CEO Emma Currie discusses what brought the human element to life , with the beginning of Acting Up
There’s a brilliant word I love to use when describing how Acting Up began, which I heard in an old Ricky Fulton sketch in which he plays a reverent giving a 'last call’ on late night TV, his water having been switched for vodka by a mischievous floor manager, he becomes increasingly drunk and begins to invent his own language. At one point he refers to ‘operchancity’. It’s a made up word which I feel should actually make its way into the OED because I for one would use it a lot to describe the chance and opportunity combined which led to Acting Up becoming the wonderful company it is today.
It began when an old flame of mine happened to be put in charge of running a huge corporate dinner in Aberdeen at which the great and the good of the oil and gas industry were present. At this time, in 1997, oil and gas was in a state of upturn and I was approached by my friend to lay on a piece of theatre for the event. Being an actress I was ‘resting' much of the time anyway, so I leapt at this chance. I pulled together a great wee company of Scotland’s finest and between us we staged a 20 minute promenade production of Midsummer Night’s Dream which we performed in and among the guests tables. It was a big hit! Attending this supper was a man who had a challenging remit on behalf of the DTI Oil and Gas division, namely to encourage supply chain collaboration between small to medium enterprises who were suppliers to the oil and gas sector. The scepticism of these SMEs was epic, not least because they were competitors to each other. Their ability to see the greater good in supply chain collaboration was obliterated by their scepticism. Our DTI client approached me at the end of the evening and asked if I could please help him out. He said that he had always seen theatre as a great way of getting messages across. Being a gung-ho type of gal I immediately told him that I would write him a play on the subject.
After several meetings and interviews with key SMEs, lessons from the client himself in the basics of how to create a proposal, cost jobs etc and back at home working closely with my father to cover the basics of business - business plans, company name, company bank account, website, email address etc, ‘Upstage' was born and this immersive learning curve was soon up and running as a wonderful addition to the DTIs SME roadshow which ran for many months and formed the backbone of what went on to become Acting Up.
For many months we continued to be passed round the DTI as a useful tool for bringing white papers to life - we created all sorts of entertaining pieces on subjects such as Overseas Trade, Sustainability and Academic/Industrial collaboration etc. I eventually got asked to run a series of workshops using theatre to bring to life the issues of reputation for an oil company in Aberdeen, Talisman Energy. Again I pulled together a company, as was my want and we gave the employees and contractors at Talisman a fun framework and safe space in which to get stuck into revealing conversations about who they were, reputation-wise, in the face of rapid growth and where they needed to be as a culture. Their output was never a problem for me; I would simply create a play from of it or write it as a story (not being one for formal reports). These went down a treat and the CEO even described me as ‘the eyes and ears of the company’.
I was asked to get more involved in the dynamics of the corporate culture at Talisman and was invited to sit on a committee overseeing a particular transformation process. It was here I got up-close and personal with the health and safety manager at Talisman. He talked a lot about the importance of behavioural safety, but was struggling to make it as meaningful; he wanted to elicit real engagement from the workforce. Inspired by his behaviour safety journey, I suggested I create a character who embodied the importance of personal safety. And so Gail was born.
Gail, the woman in the monologue Gail’s Shoes, tells a story about the impact of a few moments of human error on her and her husband’s marriage. Long after the audit, after the corporate wash-up, were two humans struggling to hold it together. This poignant story, told by Gail dressed only in a bedsheets and red high heels, reflecting the excesses of the previous night’s blowout, is moving and disturbing, inspiring and sad. This inspirational tale soon made its way through all Talisman off-shore workers, being performed initially at the heliport five times a day to catch every crew as they headed off-shore. Word soon traveled and other companies requested Gail’s Shoes and soon other commissions came in for monologues reflecting various behavioural themes. It was clear that telling stories was helping to shift and shape safety culture.
Gail’s shoes is still performed today regularly and now we have developed excellent workshops which focus on the human at the heart of safety culture and how to ensure that in the safety story and in corporate culture in general, the human is what matters. We’ve made films too and now have en e-learning library. It’s had been a journey I hadn’t expected. Challenging and exciting. I never would have thought about using my skills in this way, but I guess that’s what they call ‘operchancity’!
CEO, Acting Up Ltd.