Interview with former student Rosanna Elliott

Rosanna studied Drama, English and Art History during her time at Truro College and is returning now as the director of her newest play, The Coastguard's Daughter, which is set to be performed here at Truro College in early November.

Tell us about The Coastguard’s Daughter? When you first read play, what drew you to it?

The Coastguard’s Daughter is a new play written by Olivia Lowry. Olivia and I met when she took the role of Rosie in Cider with Rosie that I directed at The Minack Theatre in 2015. Later that year, she came to me with her idea and the first scene, I was not only struck by her beautiful lyrical way of writing, but also by the fact that it was based on a true story. Olivia had come across newspaper reports about the people that lived in her home in 1915. The story about these amazing women, had been overshadowed by the huge events of the War and so consequently had been lost.

I think I was also drawn to it because it is a story about women, written by a woman and the play celebrates how strong and brilliant women have always been, and that is not always recognised. This play does that. As a consequence of the story being unearthed and told through the play, Olive (The Coastguard’s Daughter) has been recognised for her contribution to The Coastguard services. That, for me, says a lot.

 

The use of local choirs is a fantastic concept for a local story, was it something you wanted to include from the start?

Yes. The play has Shanties and songs of the sea weaved throughout. Olivia used to listen to The Press Gang in Mevagissey when she was writing the play and so when we first staged in 2016 we worked with them. It was evident to me from the beginning that although the story is from a specific place in Cornwall, its themes speak to anyone who lives in a coastal community that is reliant on, and effected by, the ocean and its tides. We decided that if we were going to tour we needed to find a way to relate it to each community and the best way to do this was to connect and perform with singing communities from those places. They are the voices of each place so they bring a new tone, style and cast a fresh light on the play in each location.

During your time at Truro College you studied Drama and English Literature, did these courses help fuel your passion for theatre and did they help you get where you are today?

Yes I believe they did. I took English, Drama and Art History for A Level and I loved how I could learn about history, people and society from different angles. How art, whether that be writing, painting, architecture or theatre, is of vital importance for humans to express and reflect their current understanding of the world around them. Literally making their mark on the world. I think I found a drive for what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it. I went on to study Drama at Exeter University where I started to then explore my own voice as an artist and as a director.

 

Growing up and attending school in Cornwall and now seeing your plays being performed at iconic Cornish locations such as The Minack Theatre must be an amazing but bizarre feeling, did you ever expect to be where you are now when you were studying Drama at College?

While at College, in the holidays, I went away to London to do shows with The National Youth Theatre, which opened my eyes and a door to the industry in a wider sense and the world beyond. I was very lucky to have some amazing experiences through them, which have been incredibly valuable in the development of both my career and just as a person!

After University, I spent about 5 years in London, and as much as I missed the sea and the Cornish environment I didn’t think I could do what I wanted to do in Cornwall. When I was offered the opportunity to direct a show for The Minack for Trebiggan in 2015 I jumped at the opportunity and quickly discovered how wrong I was. I met lots of fantastic artists who were making work in Cornwall, I just had to be really active in making it happen. I was given lots of help and advice from people such as Jack Morrison at FEAST, Simon Harvey and Kirsty Cotton at Hall for Cornwall and I started being able to put my training, and everything I had learnt from my time away, in to practice. Back in my home county, I couldn’t believe it! I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love and live here, it IS possible, it just takes hard work – which, in my opinion, is totally worth it.

Is there a sense of nostalgia in having your play being performed at the College?

Haha, yes I suppose there will be! I directed a show earlier this year called A View From the Edge by ‘Owdyado and I came to watch that, it was very strange. I was so set on being an actor at College little did I know there was such a journey to go on and that I’d come to be a director. The Coastguard’s Daughter has a very special place in my heart and is the first tour of my Theatre Company Canvas, so I’m proud to bring it back to the place where I might not have had the confidence to imagine what was ahead of me. 

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring Cornish directors?

Do it! Be pro-active. See as much work as you can. Read lots, about all sorts of things, be curious about the world and whatever interests you… physics, astronomy, technology – ANYTHING. Look up and around; notice the world around you and the people in it. Learn as much as you can, and don’t ever give up wanting to learn. I am still learning all the time, discovering new stories, new ways of approaching things, I hope that hunger for asking questions will never stop.

I would also say that some of my best training was observing and assisting other directors, just watching what they do, so if you can access any rehearsal rooms I encourage you to do that. Even if that means just helping out with making tea, you can learn so much from being in the environment. Then, really importantly, do it. Find a play you love. Find the questions you want to ask about it and go about doing it. Get some friends together, get a space (even if that’s your living room) and start! There is so much magic in doing.

 

I should also say that through my new Theatre Company Canvas, we are going to be supporting New Writing in Cornwall. This will take the form of a Writers Network, Scratch Nights that will include opportunities for directors and actors too. Stay in touch for news about these in 2018 by going to our website www.canvastheatre.co.uk and following us on Social Media @CanvasTC