When I was four years old my mum took me to youth theatre, to try and help me make friends with children my age as I’m an only child. I still remember the first day of youth theatre clearly. In a small room above a small theatre in the small town of Kenilworth in the West Midlands in England, my peers and I hugged our parents’ goodbye, and then for an hour we played make believe and told stories. It was thrilling and transformative, as I felt like I was weaving magic.
At my weekly training at the youth theatre, which became sacred time, I learnt that my natural energy, imagination, and creativity could be channelled into creating and entertaining friends and family with stories, characters, and scenes. I put on plays at neighbourhood parties and family gatherings: casting my friends, writing scripts, and spending my weekends cobbling together costumes and building sets out of scrap cardboard.
Four turned to fourteen and I was hoovering up any theatrical and creative activities I could in the West Midlands: I acted in shows with two youth theatres and school, went to the cinema on my own to study films, and saved up to travel to either Stratford Upon Avon or London to go and watch shows at the RSC or in the West End. I learnt about how well told stories are structured, how to present myself on stage and what makes a realistic character.
As a young teen, I had found purpose, and was lucky enough to have an infrastructure around me where that purpose could grow and develop into skill and product. Around the same time in life, I realised I had a responsibility to use my purpose and talent for the benefit of others: to help other people understand their own lives and to laugh and cry alongside the characters in the stories.
I doubled down in the pursuit of refining my vocation and continued to attend youth theatre training rigorously. At 17, I successfully auditioned for The National Youth Theatre Of Great Britain, and spent a summer in London training as an actor under the creative polymath Rikki Beadle-Blair. Whilst finishing my A- Levels, I worked for alternative arts festivals in the nearest city, Birmingham. I prioritised pursuing theatre above the many other, traditionally ‘safer’ paths I could have taken, snubbing my school who were pushing Oxbridge on me to instead moved to London aged 18 with an offer from King’s College London to study English Literature.
In London, I took every opportunity I could to break into the theatre industry. In addition to student drama, I was successful in an audition for a theatre- maker course at the National Theatre Studio, and performed in various semi-professional projects around London. A friend of mine from University and I had an idea for a musical, which I started directing and producing on a shoestring using the resources available to me at the time, which was mostly University rehearsal rooms and, for the set and props, objects I took from commercial waste bins around town. It’s time, I thought, and I started producing the first Hannah Elsy Production. I backed myself, thinking if anyone can do this, I can and left my degree to produce my first professional show. This was in 2015.
Production and contracting work sat alongside each other for the first few years of Hannah Elsy Productions: creating and funding self- driven shows and alongside hiring out my skills and knowledge to bring other people’s projects to life. I produced 12 shows Off West End/ on the Fringe and contracted for, amongst others, a show at Sadler’s Wells, and at BOOK Music and Lyrics. I was contracted and retained at The Old Vic for 21 months. In 2018, I set up a consultancy practise arm to Hannah Elsy Productions, guiding other producers, theatre companies and artists through the realities of bringing their ideas to life. I continued to improve my skills whilst building my business, taking courses on production with China Plate and Stage One New Producers.
Then, in 2020, Covid hit. I lost all 95% of my work. A tour I was responsible for was, at one point, indefinitely postponed. I was thankful for the consultancy practise as I retained a few clients throughout the shutdown. Although uncomfortable, it was freeing to stop, slow down and have time to think rather than do. I revaluated where I was going and why I was doing it. If you have read this far, you will have got the measure of me as someone who has doggedly pursued goals from a young age. On one hand, it is a blessing to have purpose and focus. On the other hand, running so quickly can create tunnel vision.
During Covid, I considered my options. Was I pursuing purpose and delivering on the responsibility I felt above everything else, including my own emotional development and physical health? Uncomfortably so. Covid enabled me to take a step back and do some big picture thinking on where I’ve come from, where I am and where I’m going.
The call to adventure has never been stronger: it’s time again, and now it’s about creating a business which is much bigger than me. I am aiming higher still, and my compounded knowledge and experience so far means I’m doing this with self-confidence. My goal is to shape the landscape of how we consume theatre and entertainment and to innovate, rather than existing inside the industry. My new venture, Stageless, is a startup delivering direct to consumer live entertainment, which you can order some theatrical candy floss from right now. Hannah Elsy Productions will be focused on producing only at scale or scalable work, so that we can reach as many people as possible. I’m also always looking for the latest crazy idea. It turns out a world- stopping pandemic makes me more driven than ever.
If you’d like to reach out, the best place is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wrote this piece for three reasons. The first was as a proof of competency piece for LinkedIn, so that you can read about how much I really know my stuff when it comes to creating entertainment and therefore why you should buy a ticket for one of my shows or order some live entertainment for yourself. The second was because I often get asked ‘how did you get into the entertainment industry’ or ‘why did you go into theatre?’ and I often struggle to explain to people how I just don’t remember a life before pursuing this, so I hope this article explains my journey so far. The third is as a public journal entry for myself, to help me understand how far I’ve come, and how much further I still must go.