Personal Stories: Paul Williamson

I’ve worked for the Ambassador Theatre Group for 23 years. I made a conscious decision to work in the theatre industry, and for me, its appeal has never faded, even after all this time. I now see so many parallels between coaching and live performance, and how the magic in both happens ‘in the moment’.

There’s something very compelling about watching a story unfold in a darkened auditorium. So many of our theatres are listed buildings, and I think this heightens the experience. The ornate decorations, the opulent colours, the chandeliers – all remind you of the past. It surrounds you and influences you. It’s part of the experience, though you may not consciously know it. Such is my experience of working with people on their childhood stories. The Story is there, in the background, it’s the very stage that all the action takes place on, yet, how often is it acknowledged? How often is it examined? What happens if we lift the house lights and really see the childhood story? See it through the eyes of the child, and the adult that grew from that child? How aware are we of those moments in adulthood when the child walks out onto the stage and shouts to be heard? 

The work on my own childhood story was a curious mixture of excitement and anticipation for me. At the beginning, like when you take your seat in a theatre, you start off clutching a metaphorical ‘programme’. A quick glance through the pages gives you an idea of the characters you’ll meet. The cover art, or a few production stills may give an indication of what might follow, but sooner or later, and sometimes without warning, the lights will go out and you’ll be in the dark. Light follows. Sometimes a simple spotlight on a moment, a powerful and arresting memory. Sometimes a full wash of colour and a quick succession of scenes, and a theme may emerge. 

I’ve found the work difficult. In truth, sometimes my own Story felt like a particularly baffling play by Samuel Becket or Harold Pinter, but the deeper I went, exploring the subtext and the layers of meaning, the more command I gained of those familiar inhibiting elements of my old internal narrative. 

In essence, through this work, like a theatre director; it feels to me, like you’re given the opportunity to direct your own new internal narrative going forward. You can never change the original Story, but you can attend to it with more rigour, and explore new interpretations of it. You can bring it into the ‘here and now’ and create an exciting and authentic new internal narrative, populated with new characters, new challenges, enriched by the past. 

For me, it’s provided an insight into what truly motivates and drives me. It’s given me access to ‘volume control’ on some aspects of my behaviour and personality that don’t serve me well, allowing me to turn down the volume around endlessly competing for love, and get off the treadmill of having to always be ‘the best’, and be content to just ‘be’… in the moment… creative… resourceful… and whole. 

This work feels like a natural extension of my coaching model and is very congruent with our industry. I’ve been humbled to see the power it has to enable people I work with to ‘own’ the stage they stand on, ‘find their character’ and confidently shape a new internal narrative that supports greater self-awareness and positive growth. 

The word ‘play’ is synonymous with childhood and theatre. For me, it’s a match made in heaven.

Written by Paul Williamson, Head of Talent Development at the Ambassador Theatre Group