Ilona Munro Lawson
Ilona Munro Lawson, active community theatre worker and successful writer, shares her past & present of traversing through the deep but beautiful waters of the arts with young aspiring actor, Myfanwy Morgan.
Finding what you want to do in the arts can be a hard challenge to face. That’s why when you can hear the story of someone who found the ingredients to make a varied, but nonetheless delicious cake of their own, it can help you realise what you might want to try. A big thank you to Ilona for agreeing to do the interview.
What do you enjoy about your job/ Challenges you’ve had?
That little seed of an idea, that hits you at three minutes to nine in the morning. And somehow – a year later, 5 years later, 6 months later depending – seeing that show on stage is an absolute thrill. To have my mitts all over it from beginning to end, is still very, very exciting.
Financially it is exceedingly difficult. Really, really, really, really difficult. But that’s the way it is at the moment. And I still do it because I’m not willing to do other things really.
And even within my job there are things that I love, there’s things I’m not so keen on. But I have to do it, because I have to pay the bills.
A little bit on your career background – Productions you’ve starred in or directed, what type of productions (Radio, Theatre, Film, Etc)?
If you’re going back to childhood, I was your typical child who was interested in theatre. I did ballet from age three – eighteen, with no talent whatsoever for it. And soon after I ended up doing drama…It seemed really smart at the time I did it, to get a degree in Russian. Don’t know why, just did.
After that I moved to London and I did a one year course in theatre at Tower Hamlets college. It was really lacking prestige, but was fantastically well taught and gave me a really good grounding. I did loads & loads of youth work and voluntary work and somewhere along the line I got irritated with writers and directors, and started writing, directing.
I ended up going to the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994, long time ago. And then again in 1996 and 2000. I kept putting shows on in London, which sounds really grand but wasn’t at all. Everyone was on the dole and nobody was making money. And then one day out of the blue I applied for a job with Eden Court, they were kick starting their whole campaign in the Highlands which at the time was called Starfish. I think I got the job because…yeah, my mum was going to lend me her car. You had to drive. That was my first equity job as well!
Didn’t work full time with Eden Court till 1999, so meanwhile did a community work and teaching English as a foreign language qualification. I worked in Skye and Lochalsh for a year in 1999 as a drama worker for Eden Court and then in 2000 the post in Lochaber came up and I worked there.
I continued to write as well and received my first writing commission in 2003, while I was pregnant with James. So I would breastfeed James till about 10 at night and then I would write till one in the morning and then breastfeed him again and the go to bed at 2 in the morning and that’s how I wrote the play. That was working with HUG and after that I got three more commissions, that was really, really nice. To have proper page writing work. But Mostly, a lot of the writing I do is just to suit groups and community. I have had forays into professional theatre, especially through education. Two years ago I left Eden Court to run my own business called Bright Productions, and four years ago I set up a not for profit organization called Dramafish, which aims to support the arts in Lochaber and is also building based. Productions are really wide ranging. Things that I’ve directed, often my own work – oh vanity thy name is woman. But we’ve done Shakespeare because I’m a big fan of Midsummer Nights Dream. I’ve directed musicals, musicals are not my forte but I’ve certainly directed loads of them. The sort of work I’m proudest of is massive, massive inter-generational community projects like “Revolution” & “Massacre of Glencoe”, where there was 120 people on stage with rehearsals over a year. I’ve been a carrier of boxes in the rain, I’ve spent two days of my life pretending to be a slug, because people gave us money, I’ve been an actor, I’ve been a puppeteer.
Projects or ideas you still want to pursue, or are in the midst of creating?
At the moment I’m very excited to be working with Room 13 (an international, visual arts project). We’re very interested at the moment on how you create work, that is along the lines of being a plumber…Doesn’t sound right. An example, Bright Productions is set up as a soul trader. I am Bright Productions, Ilona Munro Lawson trading as Bright productions and then we pay freelance workers to work with us. I’m really, really interested in how you can come away and make opportunities that don’t require funding, because a soul trader is like the same set up of a plumber, expect plumbers make tons of money.
A huge challenge for myself. I’m trying to do a one woman show on the massacre of Glencoe. The original script had a hundred people in it. Kinda, absolutely keeking myself as a one-woman performer. If I didn’t have people behind me, I’d be running a mile.
Any advice you have for younger creative people?
I would say, being prepared to be as practical as possible. Yes, be creative. Absolutely be creative. But don’t expect to be creative without being willing to get your wellies on. Get out there & do stuff.
Collaboration and partnership working are crucial, for so many reasons. Again, it’s how you make things happen.
Ilona has a website going live soon & we’ll link it as soon as we can. Ilona also regularly guest stars on NevisRadio, so if you live in the area give it a listen or check out snippets on their website: www.nevisradio.co.uk.