Helen Mackay

Established Caithnessian Actress Helen Mackay, imparts industry wisdom and advice to Myfanwy Morgan, a young Performance student, also from Caithness.

It is important for young people to hear advice coming from those who are succeeding. That is why I’m very grateful to Helen Mackay for taking the time to partake in this interview.

What do you enjoy about your job/what challenges have you faced?

I love how unpredictable the industry is. One moment you have an empty diary and the next you could be packing your bags and heading off on a three-month tour – I thrive on this feeling! I also love being part of the Scottish theatre community – I love meeting new people on every job and also being reunited with people I have worked with in the past.

The challenges I find the hardest are probably related to having to put your career first. In order to be available for a job it’s very difficult to book holidays / make plans in advance and I have missed a few of my best friend’s weddings over the past few years with being in production and not able to get time off. That’s been really difficult. Also my boyfriend works a 9-5 job and sometimes if I am in a show or away on tour it’s difficult for us to make time for each other…We are becoming better at it but it’s still difficult. Then there are the everyday challenges of how will I pay my rent if I don’t get this Job etc… I’ve worked really hard to build up enough flexible work in promotions to keep me going now but it took a few years!

A little bit on your career background – Productions you’ve starred in, what type of productions (Radio, Theatre, Film, Etc), Auditions you’ve done?

I have worked mostly in theatre since graduating 6 years ago with different company’s all over Scotland. This has ranged from classic Scottish plays such as “Sunset Song”, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and brand new plays such as “Saint one” and “3 Seconds” at the Oran Mor in Glasgow as part of the “Play, a Pie and a Pint” Lunch Time Theatre. I have also toured the Highlands and Islands on a number of occasions with Mull Theatre Company, Right Lines Productions and Eden Court Theatre.

Last year I was in two productions at the Citizens theatre in Glasgow. The First was a new play by David Greig called “Lanark” this was a 3-and-a-half-hour epic play based on the novel by Alistair Gray. There were 10 actors in the ensemble and we performed it on the Citz main stage and then at the Lyceum in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh International Festival 2015. The second was a four hander modern adaptation of Chekovs play Uncle Vanya. We performed “Vanya” by Sam Holcroft in the small circle studio space at the Citzens Theatre, Glagsow.

I have also recorded over 10 radio plays for BBC radio 4 / Radio Scotland and have appeared in “Rab C Nesbitt” (BBC comedy Unit) and DCI Banks (Left bank productions / ITV)

Projects or ideas you still want to pursue?

I would love to do more camera work. I find it really challenging and I really want to build up my knowledge in how to be a good screen actor. This is my main goal this year!!

Any advice you have for younger creative people?

There is no denying that being an actor is tough – if you think you could be happy doing another career then do it!! If not, then work work work to achieve your goals. When I left school I knew a wanted to be an actress and had taken any opportunity to learn through my younger years – drama at school, the Thurso players, SYT.

It took me three years of auditioning to gain a place at the then RSAMD (now RCS) every year made me stronger and more determined to get in. The first year I did an HNC in Acting and Performance. The second year I took the advice of the audition panel and got some “life experience ” This took the form of working full time in my local BT call centre while still taking parts in shows at the Thurso players, learning to drive and having a part time job in a local bar/ cinema. Looking back this was one of the worst years of my life. I had lots of money, had made new friends but I was miserable. I knew the standard ” 9-5 ” life wasn’t for me. The third year I worked as an outreach drama worker for my local college and alongside my local cal theatre company. I was 21 when I got into drama school and looking back I am so glad I had that time before I went. Everything happens for a reason!

Three bits of advice:

1. Don’t ever compare yourself to others – no two actors are the same. If they don’t want you, it’s usually because you have the wrong colour of hair etc.

2. Look after body. Look after your voice. Look after your peace of mind.

3. Always be looking forward and forgive yourself straight away for any mistakes you make – just learn from them (Elaine C Smith told me that when I worked with her)

Thank you to Helen for taking the time to be interviewed for the HYAH website.

To keep up with Helen, you can find her on Twitter!