Jo Woolley graduated from RBC (or BSA as it was then) in 2013. She had two job offers straight out of uni, and since then her impressive CV has seen her travel the world in various stage management roles; visiting a long list of destinations including America, Australia, Russia, New Zealand, South America, India and Taiwan.
As part of my final year at RBC I had to participate in a six week placement – an internship at Donmar Warehouse in London on a production called ‘The Weir’ directed by Josie Rouke. I witnessed the whole process from day one of rehearsals, through to technical rehearsals at the theatre, until press night. During the six weeks I helped prop for the show which also proved invaluable knowledge for later in my career when gaining paid professional work in London. It was also great to meet new people and make work contacts whilst still studying.
Straight after graduation I was very fortunate to get two job offers; I was invited back to be Assistant Stage Manager at the Donmar Warehouse on a high profile all-star cast show by the same director or to be an Assistant Stage Manager intern for an international touring dance company Hofesh Shechter. After much deliberation, I chose to take the job with Hofesh and I travelled around the world with them for six months. I have never regretted it, I learnt so much and worked in so many venues all over the world.
After the internship I moved to London and was hired back by the company to be Assistant Stage Manager. I later progressed to become Stage Manger, and worked on and off for the company for about two years before deciding to leave to ensure I made other contacts and built up my knowledge of working in other genres of theatres. I wanted to make sure I could transfer to theatre and broaden my skills and knowledge so as not get stuck in working in contemporary dance. This was the best decision I could have made.
Through another small job I picked up between Hofesh gigs, I was put in contact with a Production Manager who was hiring an Assistant Stage Manager for another international touring show. I jumped at the opportunity. It was a show called ‘The Encounter’ with world-renowned theatre company Complicité, a company who I had seen on a school trip to The Barbican aged 16 that made me really appreciate theatre. The show I saw was so sleek and the mechanics and movement of the people, props and set was so beautiful, it was what first made me want to work backstage. ‘The Encounter’ went on to be a huge success and I toured with them for four years, starting as Assistant Stage Manager and later becoming Company Stage Manager. Highlights on the show were a six-month tour of Australia and America, and taking the show to Broadway (even though I had to hand the show over to a local stage management team after press night).
Between tours with ‘The Encounter’ I have tried to gain as much work in London as possible, again trying to work in as many different venues as possible and in a variety of shows. I think this is the key to success; make sure you have a wide range of skills and knowledge, and be as adaptable as possible.
This is how I gained an Assistant Stage Manager job at The Old Vic theatre on another amazing show – ‘Girl From the North Country’. I also stayed on the show when it transferred to the West End at The Noel Coward Theatre, a fantastic way to get West End experience. This show went on to get numerous Olivier Award nominations, and because the cast was invited to perform at the event I somehow managed to get an invited to the awards and get a backstage pass, another amazing opportunity.
My current role is Company Stage Manager (CSM) for a re-creation of a show by DV8 Physical Theatre called ‘Enter Achilles’. The show – which is being produced by two huge organisations Rambert and Sadler’s Wells, and choreographed by DV8’s own Lloyd Newson – consists of incredible performers that have been hand-picked for the piece. Working on this show had provided another opportunity to tour internationally. My current role is primarily to look after the company whilst on tour, and support each department, whilst maintaining communication between the touring party, the offices back in London and each venue. I’m responsible for making sure the company are always in the right place at the right time and that everything runs as it should.
Through work I have been fortunate to travel all over Europe including France, Spain, Germany, Finland, Greece, Austria, Italy, Budapest, Norway and Serbia, and further afield to places such as America, Australia, Russia, New Zealand, South America, India and Taiwan. Travelling and working in such close proximity and over prolonged periods of time has provided me with some of my closest friends, having shared some incredible experiences.
Being paid to travel and see the world is an incredible privilege, and one I try not to take for granted, especially when in venues for short periods of time and I have limited (if any) time to explore the city I am working in.
I think the most valuable thing I learnt at RBC was that all departments that work on a show are as valuable as each other. Sound, lights, video, costume props and set are all as important as each other, and all need to work together to support the performers and ensure that the production is the best it can be. I chose RBC as I felt it was the best fit for me; it provided an insight into these other departments of theatre not just focussing on stage management – studying lighting, sound, set, props and costume throughout all three years.
My advice to all future graduates and applicants would be to apply for every opportunity that comes your way. Use your contacts, don’t be ashamed to ask for work, in my experience everyone is always happy to help and a ‘no’ this time may mean you are on their radar for next time. Sign up to every job site and always be looking for work even when employed, always plan ahead and look for the next opportunity, you never know who or where it will come from.