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Makaila Mckenzie


Freelance Theatre and Interior Stylist

BA Interior Architecture and Design, 2011  

What made you choose Middlesex University?

I chose Middlesex University because it had a great reputation and decent position in university league tables.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I had an interest in interior design prior to applying and I liked the fact the course offered the opportunity to take up an overseas placement.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

I really enjoyed the group tutorials as these allowed me to listen to everybody else's presentations, participate in feedback and receive feedback from others. It was great seeing my fellow students' projects develop.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

My fondest memory is our trip to Turkey.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

Stick to what you have set out to achieve and study! Yes, things may get tough but giving up is way too easy and hard work does pay off – eventually!

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you to get where you are professionally today?

The course gave me a better understanding of spatial awareness. I was also introduced to computer programmes that enabled me to produce floor plans and technical drawings a lot quicker than if I was to draw them by hand.

I have been able to transfer these skills easily to the theatre, where I now produce stage plans and set drawings from time to time.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

I chose the industry I work in for the excitement, the challenges and the fact my role changes from job to job.

I would say that the pros are the adrenaline, the job satisfaction, the opportunity to work in different venues/locations with different companies/casts and the different roles you can take on because of this, as well as the choice freelance work offers.

The cons are the times in between jobs. There isn't much consistency early in your career and it would be easy to just give up and get a 9-5 job when you are starting out.

You do also come across divas and egos from time to time, as you do with most industries, but you have to take certain personalities with a pinch of salt and keep going.

How did you get your foot on the career ladder post-university?

To build my interior design skills I did two internships with residential interior designers (as that was where my interest lay). I learnt a lot from them, including the residential design process and more importantly adapting design to meet a specific company's taste, which I can do but I realised it wasn't for me! I think design should be an expression of yourself.

I was lucky enough, though, to have the opportunity to work with some great people and get some great advice from them.

To build my theatre experience, I literally made a phone call. I made myself available to a company and volunteered to work for free on a few shows but then luckily they started to pay me for my time.

I learnt about the industry on the job and the theatre bug has definitely stuck with me and has been an amazing experience. New opportunities arise all the time which is the greatest thing. The theatre is a great industry for creative people.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

My quick progression. In just under two years I have gone from knowing nothing about what happens behind the scenes in theatre, to being a stage manager, costume maker and design assistant – these are all things I thought I could only dream of becoming.

What does the future hold for you?

Happiness as a result of working in an industry I love as opposed to just working to pay the bills!

I would also like to pass what I have learnt on to others through teaching, mainly in schools. Children are the future and if they know how to direct their energy at an early stage then hopefully their future choices may be a little bit easier.

What are the top three career tips you would give to current students and recent graduates?

Be persistent, have strength and have courage. Everybody makes mistakes but learning from them is what counts. Make sure you develop and grow, both professionally and personally.

Also, be thick-skinned. Don't allow anything or anyone to throw you off your path. You've worked hard to get where you are and you deserve to be there as much as the next person.

And lastly, think outside the box – if one route doesn't work for you, think how your skills may be used in another way, doing something you would enjoy.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

Believe in your abilities! Take all the negative things that life throws at you with a pinch of salt and don't beat yourself up so much.

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