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10 things that changed my life: Dundee Rep artistic director Andrew Panton

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Here are 10 things that changed Dundee Rep artistic director Andrew Panton’s life…

1. Family

I HAVE five siblings and I’m in the middle. I love coming from a big family and it was a fun time growing up in a very busy family home in Burntisland. You learn how to negotiate at a young age with brothers and sisters. Dinner times were a riot – you had to get on with it or go hungry.

We’re all still close, and now the joy is seeing my nieces and nephews grow up and being a part of their lives. I think that early sense of family follows into the work that I do.

In theatre, you often work very closely with a group of people, spending a lot of time with them, often going on amazing emotional journeys together.

2. Theatre, Music and Dance

PERFORMING arts have always been a huge part of my life. I got to know them all around the same time, about seven years old.

I was fortunate enough to learn piano, go to dance classes and youth theatre and, although I didn’t know why at the time, I loved the different forms of emotional expression they offered – still do.

I didn’t really know what musical theatre was until I was 14 when I realised it brought these forms together to tell stories. Then someone told me you could study it…..I was like, “what, for a living?”….so I thought I’d give it a go.

My life as a performer was short-lived, as I realised pretty quickly it was the creation of work I was interested in. I always loved the rehearsals more than performances.

Storytelling through text, music and movement sits at the heart of my directing practice. My favourite kind of work to make (or watch) is when the story can be told using different combinations of these forms. We all learn and receive information in different ways and this kind of work allows for difference in our audiences and how they receive stories.

It excites me when audience members have different reactions to the same show. Now I feel lucky to spend a lot of my life in rehearsals – for me, it’s still the best bit of the process.

3. Moving to London

IN the early 90s, the only option to study musical theatre was at drama school in London.

I remember getting on the train at Waverley, aged 17 and realising this was the biggest thing I’d ever done. London’s a pretty full on place at that age. It can be a lonely place but it’s also where I’ve experienced so many important things.

I met a lot of amazing and inspiring people in London, but I’m not sure it ever felt like home. I’m now able to see it for the amazing city it is and enjoy visiting.

4. Films

I LOVE being told stories almost as much as I love to tell them. I get really excited going to the cinema. I love the ceremony of it.

There’s also something nostalgic about the cinema experience and it reminds me of being a little kid and going with my Gran. I remember having to persuade her to take me to see ET One of the first things I’ll be doing when restrictions allow is a visit to the brilliant DCA cinema – my favourite.

5. New York

WHEN I was 21, I went to NYC for the first time. I wasn’t prepared for the impact the city would have on me. I knew it was an international hub for theatre, and it’s there I’ve seen some of the work that has most influenced me. But I also had a sense I’d been there before – quite strange.

In normal times, I usually visit at least twice a year and there’s a rock in Central Park that I love to sit on if I have any important life decisions to make. It was there I decided that James (my husband) was the one!

6. Diabetes

WHEN I was 28, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – the hereditary kind that comes with the genetic hand we’re dealt. It’s usually diagnosed in kids, so I was really late and it came as a shock.

Millions of people live with the condition and in this country we’re really fortunate to have such brilliant health care so that it can be managed. It adds a kind of enforced structure to my life in terms of exercise, eating patterns, when to take insulin.

My younger brother was diagnosed when he was eight, so it’s always been a part of our family life. My brother and I sometimes get competitive about who has the most up to date diabetic kit, or the best blood sugar results. We know how to have a good time!

7. Education, teaching, learning

I’VE kept in touch with quite a few of my teachers from both primary and secondary school who find it amusing that teaching and education has become such a huge part of my life (I was really badly behaved at school).

The first teaching I did was at Sunday school at a church across the road from my house when I was growing up. I don’t think I ever felt I was there because of a ‘higher cause’ but it did allow me to spend five minutes reading a bible story with my class and the rest of the hour with them round the piano learning songs, singing in harmony. It was joyous.

I still love group singing and one of the highlights of my year is working with the BBC Children in Need choir which we form every November for the national “bounce” live on the show. Twelve choirs singing the same song in different locations around the UK and viewers are moved live around the country between them.

For a lot of the young people it might be the first time they’ve ever sung in a choir or been in a TV studio and it’s hugely inspiring to watch their journeys in the weeks leading up to the performance.

When I was 30, I was asked to help conceive what musical theatre training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (then the RSAMD) could look like. It was particularly exciting as there hadn’t been an option north of the border when I wanted to study so it was an opportunity to introduce this kind of training in Scotland.

I went on to spend 10 happy years running the musical theatre department, working with amazing teachers and artists and learning from inspiring students.

8. Travel

I’VE always moved around a lot. Starting out in theatre, it’s quite normal to go where the work is. You get used to packing and unpacking and going where the jobs takes you and feeling fortunate to be able to.

I think looking at the place you call home from afar helps to give perspective. I’m looking forward to being able to travel again as James and I constantly have itchy feet and we’re always planning the next trip. This last year has been different for us all, so travelling somewhere exciting (when it’s safe) will be quite an experience.

9. Frida

OUR puppy Frida’s just over a year old now, and she’s certainly changed my life. I don’t think I’d realised just how present she’d be, or how much fun.

Since Frida’s been a member of the family, we’ve discovered so many beautiful walks and outside spaces in and around Dundee. It’s made the last year very different than it could have been and she’s certainly made sure we get out and exercise every day.

10. Dundee and The Rep

GROWING up we’d come to Dundee as a family quite often on day trips, often ending at the theatre. The Rep always seemed to have a mystical quality. It still looks and feels as it did then – different to any other theatre I’ve been in.

Having the opportunity over the last four years in my current role has been completely life changing. I’m fortunate to work with the incredible staff team we have at Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre and we’ve just launched our new digital platform, REP STUDIOS which will be the home for our digital work conceived especially for camera.

REP STUDIOS will sit alongside our live work and provide a way for audiences to continue to access our work from wherever they are.

Our new filmed version of SMILE has already had viewers from Australia, Finland, Japan, Switzerland and the US, as well as all parts of the UK.

This last year has reinforced the need for the arts, and as storytellers to tell the stories of resilience and healing. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to live and work in Dundee. It’s a city of many facets and surprises and I love discovering new things about it every day.

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