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Amy’s life in puppetry and theatre mean she’s no stranger to juggling roles

As a freelance artist, designer, and theatre maker, NTU alum Amy Nicholson has a knack for spinning plates. In the spiritual sense that is, not as part of the performance.

Amy Nicholson
Amy Nicholson

As creative director of HandMade Theatre – a company she co–founded with Suzy Gunn – Amy delivers projects in the local community and produces touring shows for festivals, events, and theatres.

Graduating in 2003, Amy studied theatre design at NTU. Recommended to her by a college tutor, Amy was keen to explore what she calls, ‘the full Uni experience’.

“I wanted to explore moving away from home, a new dynamic city, and living in university halls,” Amy recalls. “As part of the theatre design course, we were able to produce our own shows, which was a real highlight.”

Returning to NTU, Amy has been inspiring the next generation of creatives. She’s taken on puppet-making commissions and works as an associate lecturer on both our Design for Theatre and Live Performance, and Costume Design and Construction courses.

Amy is clearly following her passion, but working in theatre – especially if it’s your own livelihood on the line – can’t be without its challenges?

“Of course, COVID and lockdown made things especially tough, but you don’t choose to work in theatre if you want and easy life!” Amy says.

Set design

“It’s the creative opportunities and independence that drive us forward. Cuts to arts council funding are the biggest challenge. Fees for performances are quite low in this country so making and touring work is hard. We supplement this with doing other work –  in schools, community spaces, and care homes.”

As someone with school-aged children, Amy is keen to ensure her production company is sensitive to the pressures on working mothers.

“With HandMade Theatre, we actively promote the fact we are a female–led company. The Arts Council recognises this as being important, but securing funding is still challenging. The hardest thing for women is juggling childcare.

“The creative industries tend to involve difficult working hours. This pushes so many women out of the arts. As an independent company, we try our best to support family life. We’ll bring our own children on tour and invite them into the rehearsal room. They give us the most honest feedback –  that’s for sure!

“Otherwise, taking a child along to work is often frowned on by others, or just not practical. My biggest bugbear is production meetings scheduled at 4 or 5 pm –  when it’s school pick up and dinner time! The worst time –  as any mum will tell you.”

Despite the challenges, Amy appreciates working in theatre too much to consider changing anytime soon.

“I love the flexibility of being freelance,” she says. “I have crazily busy weeks, but also quiet ones when I can be at home and just enjoy family life. I’m also getting better at saying no to jobs if they involve too much travel, or feel like they’ll be unnecessarily stressful.

HandMade Theatre

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