Case study

Technical operations manager — Rachel Ryan

Rachel enjoys using her creative and administrative skills in her role at the English National Ballet (ENB). Find out more about how her degree prepared her for a career in dance

How did you get started in the dance sector?

I studied a BA in Dance and Culture with a professional training year at the University of Surrey, graduating in 2015. During my degree I undertook a nine-month placement in the English National Ballet’s Engagement Department. I was kept on for a short time after the placement, and then offered a full-time job before I graduated. After two years there, I moved into the technical department.

What does a typical day involve?

A day at work starts at 10am. I tend to tackle all of the departmental administration in the morning, including processing any invoices that have come in, updating schedules, dealing with any updates from HR on contracts for casual staff, and tracking spend across the stage crew, electrics, stage management and wardrobe teams.

My work is quite varied. It can involve putting budgets together for potential national and international touring options that our executive producer is considering, and being in contact with the various designers and agents for our productions to arrange contracts, and the logistics of any visits to the company.

The other element of my job is producing our annual tour of the children's ballet in the My First Ballet series, which is a co-production between ENB and the English National Ballet School. This involves booking and making arrangements with the theatres we tour to, liaising with the creative team on the production, liaising with schools, booking travel and accommodation and then taking the production on the road as the company manager.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety. I get to use my organisational skills with the department administration and management and then have more of a creative outlet producing My First Ballet. It's a job where you get to meet and work with so many different and interesting people from all walks of life.

What are the challenges?

In a company like ENB, everything changes so quickly that you have to keep your finger on the pulse or you'll fall behind. Our touring schedule is very busy and so often we'll be talking about something that is happening in two years' time, so you have to be super engaged and on top of what everyone is doing all the time.

How did your degree help you get the job?

My degree was incredibly relevant. It gave me masses of understanding about the industry, its history, and all the different roles within a company, which means I'm informed and aware of wider conversations that are happening in the arts. Without a doubt, the professional training year was the biggest help for my career - it was an opportunity to test out a career path, and to add that important experience to my CV.

What would you like to do next?

I'd like to be producing more dance and theatre. Working on My First Ballet has given me a lot of exciting ideas about what projects I might like to work on in the future.

Any advice for others looking to get into the dance world?

  • Always be open to new experiences and be brave. You might think you don't have the skills or experience to do something, but you never know until you try.
  • Embrace every opportunity that you get. Don't do things half-heartedly as you can always gain something, even a bad experience will teach you something. Everyone seems to know everyone in the dance industry so if you give everything you've got with a positive attitude it will be noticed.
  • Make the most of your degree. I made sure that when I left university I had no regrets about missing out on anything. Get every inch of knowledge and feedback from your course. It's not just the academic side of the degree that helps me every day, but also all of the extra-curricular activities I took part in.

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