Class of 2020: Natalia Kheldouni

We’re so proud of our class of 2020. They've overcome enormous challenges to graduate, but at the same time they've been determined to make a difference - helping others, grasping opportunities to develop their skills and showing their Essex Spirit in so many different ways. Now we're taking the chance to celebrate their achievements.

  • Date

    Wed 22 Jul 20

Natalia Kheldouni, with long, straight black hair

Panto provided the perfect opportunity for BA Stage and Production Management student Natalia Kheldouni to hone her skills when she landed a placement at one of London’s most iconic and historic theatres.

Natalia’s six-week placement on Dick Whittington at the Hackney Empire, which started with sourcing props for rehearsals, turned into a two-month job and supporting two shows a day.

“I think the biggest challenge was avoiding burn out,” she said.

“Because pantos are so fast paced, by the time you've done the rehearsals, tech and previews, you're already knackered and then you get into two shows a day, six days a week. It’s important to know how to pace yourself to still be able to deliver a high standard of work.”

Natalia secured the placement thanks to the recommendation of a freelancer she had worked with at East 15 Acting School: “Being trusted like that, to be recommended for a position, was very validating. I was over the moon. I knew it was such an incredible opportunity,” she said.

It’s an experience that she’ll cherish for a lifetime: “Hackney Empire is very much like a big family. There’s a lot of people that have been working there together for decades, and they've been doing the panto for 21 years. To be welcomed into that team was a great experience because I got to learn from the best.”

Natalia, who has already been invited back to the Hackney Empire to work on its next Panto, credits the practical teaching and variety at East 15 with her success: “We do roles in every technical department which I think is what most sets us apart. We leave East 15 with a very wide variety of skills not only in stage management, but costume, construction, lighting and sound.”

She has this advice for students joining the stage management course next year: “Don't be afraid to jump in the deep end and embrace the team work that goes into making a theatre show. But have something of yours on the side, a hobby, because theatre can very quickly take over most of your time and head space.”