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James Milton

BA English (2000), Theatre Producer and Director

Why did you choose Royal Holloway for your degree?

I was really keen to go to a University of London college – but not so keen on having to live in central London.  I also wanted to go to a campus university if at all possible – so Royal Holloway seemed perfect. 

I was very drawn to the structure and content of the course, which seemed to be very forward looking, but with a  strong basis in Old English and language (which not many other courses covered).

I’d be lying if I said that the Founders building wasn’t a part of the attraction – but then most people at the university would be lying if they didn’t acknowledge that that had a bit of a role to play!  Ultimately, it just seemed like the a positive, productive place to be.

How did your time at Royal Holloway help your future career?

I had a brilliant time at Royal Holloway. The course comfortably surpassed my expectations, and has had a fundamental impact on the way that I see the world (and, I suppose, try to make sense of it).  The complexity and sophistication of some of the ideas that I was exposed to, and the manner in which they were expressed, was a profound experience and one that has remained with me. The extent and breadth of the literature covered, and the corresponding theory, is impressively vast – and definitely leaves you enviably well read. This ability to respond, reflect, analyse, debate, evaluate and articulate has been of fundamental relevance to my professional life since leaving.  I’ve recently returned here to begin a part-time MA; after 10 years of academic withdrawal symptoms, I decided to give up resisting it and re-enter the fray – which is testament to the lasting impact that those three years had on me!

Beyond the course, my involvement with the Musical Theatre Society, and the Students' Union in general, has had a very strong impact on my career.  Having the chance to appear in, and produce, shows through the Union -- and take some of those shows to Edinburgh -- gave me a really solid footing in what I’m doing now and the confidence to pursue that. The quality of the individuals I was working with, and of the work produced, was generally extremely high – and has remained so in the productions that I have seen since I’ve left.  I’m always struck by how many people from the university end up in all areas of the entertainment industry: my acting agent was at Royal Holloway some years before my time there, and I’m constantly bumping into actors, writers, producers, stage managers and directors who studied there – it’s almost a bit like an informal drama school that runs alongside your degree!

There is something very satisfying in seeing the same individuals who you spent endless nights with in classrooms, rehearsing endless musicals, plying their trade in some of the most famous theatres in the world.

What do you do now and what advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career in your sector?

Now I produce, and occasionally direct, theatre – in the West End and on national tour (and in a variety of corners of the rest of the world). Everybody knows that the entertainment industry is very tough, but until you’ve actually lived it, there’s no way of truly understanding what that “tough” actually means.  With that in mind, I would say that my one piece of overriding advice would be to prepare yourself for this as best you can – and do your best to separate your ambition and your happiness (the latter doesn’t have to be intrinsically contingent on the success of the former).  I would also say; work hard, stay focused, retain your passion, enthusiasm and sense of humour – and be nice. It’s worth remembering that in an industry where reputations go a long way, everyone would rather work with someone pleasant than someone difficult -- the cliché of the egoic artist may have a strong basis in fact, but it’s tedious and unnecessary (and no one likes that person!) 

Also, be prepared for a lifetime of people explicitly, or tacitly, asking when you’re going to get a “proper job!”

 

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