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Profile: Irene MacDougall

Actor, Dundee Rep Ensemble

Irene MacDougall in 'The Graduate'; Photo: Douglas Robertson; Courtesy: Dundee Rep Irene is a familiar face to audiences, having worked extensively for various theatres across Scotland as both performer and director.  She has performed in over 30 Dundee Rep Ensemble productions and has a multitude of other credits to her name for her work for the Royal Lyceum, The Traverse Theatre Company, Perth Rep and Communicado.  She is a founder member of the acclaimed Stellar Quines Theatre Company and has worked extensively in radio and television.

Starting out at Dundee Rep Ensemble

At the time of Dundee Rep company’s inception, ensemble theatre work was not prevalent in Britain.  When then director Hamish Glen put the idea in motion, originally with 14 actors for three years, it felt exciting to Irene, as though she was on the brink of something huge and wonderful.  It was also scary as it seemed to demand commitment, unfamiliar to the usual freelance way of working.

The first few shows felt to Irene much like others – freelancers coming together for a project – but after the fourth or fifth show, and once repeat performances came into play, the ensemble element really began to bear fruit.

Irene's perspective on working with the Dundee Rep

Overall, her work with Dundee Rep has been a positive experience with very few downsides.  An unrelenting cycle of rehearsal and performance can be tiring, Irene says, but more often than not it’s energy-giving rather than draining.  Over the long-term, the ensemble group has enabled the actors to build stronger working relationships - developing a great level of trust among her fellow actors.  This ultimately leads to better performances.

In contrast to the ‘scurry’ of ad hoc grouping, the ensemble’s team can begin work and training months before the rehearsals begin, such as singing training for musicals like Monkey.  Irene feels the skills developed through this training lead to a richer level of performance which ultimately benefits the audience.  Freelancers have much fewer opportunities to obtain such training, due to financial and time constraints.

The Dundee Rep Ensemble allows Irene and her fellow actors the freedom to embark on individual work outwith the company.  This external experience arguably brings value back to the company.  The individual experience may also be richer for Dundee Rep’s actors, as they are necessarily cast in a wider range of roles as opposed to freelancers, who are often typecast. Robert Paterson in ‘If Destroyed True’; Photo: Manuel Harlan; Courtesy: Dundee Rep

To Irene, Dundee Rep Ensemble enjoys a sense of community and shared pride so similar to that of the community it serves.  The ensemble welcomes the opportunity to sometimes literally 'know the audience' and get to know them better.

Future prospects

With Dundee Rep, there is a constant forward progression.  For example, the Ensemble’s first co-production with Scottish Dance Theatre (in the upcoming production Monkey) allows the two Dundee Rep-based companies to share skills such as acting, singing, dancing and hanging from ropes, in a new way.

Irene notes a general feeling that Dundee Rep has found a successful way of working.  Of the current Ensemble of eight actors, four still remain from the original company of 14.  Numbers may well increase.  Nothing is certain, however; the Ensemble is an organic entity, more than Irene originally imagined.

Favourite moments

Hamish Glen brought a Lithuanian director over to work with Dundee Rep on Chekhov’s The Seagull.  Eastern European theatre is much more ensemble-led than the UK.  To be under the direction of someone completely immersed in, and familiar with, the ensemble way of working was a great experience.

Musicals are not common in Scotland, but that does not mean the ability is not there.  The discovery that Scottish actors have all the ingredients to be able to do musicals has been a joy for Irene.

Irene MacDougall in 'Merlin the Magnificent'; Photo: Nicola Young; Courtesy: Dundee Rep

Irene notes the excellent small-scale touring work that has covered Scotland. She also feels proud of Dundee Rep’s achievements through its touring in helping bridge the gap in large-scale touring in Scotland.

In fact, Irene sounds genuinely proud at any mention of Dundee Rep Ensemble, and it is in no way a selfish pride.  There is a real sense of team spiritedness about Irene, whose team includes everyone from the director to the individual audience member.

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