Entertainment

‘I thought my job as a theatre director was to solve all the problems myself’

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Emily Gray, creative director and chief executive of British Youth Music Theatre (BYMT)

Image of Emily Gray in a green dress in front of a white background. Her hair is tied in a ponytail and she is smiling.
Emily Gray, creative director and chief executive of British Youth Music Theatre
1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

I try to catch the sunrise over the River Thames with my first cup of tea of the day – I’ve recently moved into a 16th floor flat and find it so calming to gaze at all that sky and water. Then it is straight into work at the BYMT office in Peckham.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? Usually granola and fruit.

Lunch? An apple – it never gets boring.

Evening meal? If my daughter or husband are cooking something vegetarian, then it’s a good evening.

3. Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

The producer at BYMT makes me add echinacea drops to my water bottle and I think that helps the immune system to stay strong. When we have seven productions and seven camps on the go across the whole of the UK, I do masses of travelling and have to keep the energy levels up.

4. Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

During the first month of lockdown, I became very slug-like, so I started doing yoga every day and that has made a big difference. I know I am lucky that I don’t have to regulate what I eat if I’m doing daily exercise.

5. Weekend treat?

Chocolate, thank you very much.

6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

My role at BYMT keeps me fit in all ways – directing a company that works across the UK and being regularly in schools and rehearsal rooms with young people, means I have to be fit enough to join in warm-ups and run physical theatre workshops. Maintaining awareness of the needs of everyone we work with keeps me mentally fit.



7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Do something that feels creative to you: take a perfectly framed photo, tell a story, sing, dance or play an instrument – not to show to anyone else, but just to remember the joy in your own creativity.

8. Were you a fan of schools sports or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I was always doing so much art and drama that I was able to wriggle out of sports at school – I can dance but am hopeless at all sports.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

It’s a zero-alcohol beer for me, please.

10. Stairs or lift?

I remember my movement teacher at drama school standing at the top of the escalator at the local tube station and shouting at any students who weren’t walking up – that’s ingrained in me now. But I do get the lift to the 16th floor.

11. What book are you currently reading?

I am re-reading Tony Macaulay’s book All Growed Up - the third in the Paperboy, Breadboy trilogy, all set in Northern Ireland. As I read, I’m imagining how our team of writers will transform it from a personal memoir into a collective story told through musical theatre.

12. Best Netflix or streaming TV?

I grew up without a TV in the house, so I don’t watch much, unless it’s relevant to shows I’m creating or programming. I’ve watched Derry Girls and love how specific and hilarious the writing is, but with universally recognisable characters and themes.

13. Any new skills or hobbies?

Since the pandemic, I’ve become a funeral celebrant. At the moment I only conduct funerals for people I have known, which helps the compiling, sharing and celebrating of their final story.

14. How do you relax?

I’m most relaxed in a theatre or cinema when I’m immersed in a brilliant piece of storytelling, but I also love tap dancing. I’ve always loved to tap and when my husband improvises on the piano and I tap along, that’s probably us at our most relaxed.

Since the pandemic, I’ve become a funeral celebrant. At the moment I only conduct funerals for people I have known, which helps the compiling, sharing and celebrating of their final story

15. What would you tell your younger self?

Be patient and don’t compare yourself to anyone else .

16. What are your goals going forward?

To make BYMT a truly nationally recognised and inclusive company that is accessible to all young people and to make new musicals that transform the lives of the people involved - and their audiences.

17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

Usually between 11pm and midnight unless I’ve been to a show. To get seven hours of good sleep is a joy, but I can survive on a lot less if it’s an intense time with work.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

Not having a job outside of the UK for any length of time – I always imagined my children living abroad in order to give them different cultural perspectives and a sense of the world beyond Europe.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes, I feel I am a very different person to the one who entered the theatre industry 30 years ago. It has taken me many years to understand how to empower others to find creative solutions – I thought my job as a theatre director was to solve all the problems myself. Now I listen a lot, collaborate on everything and never pretend to know the answers I don’t know. It’s so much easier to be open and curious in life than to be ‘right’.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event - changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

My dearest best friend of over 40 years died from cancer last summer, aged 53. She taught me that I need very few possessions and must treasure the relationships with people I care about above everything. She was not afraid of dying and talked me so carefully through the farewell rituals around her death. I encourage everyone I can to think and talk about their death and funeral, as this is such a gift to the living.

British Youth Music Theatre (BYMT) is a national arts charity and has produced 14 shows in Northern Ireland. BYMT is currently auditioning for its latest production, All Growed Up , by Northern Ireland author, Tony Macaulay.
Auditions take place in Belfast on Sunday January 28 from 10am to 1pm and from 2-5pm at the Lyric Theatre. There is also a community audition workshop on Sunday, February 11, from 1-4pm at the Duncairn in north Belfast. britishyouthmusictheatre.org/auditions

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