital, which was five minutes from where I live. Lo and behold there was a job and I got it. I’m a learning and development specialist, so I organise training for all staff.
Have your acting skills helped in your HR work?
I deliver training and presentations, so my skills come in handy every day. Even when we are doing actor-led scenarios, my manager asks me to do it. The skills are interchangeable.
How has the role adapted during Covid-19?
The whole HR department is working from home. Just before lockdown my nan was taken into hospital with pneumonia, so I was in Birmingham providing care and support for the family. You have to look at the bright side and I still feel like I’m doing something constructive. I’m supporting the HR team and we had a lot of staff who were relocated to the Nightingale. But I’m also getting to spend time with my family and care for my nan.
Training: Identity School of Acting (2012-15)
First professional role: Presidential suite at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2012)
Agent: Carey Dodd Voices