shu performance (3)

Elizabeth Pennington is a twenty-two year-old journalist in the early stages of her career. Her work focuses mainly on conflict, refugee and human rights issues. SHU Performance caught up with Elizabeth to find out what she has been upto since graduating with a degree in Performance for Stage and Screen in 2018.

SHU Performance: Hello Elizabeth! Before we talk about your work, tell our readers a bit about yourself.

Elizabeth: Hi, I love to learn new languages. I speak Spanish pretty well already and I am learning, or trying to learn, Arabic and improve my French some more. I love film and theatre. Travel. Yoga. Toast... It's really the simple things in life that keep me happy.

SHU Performance: What is it that you are doing for work?

Elizabeth: I'm working on a voluntary basis as the Communications Manager for a newly established Non-Profit Organisation (NGO) called YTT Association. It's based on an art/research project called Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow (YTT) by Paris-based Irish artist Bryan McCormack. Bryan invites refugees living in camps across Europe and Africa to draw their past, present and future lives. The drawings were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

Refugee Drawing Title: Yesterday. By a 22 years old Syrian Woman. Currently living in Samos Refugee Camp, Samos Island, Greece.

SHU Performance: You’ve been involved in the project for some time now. How did that come about?

Elizabeth: It started when I was at Sheffield Hallam University in 2016. I got involved in some performances and installation pieces. I also did some work as a photographer. Now I’m part of a small team that travels internationally to the camps and centres in places like Serbia and Morocco. I feel very passionately that if we weren't there, then the people we meet might never have their voices heard or their stories told.

SHU Performance: Are you doing anything else?

Elizabeth: Other than YTT, I'm a contributing writer to Nations Media in the US, which is a wonderful organisation and the team there have really championed my passion for profiling causes in the world that aren't often discussed.

SHU Performance: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced since leaving SHU Performance?

Elizabeth: It can be difficult to really know how what you want to do for a career, translates into "a job." I'm still learning that and I'm still exploring what that means and how my skills and interests can fit together. But I can safely say that through working on the YTT project, I have found my calling.

SHU Performance: What advice would you give to other SHU Performance students who are about to graduate?

Elizabeth: We all have our own path. Regardless of whether you want to be an actor, a director, a film-maker, a teacher or a journalist. Or even if you aren't quite sure, own it! Enjoy the process of "figuring it all out" because while it is scary at times, it's so exciting to explore different options.

SHU Performance: That’s good advice. The work you are doing involves working with some pretty high profile partners and projects. How do you manage to make those relationships?

Elizabeth: Networking is really important, regardless of the industry you want to go into. In my final year of study, we had placements and because I wanted to be a journalist, I networked and established a contact with the Senior Foreign Correspondent at ABC News in London. There, I had a two-week internship which was insanely amazing and inspiring. Then, six weeks later, I found myself working as an assistant for ABC News at the Royal Wedding. I was suddenly living in Windsor! You NEVER know what opportunities could come from reaching out and making contact.

SHU Performance: What's your best memory from your time at SHU?

Elizabeth: So many! The course is so varied - it encourages you to explore new things and think outside the box. In my second year, I studied a brilliant module called Applied Theatre. It made us think about using theatre for a social cause. My group created a performance for the Sheffield Institute for the Blind, which was wonderful and hugely inspiring. And it was in that module, we were introduced to YTT.

Refugee Drawing Title: Today. By a 14 years old Afghan Girl. Currently attending the P.I.N. Refugee Centre, Belgrade, Serbia.

SHU Performance: It sounds like that module has had a profound effect on you.

Elizabeth: Yes, that and the SHU Performance tutors, the friends I made, they all really encouraged me - not just in what I wanted to do, but personally through my time at university, which wasn't always rosy because there were a number of things going on in my life, which made it difficult to be away from my loved ones. Everyone at SHU supported me and helped me through and I’m so grateful or that.

SHU Performance: And I hear that you won an award from SHU for your work on YTT?

Elizabeth: It was so humbling to have my contribution to YTT recognised, and Graduation was amazing too because I never thought I’d get there, truly!

SHU Performance: What is the number one thing that you learned from your time studying with us?

Elizabeth: I've learnt to not be afraid of changing my mind. That's OK, you know? When I first came to university, the goal was a pursue a career in the West End or Broadway, working on gritty, contemporary plays and using Stanislavski, maybe Artaud or working on installation pieces. Then when I studied the Applied Theatre module, that changed everything for me. It inspired me in many ways. It led me to work abroad in Uganda, Moldova and Bosnia, during my summers away from university, and I would come back home and friends of mine and family would say "Gosh, I had no idea that was happening there..."

SHU Performance: And is that what led you to want to pursue a career in media/journalism?

Elizabeth: Yes. The course is so broad and varied so what I was doing, it never felt "wrong.” My career path still felt 100% valid, even though I was studying a performance degree. If anything, it made me care more, it made empathise with people in a way that I might not have been able to had I studied something else.

SHU Performance: What do you hope to achieve in the years ahead?

Elizabeth: I'm planning on studying a Masters in Human Rights later this year. It's an online course so that I can continue my studies from anywhere in the world if I want to. I’d also love to continue my work with YTT and help develop our international projects.

Refugee Drawing Title: Tomorrow. By a 9 years old Iranian Girl. Currently living in Principovac Refugee Camp, Sid, Serbia.

SHU Performance: Is there anyone else that you’d like to work with?

Elizabeth: I would love to work alongside Amnesty International or similar organisations. I see myself as a bit of a nomad - working internationally and learning so much about the world as I go.

SHU Performance: If you could study Performance for Stage and Screen again what would you do differently?

Elizabeth: I wouldn't change anything - honestly. Over my three years studying Performance for Stage and Screen, I learnt so much. Not just about theatre and performance, but about myself. It's cliche but it's true. I would not want to change anything about my university experience because it's made me the person that I am now.

SHU Performance: What are you going to do next?

Elizabeth: I have a few more international projects coming up in Europe. I hope to go and spend some time working in the refugee camps in Greece and maybe in Lebanon as a field researcher, but that's mainly for my Masters. Towards the end of the year, I'm travelling to Central Turkey to work on a story about female refugees for Nations Media. Then, I'm hoping to work on a documentary film project close to the Turkish/Armenian border.

SHU Performance: It sounds like you’re going to be super busy!

Elizabeth: You could say that. This work can be emotionally taxing at times - but I have a strong support network which I am so grateful for. It seems I'm going to live on a plane for the foreseeable future! Joking aside, it's amazing and I am very lucky to have had the opportunities I have had.

SHU Performance: Thanks for talking to us Elizabeth and all the best with the future!

Elizabeth Pennington will soon be returning to Bosnia and Herzegovina where she will be continuing her work with Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow.

Follow Elizabeth of social media:

Twitter: @E_Pennington_


YTT Association:

Main picture: Elizabeth Pennington volunteering with IVHQ in Mutungo, Uganda in 2015.


Do you want to be a performer for stage & screen?

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Photo credit: Anthony Farrimond Photography

Amy Blake is a twenty-three year-old Sheffield based actor, currently working in theatre, film, TV, radio, circus and voice over. She graduated with a first class honours degree in Performance for Stage and Screen in 2018 and is now working full-time in the theatre industry. SHU Performance caught up with Amy to find out about what she’s been doing since leaving Sheffield Hallam University.

SHU Performance: Hi Amy, great to see you! Perhaps you could begin by telling our readers a bit about yourself.

Amy: Aside from acting, my interests include animal rights activism, live music and travel. My favourite pastime is seeing theatre, I usually attend two or more shows in a given week; I think this is absolutely imperative for anyone who wants to work in the industry, and I’m an expert at finding affordable tickets! My favourite show of 2018 was Christopher York’s Build a Rocket, which I caught on a whim at The Pleasance in September. In 2019, I aim to improve my piano/keyboard skills to a standard where I can be subbed for actor-muso castings and to continue evolving my career.

SHU Performance: We hear you’ve been working full time as a professional actor since graduating in 2018. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Amy: Yes, I’m a full time actor working in all related fields (except for musical theatre). This entails stage, screen, commercials, tours, roleplay, R&D, immersive, corporate, workshops and audio amongst other disciplines. This generally means a lot of plate spinning (sometimes literally).

SHU Performance: Your work sounds really varied and interesting, what does it involve day-to-day?

Amy: My main duties include corresponding with my agent regarding castings, preparing audition speeches and sides (or whatever has been requested by the Casting Director), recording and submitting self tapes, attending auditions and callbacks, and all of this comes before the actual rehearsals and performances/shoots.

SHU Performance: There is clearly a lot more to working in the industry than just acting. What advice would you give to other aspiring performers?

Amy: To be an actor you really do have to live and breathe it. It sounds ridiculously cringe, but I’ve never heard anything more true. The motivation and drive required to keep pushing through one of the most competitive industries in the world is draining, and the only way that can ever be worth it is if you are 100% confident that there’s nothing else in the world you would rather be doing. Nothing can be more important.

SHU Performance: It sounds more like a calling than a job. What’s the one thing you’d recommend that other actors in training do in order to succeed?  

Amy: You have to set yourself apart from others; always be the hardest worker in the room, always be early, always be prepared (know your lines backwards, but be ready to change at the drop of a hat). Don’t waste your student loan on nights out or holidays; buy good, professional headshots, get Spotlight and Equity, get a showreel. You need to be ready to work professionally when you graduate otherwise you’ll need to pay for all of these things later which will require a separate income, and then you risk being unavailable for auditions.

SHU Performance: What’s the number one thing that you learned during your time studying Performance for Stage and Screen here at Sheffield Hallam University?

Amy: SHU Performance taught me that Performance isn’t just proscenium arch, Stanislavski theatre. I learnt such a vast pool of skills, tailored by a huge range of practitioners, all of which I have now brought together, cutting and pasting the best bits from every single one to create the method I approach projects with today. It’s something that is continuously evolving.

SHU Performance: It’s good to know that you’re time with us has been such a big part of your professional development. If you could come back and study with us again, what would you do differently?

Amy: I’m really happy with everything I achieved whilst training at SHU Performance, I feel that I took every opportunity by the horns and I wouldn’t change a thing... Except, I would take advantage of theatre tickets earlier (through Ignite at Sheffield Theatres).

SHU Performance: What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced since graduating?

Amy: The ongoing challenge in this industry is always having to juggle work and hustle to ensure that the bills are paid without ever having to work in any other field. Of course, lots of actors do work in other fields, they call them “muggle jobs”, or day jobs, and I’m sure different things work for different people. For me personally, muggle work is a no-go. Knowing that I need to book a job and don’t have a back up plan is the best motivation ever and hasn’t steered me wrong yet - but again, everyone has different opinions and experiences of this. You’ve got to do what’s right for you!

SHU Performance: It sounds like always being on the lookout for the next job is a big part of what you have to do in order to make it as a professional actor. What do you have lined up in the coming months?

Amy: At the moment I’m working on a TV comedy and a children’s radio play. I’m also auditioning regularly for new projects and am hoping to work on some Shakespeare this year as well as some working class-representative regional theatre.

It sounds like you’re going to be incredibly busy. We’ll be watching out for you on the TV!  What are you ambitions for the future?

All I really hope for is that I will continue to work and be fortunate enough to avoid working in any other field.

Thanks for talking to us Amy. Best of luck with the upcoming shows!

Amy Blake is finishing off the 2018/19 tour of Average Joe in March. Her most recent film wrapped last month, My Life in UK, and is being released later this year. Her most recent theatre piece, Wish Upon a Star with The Bakehouse Factory Theatre ran throughout November and December 2018.

Follow Amy on social media:

Twitter: @Amy_Blake_

Facebook: @AmyBlakeActor

Instagram: @amyrebeccablake


Do you want to be a performer for stage & screen?

Find out about training opportunities at SHU Performance.


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