CREDIT: Deliah Niel

In conversation with Ryan Rutherford

By Sophie Hannam

Break a leg! Ryan Rutherford does Glasgow proud with new strides in his career.

Self-described as a “28-year-old wee Scottish guy from Edinburgh”, Ryan Rutherford graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2018 with an MA in Theatre Studies. Since then he has been working incredibly hard in one of the world’s most competitive industries. From the National Theatre Scotland to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, he has an undoubtedly impressive list of work under his belt. This list has paid off, being awarded a position in Glasgow Film Festival’s competitive new talent mentorship scheme. I was lucky enough to speak to Ryan about his experience of the programme as well as his attitude towards a seemingly fortified, unbreakable line of work.

The programme, funded by The William Grant Foundation, aims to support emerging professionals working within “film, high-end television, and animation” from underrepresented backgrounds. Lasting six months, mentees are partnered with a mentor who works in their preferred career. During this time mentees are given the opportunity to gain “practical advice, encouragement and support”. This year eight mentees were selected to participate, one of which being our very own Ryan Rutherford. Rutherford explains that the concept of “artist helping artist” is a “bedrock of the art”, helping those gain the much-needed connections to establish themselves. The scheme serves as the quintessence of this belief, smashing the countless glass ceilings that prevent many from actively participating in the arts.

Rutherford outlined his experience with the industry over the course of our conversation, describing it as “expansive” and “easy to get lost in”. With so many opportunities and niches, the world of the performing arts is daunting, to say the least. In my opinion, it is also greatly underappreciated. An issue that is continuously coming to light in recent years, most noticeable within the writer’s strikes. Mirroring my own thoughts Rutherford concurs that “people from different backgrounds are still being underrepresented”, which is a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting better, despite global strides towards equality. Schemes such as this enable individuals to get their foot through the door of one of the world’s most selective clubs, brandishing the contradictory attitude which stipulates in order to make a name for oneself, one must already have a name to depend upon.

Sat in front of a smorgasbord of film posters, Rutherford appeared on our Zoom call as the epitome of what I expected, an insanely cool artist. Down to earth, friendly and chatty, the nerves over conducting my first-ever interview were immediately thwarted. A little less daunted, I began our conversation by querying the secret life of a university graduate, something that plagues my subconscious admittedly a bit too much. Rutherford explained that he was lucky to get an internship from the National Theatre Scotland after graduating, cushioning the blow of post-grad existentialism. An internship, he added, that the theatre department at the University helped him procure. 

Throughout his internship, Rutherford was able to learn a lot, not just about working for the theatre itself but the industry as a whole; incredibly harsh and almost impossible to access. The transition from student to full-fledged adult is a leap that many struggle with. We both agreed that as a university student, life is still very much trapped within a bubble. It is a time to make mistakes and try things out. It feels like no matter what happens you still have the university to support you. Once you have left, that support system is gone and you suddenly are left to feel the full weight of your actions. No parachute to cushion the blow.

After completing his internship, Rutherford went on to work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The “rite of passage” for any performer, as he described. For those who have witnessed the city of Edinburgh over the month of August, it is painfully clear how hectic the festival is – a fast-paced and difficult job squeezed into a short amount of time. Nonetheless, it allows almost complete artistic expression, with people now travelling across the globe to feature on one of the countless bills, performing in both venues and the street. This experience allows its performers a deeper understanding of the performing industry, an impact that I do not doubt has aided Rutherford in where his career is today.

Now, I feel the need to address the elephant in the room. The point of discussion that cannot be missed no matter how much we all try to forget it. The dreaded topic of the Covid-19 years, when everything grew to a halt and it felt like nothing would go back to normal. Rutherford agreed that it did make things very difficult for him. Many artists were left unable to find new work and experience the full breadth of what the industry has to offer. Rutherford reflected on this, explaining that it’s easy to get lost in “what could’ve been”, what experiences had been lost due to strict isolation and distancing rules. Regardless of how well he is doing today, the career restriction undoubtedly halted some of his success. We went on to discuss the experiences of those completing their first year of University entirely online and how sorry he felt for them. Missing the opportunity to enjoy the social life that University has become renowned for. I think everyone is guilty of this mindset, including myself. Rutherford’s words resonated with me. I had my 18th birthday in lockdown and often feel like I missed out on some key experiences with my friends over this time. The impact of Covid-19 couldn’t limit Ryan however; he procured a job at the Glasgow Film Theatre. A job that Rutherford speaks very highly of; another key step in his journey of success.

Through working at the film theatre, Rutherford was able to hear about the scheme and was inspired to apply. On being accepted Rutherford was partnered with Scottish Writer and Director Louis Paxton. Paxton graduated from RCS with an undergraduate degree moving on to procure an MA in directing at the National Film and Television School in London. Rutherford outlined Paxton’s extensive career for me, a Scottish BAFTA nominee, who has produced a wide variety of projects as well as working on famous sets, such as Shetland. It’s a list that could fill this entire article, serving as a credit to Paxton’s dedication as well as highlighting the success of Rutherford being placed with such an impressive mentor. Having only met his mentor once Rutherford is anxious to see what their mentor-mentee relationship will lead to. “He’s a really great guy” describes Ryan who is excited for more meetings with Paxton.

“It means the world to me”, Ryan describes when I ask him how he feels about procuring this position. He goes on to explain: “There is lots of rejection in this world, you have to keep trying but it’s very difficult”. On discovering he’d been selected as a mentee in such a prestigious programme Rutherford was elated: “it showed me I was on the right track, that I was going to get where I needed to be”, he describes through a Cheshire cat-like smile. On a more sombre note, we move our discussion to the immense lack of programmes such as this available. He adds: “There needs to be more like this … there are so many stories to be told”. Stories that may never be given the opportunity to come to light without more opportunities by companies such as the GFF.

On concluding our interview I was left with a great sense of joy, seeing someone so happy and achieving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am sure I speak for the whole University when I say that Ryan’s achievements are a credit to the hard work and dedication he has placed into his career and we are all so proud of him. Break a leg Ryan, we can’t wait to see what you do next!


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