In this exclusive interview Welsh actress Michelle McTernan spoke to Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell about her training in Wales, the work of Rising Stars Theatre Company and where she thinks funding for the Arts in Wales should be prioritised.
Hi Michele great to meet you, so what got you interested in the arts?
I was 8 years old and my dad took me to see ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ at The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. I was amazed. I found myself not so much engrossed with the story but with the whole experience. I wanted to be on the stage acting, I wanted to be the one to make others feel what I was feeling.
Later at 15 I auditioned for West Glamorgan Youth Theatre which had a profound effect on me. It helped develop an appreciation of the arts. It instilled a sense of discipline, character and respect. As well as being fun it also created new friendships some of which I still have to this day.
I got into The National Youth Theatre Company and that sealed it for me. I wanted to be an actress.
During Lockdown Rising Stars Theatre Company have launched a new book called “How do you get a Rainbow in your heart when its in the sky?” I believe you launched during Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental Health is a huge issue during Lockdown, can you tell me more about the book and your intentions for it?
It is such a beautiful book and we are so proud of it. The book was born out of a zoom session where we asked the students to give us words associated with Rainbows. One of the students asked “How do you get a rainbow in your heart when it’s in the sky?” This felt so profound to me. It was although he had said “How do we find hope when it feels so far away?”. I just thought that that was how many children and those with disabilities were feeling right now. So we sent out a task to put the words into a sentence or a story. One of our volunteers wrote the story and another illustrated it. We’re lucky to have such talent. We then had it printed and decided that it would be free to school hubs, food banks, Women’s Aid group and all minority groups.
We have just had it translated into welsh and are currently having more printed. We also have an online version which is fully accessible and will be launched in July. To date 2000 books have been distributed and not just in Wales, the books have gone to Italy, New Zealand and Australia. The response has been incredible.
During Lockdown a range of arts organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working?
We’re all looking for new ways to communicate and connect with others. I’ve been involved with lots of friend/ family quizzes, zoom webinars, chats and discussions about the arts I was part of a live zoom production where we had 2 rehearsals, a tech and then went Live to a paying audience of 200 people. It worked but was so alien.
One thing I’m happy to see is The Far Away Plays set up by Fran Goodridge and Scott Arthur. It’s a new online platform for reading both established and new plays. It allows actors, directors and creatives to keep their minds focused on what they do best and at the same time networking and seeing who else is out there.
Work is scarce at the moment but I’m lucky to be involved with Hijinx Theatre Company and have taught some zoom classes and set tasks to keep everyone busy during this time. Also at Hijinx, we’re working on an R&D for later in the summer. The process is strange and different but we are making it fun by setting games, doing breakout rooms and using what we have around us to create ideas for the production.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
I’d like to see more funding for creative arts within schools and bring back drama departments to those schools who have lost them. We need to invest in the next generation of theatregoers.. Teachers should be encouraged to bring their students to the theatres and more funding would that possible. I would also like to see more investment into making theatre for actresses over 40s.
What excites you about the Arts in Wales?
The quality of new writing within Wales right now is incredible. In fact I’ll go as far to say that we are leading the way in that respect.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
The last show I saw in a theatre was my husband in Pantomime. ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at The Regent Theatre in Stoke on Trent. The sheer joy that Panto brings to families and audiences is extraordinary. For some it’s their first experience of being in a theatre, the lights, the atmosphere, the buzz of the people getting to their seats, the actors talking to you, singing along and dancing in the aisles. It’s an absolute explosion of everything that makes going to the theatre an experience and that feeling will last forever. I hope we get to have our fix soon…I miss it.