Sandra Quartey is a woman of many job titles: she's an actress, playwright, producer and artistic director – to name but a few. Mainly, she runs her theatre and film companies under the Writer's Avenue umbrella, and create opportunities for new writers. Here, she tells us how she does it all...
Full name/age/job title:
Sandra Quartey, 29, Artistic Director & Producer at Writer’s Avenue Theatre Company and Executive Director & Head of Development at Writer’s Avenue Films.
Writer’s Avenue Theatre Company is a London based theatre company that discovers and supports new writers. We run writing competitions that provides new writers with a platform to showcase their work and receive feedback.
Please give us an overview of your average day:
It’s pretty busy and varied, so the first thing I do is make a list of things to do! My day mainly consist of reading submitted scripts, providing dramaturgy to writers we are working with and coordinating the shows. I receive several emails a day and meetings are very regular. I’m involved in all casting and marketing. I spend time developing new ideas and I plan a year ahead. So that “things to do” list really helps me.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That there is big budget to work with. I wish that was the case! I started the company from nothing, I initially put my own money in and any money made goes back into the company. I have to be resourceful and I call in favours where I can. The company is only two and a half years old but because it has progressed quickly people assume there must be a big budget. If it was that easy and quick to make money theatres wouldn’t need Arts Council funding and everyone would own a theatre company.
Another misconception is that being an artistic director and producer is just about being creative and organised; that is a big part of it, but more importantly you have to learn to be a good business person and you have to be willing to put in a lot of hours and sometimes your own money.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Making decisions that involve turning people down, whether it’s a writer or an actor auditioning. It’s not a nice thing to do but it is unavoidable.
Balancing a personal life is difficult; putting on a show takes up a lot of my time, running a company takes up even more time. I now make a conscious effort to give myself time off. I’m passionate about what I do, so it can be hard to switch off sometimes. Raising finances is also very tough.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you start out achieving it?
I was 13 when I realised that I wanted to take acting seriously after a teacher encouraged me. I took a part-time acting course, studied drama GCSE and trained at The BRIT School on the Musical Theatre course. I went on to university to study Modern Drama Studies and I took every creative writing module.
I trained at East 15 Acting School and a few months after graduating in 2007 I wrote a play with a part I could play. I produced it for a week in 2008 in a small fringe venue. Thankfully it was received really well and sold out for most of the week. I suddenly realised that I had created an opportunity for myself and others, and I liked that feeling. It was tough work but it was worth it. I got onto a writing course with [playwright] Ché Walker run by Identity Dram School and I learnt a lot from it.
I knew a lot of talented actors and writers that were not getting work and so it felt natural to start a theatre company that would showcase up and coming and undiscovered talent. For the first two years I refused to perform in any of the Writer’s Avenue shows because I felt it was important to see things from an outside perspective.
I left my agent and took time out of pursuing acting for two years, which was a scary thing to do, but I wanted to put 100% in to learning how to be a business person and producer, so that I could have a successful company. I have made a lot of contacts, improved my knowledge through running my companies.
What can you do to get a head start?
Research the field you want to work in, look for opportunities and take advantage of them. Keep working on your craft, be professional whether you are doing a paid or unpaid job, don’t let people down, be reliable, organised and active. Always set goals and realistic deadlines. No dream is too big – you just have to be willing to do the work. Be positive and believe in your abilities, be honest about what you can and can’t do. Speak to people who are successfully doing what you want to do and ask them to be your mentor. Keep learning.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
I love reading scripts and providing feedback, I like seeing a play go from page to the stage and seeing a writer develop. I also really enjoy developing new ideas and seeing it come together. I always like to do things that will be remembered, I like to put a twist on any new writing events I run. For my film company I like packaging a script, discussing what actors would be suitable for the roles. One of my current projects is a screenplay competition, Writers Revolution, which I run with Intandem Films. It’s an exciting project. My job never gets boring.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
When I was a teenager I didn’t know much about opportunities theatres offered such as youth groups and writing workshops. I wish I had a mentor when I was first starting out.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
IdeasTap! It really is a great organisation and a supportive one. The opportunities are endless for funding and help with career progression.
If you’re an actor you really must be on Spotlight to be taken seriously. Writers should join the mailing list of every theatre that they can get to and see what writing workshops and events they have going on and see new plays. The Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays, Ovalhouse, Royal Court and Soho Theatre all have brilliant training and showcase opportunities for writers and performers. Talawa Theatre Company has great project called TYPT which I took part in in 2008. T
he Theatre Royal Haymarket has great free masterclasses which I have attended many times. BBC Writersroom run great programmes and has a lot of information for writers. Team Angelica, run by Rikki Beadle Blair, has a lot of opportunities. There is a lot going on that people can get involved with. Writer’s Avenue will be running writing workshops in August and we shall also be running workshops for people wanting to get into producing or starting a theatre company, look out for the information on the website.
Visit Writer's Avenue for more information about Sandra's work. The Writers Revolution screenplay competition closes on 30 September. Apply before 16 September to pay a lower entry fee.
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