Ava-Daniera McDonald

Both Sides Now

Ava-Daniera Mcdonald is an Applied Theatre student. Her project is a play called Both Sides Now, which explores the relationship between an elderly care home patient and her carer. 

Applied Theatre - BA (Hons)

Tell us about your journey studying at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham City University

I have had an incredibly rewarding journey studying Applied Theatre at RBC for the past three years. It has not only shaped my professional development as a performer and drama facilitator but has also taught me a lot about myself. Despite RBC being a big university and sitting within BCU, an even bigger institution, I never felt like I was just a number, the lecturers were regularly available for individually tailored tutorials and feedback sessions which has played a huge part in my progress. The content-filled course is largely focused on providing us with an all -rounded theatre education and we are actively encouraged to seek and are provided with industry experience/opportunities across all three years. During my time at university, I have utilised the facilities on offer across RBC and BCU: Mary Seacole and Curzon Library, Performance spaces such as The Lab and Bradshaw Hall and many other spaces available to further support our studies. 

Give us an overview of your project

My final project was a devised piece called Both Sides Now as part of The Next Chapter: A Festival Of Applied Theatre at The Old Printworks in Balsall Heath. Both Sides Now explores the relationship between Mary an elderly patient and her carer Rebecca, set in a care home in Birmingham. Playing the role of Rebecca was a real challenge for me and has allowed me to mature as a performer. The piece deals with themes of everyday racial discrimination and prejudicial attitudes. We wanted to shed light on the conversations that happen behind closed doors in the workplace and also explore the often forgotten Black-British experience. We created this piece in roughly nine weeks and performed for four sold-out audiences, this was the very first time we’d had an audience due to Covid-19 regulations affecting our first two years and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive. The performance space we used at The Old Printworks became a third character in our piece, it gave us an interesting site-specific atmosphere to play with and incorporate into the performance. The festival consisted of six completely different and new pieces of theatre devised by emerging Applied Theatre students, supported by industry professional mentors and lecturers. I was a member of the production team and took the responsibility of designing graphics including the festival Logo, E-flyers, Save the Dates, Social Media Posts, etc. alongside creating and marketing Both Sides Now. The festival was a majorly successful way to conclude my drama school experience at RBC and has left me with loads of transferable skills for future endeavours.

How has your course helped you to prepare for your final project?

There are many different strands of Applied Theatre from Theatre-In-Education to Political Theatre and everything in between. The course is carefully structured to provide us with the opportunity to explore all the varying aspects and find what styles suit us best as individual practitioners. All of the lecturers on the course including visiting lecturers have/had successful careers in the Applied Theatre industry and have so much useful knowledge and experience to pass on to us. They also know many industry professionals that we can reach out for support in more niche areas of exploration dependent on our interests. We often talk on the course about having a metaphorical tool-box that we put all the little gems of Applied Theatre knowledge in and then using those tools to shape future work. By the start of third year I had gained experience working with young people using drama, knowledge on theatre marketing strategies, project planning, funding bids, producing theatre, devising and writing new theatre and creating theatre for varying community groups. In addition to this we have a variety of weekly performance skill sessions in Movement, Voice and Singing. All of this helped when creating the final project as it set us up with the necessary skill set and grounding to be able to devise and produce an entire festival. It is also important to note that the pandemic was devastating as a drama school student with so many exciting experiences having to be canceled and the theatres being closed, however, on reflection I acknowledge how much being a student during this time has taught me. I now also have additional experience in producing online performances and a resilience like never before.

What are your future aspirations?

I am looking forward to furthering my studies at BCU on the Secondary Drama PGCE. I seek to fuse my Applied Theatre foundations together with a PGCE and implement a more collaborative teaching and learning approach in secondary schools across the Midlands. I hope to work towards making theatre more accessible to young people. I am passionate about inspiring and encouraging the youth of today to realise their full potential, and to embrace their creative and imaginative spirit! Through connections made whilst studying on this course, I have been invited to work on the ERASMUS PLUS PROJECT with Midlands Actors Theatre looking at Dorothy Heathcote’s Drama in Education approach in a primary school in Portugal in the summer.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

My advice to future students would be to try not to focus all of your energy on worrying too much about grades. Instead try to also enjoy the modules you complete, enjoy the projects you create and you’ll find when you’re having fun doing it and you’re passionate about it your grades will get better anyway! I would definitely recommend that you use the industry contacts that the lecturers have and network, network, network! I’ve been able to work on some really cool paid projects by following this advice!