The Story Teller
Angela Marray is - in her own words - a 'free spirit' . She is a communications professional, an ex-journalist and an actor. In 2019 she was very successful in the one-woman play The Matchbox.
You have a variety of jobs. What is the reason that you are doing jobs that – seemingly – are so diverse?
That is because I enjoy all of them! But they’re not so diverse. If you really boil them down, the three things I do, which is communications professional, actor and I also do presentation and communications impact training – they’re all about telling stories. There might be different audiences, but that’s what it is about.
My love of storytelling comes from childhood. When I was sitting, age 5, listening to the teacher reading out a story I loved it. And that’s what they all have in common.
The journalism was talking and telling other people’s stories. In communications it’s looking at the business and saying ‘what’s the story you want to tell?’ and ‘who are you telling it to?’ And in acting it’s about telling a story that a playwright has written and how that impacts on the audience.
I love all of the things that I do. I’m not special. I’m not different. I’m just somebody who thinks ‘why should I be confined to doing just one thing?’ We’re multi-faceted. So why not embrace that and do things that you really enjoy?
So, how did you go about pulling all of these different strands together?
Well, when I was about ten I had a teacher, who saw me being an actor. And I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always loved stories.
So I went to university. I decided I wanted to become a journalist. I did a post-graduate in journalism.
I did work experience on the Sunday Mirror magazine. I’m not one of these people who are precious. They gave me a whole load of photocopying to do. So I did the photocopying and didn’t grumble. Because I was sitting in a newsroom and learning and listening.
Then I worked as a journalist. Getting the work when I could. Freelancing, quite a lot. The first shift wasn’t paid, but if you were any good, they’d ask you to do a shift. And the next one would be paid. It’s about an attitude. As in any working life.
Whilst I worked as a journalist this little thing kept coming back. My teacher, who said I was going to be an actress.
I worked on The Independent on Sunday. I was doing really well. I was 26 at the time. And I saw an advert for an open audition to Central School of Speech and Drama, as a foundation into acting.
I just decided to go and see what happened. And if they had said to me ‘No, sorry, this isn’t for you’ I would have been quite happy and I would have walked away. But it got whittled down and eventually I did get a place on the foundation. Then they encouraged me to go to drama school at which point it got a bit serious.
When I told them at The Independent that I was applying to drama school they looked at me and said ‘You’re mad. You could stay here.’ And I thought ‘Yeah, I could’. But I also knew that this was something I wanted to do.
I never want to regret anything in life. I think life is too short.
So I did go to drama school. And it took me to the West End. And I worked really hard. In between the acting roles I did freelance communications. And my bosses understood that acting was my main drive.
I’ve worked really hard and I’ve also been incredibly lucky in the people I’ve met along the way.
So, from a young age you loved storytelling and a mentor who said that he could see you as an actress, germinating this idea that that’s what you wanted to do.
At the same time you worked really hard in communications roles to not only complement your income but also your interest in storytelling in a different way.
Can you tell me a bit more about that?
I really love communications work. I really enjoy it. I love planning. I love strategy. I love breaking things down. And saying ‘What is it you want to tell people. How are you going to tell them. Why are you telling them. And what do you want them to do.’ And that comes with experience, and with putting yourself in the shoes of the audience.
And that’s also where the acting links in, because I can put myself in the shoes of someone and think ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what you want me to do’. .
They all kind of converge really. Because I was a journalist, I had to write in very different styles for the different publications that I was working on. So that converges on the writing aspect.
But also, without wanting to sound arrogant, it comes easy to me. I understand and can cut through all the noise.
You love what you do and you’re doing something that comes naturally to you. Playing on your strengths rather than focusing on what you're mediocre or even weak at.
Yes, but if you love something you’re going to work really hard at it. In the play I did I was in rehearsals for nine hours a day. I wouldn’t do that unless I really loved what I was doing.
When I’m acting in a play – if it’s not West End – I can earn more in my communications role in a day than what I could get paid in a week doing a play.
But it’s not about the money, it’s about the love of it. And it’s also about what you enjoy, what feeds you. This is your life and you’ve only got one life. My philosophy is that you might as well enjoy it.
You’ve also got to decide, what is your goal? There’s nothing wrong in having money as your goal. But for me it’s about enjoying my life to the fullest.
That’s why I call myself a free spirit. I’m not a tree hugger. I enjoy money, because it means that I can do what I want to do.
What are the advantages of setting up your career as you have?
I do my comms role and I really enjoy it. I get paid well for it, and then I take time off and I go traveling. And I also spend time doing what I want to do: going to exhibitions, museums, the theatre, the cinema, going for long walks, seeing friends. And just having some downtime.
Are there disadvantages to having a portfolio career?
I don’t see any disadvantages to it.
Don't get me wrong, this has taken a long time. And yes, there have been times that I thought ‘Oh my god, how am I going to pay the mortgage.’ But somehow it always comes. I think it is about trusting in yourself. In your abilities. In life. And thinking it will come.
I don’t see there are any disadvantages. I am really content with my life. In all aspects of it.
Is there anything in hindsight, that you would have done differently?
Yes. When I was younger I was so focused on becoming a journalist, or becoming an actor, But there were so many opportunities that came my way. And because I was so focused I dismissed them.
The one thing I would say to my younger self would be, if there are opportunities that come your way grab them, because you don’t know where they’re going to take you in life.
And also, you learn more from your mistakes then you do from your successes. And that helps you grow.
I wrote a film script with my sister. We worked really hard on it. And there were lot of good things about it. We learned so much, because it wasn’t hitting the mark as a dramatic story. And that was really crushing. If I could pinpoint something, where I really learned something, I’d say it would be from that.
If you’re not particularly great at a job, or you don’t like it, well, there’s lots of things you learn from that. And the biggest thing is that you don’t like it!
Also you do have choices in life. We all choose how we spend our money. We all choose how we spend our time. And that’s down to you. That is really down to you.
You call yourself a ‘free spirit’. People who are listening to this or who are reading the interview might think ‘Well, yeah, that’s all good for you! But I’ve worked in a corporate job for 25 years. How am I going to become this free spirit, embrace these choices, and take the opportunities?’
The thing is, I call myself a free spirit, but I’m also an adult. I’ve got a mortgage to pay in London, I’ve got bills like anybody else. But if you’re in a job, and you really hate it, then what are you doing to yourself, really?
It’s also about being brave. I don’t think I’m brave, I’m just easily bored!
How do you think people can get over that hurdle and be brave?
I think, take a massive piece of paper, put your job in the centre of it, make a spider chart with your skills, your personality and what you loved doing as a child. Start looking at it and jotting things down. It’s not going to come overnight.
For me, as a child, I loved stories. I loved listening to stories. That’s where the acting came from. That’s where the writing came from.
And also, you can’t be kamikaze about this, because this is your life. It’s not like ‘Oh, tomorrow I’m going to get up and I’m going to put my resignation in and I’m going to become an astronaut’. Well, that’s delusional. But it’s about taking calculated risks. Calculated risks. If you don’t risk in life you’re not going anywhere, really, are you?