Investing in the (United) Kingdom: an interview with Stephen Vaughan
Over the past 40 years, Stephen has worked advising governments and companies in power-related transactions. He’s been involved in deals that have had a huge ...
To say Jill’s love for theatre is infectious would be an understatement – speaking to her on the phone made me want to get on the stage! And Jill’s passion for productions and bringing out the best in people is underpinned by a deep conviction that her creative and caring God is working with her, right where she is. So without further ado, let’s get this show on the road…
Jill has always loved the stage and how theatre productions bring stories to life.
‘I danced through my childhood, and theatre has been in my life as long as I can remember. Jesus gathered crowds to share his stories, and he’s the ultimate storyteller. Theatre reflects this aspect of God’s character – it educates, entertains, lifts people’s hearts, conveys moral messages, and brings people together.’
And, from a young age, she knew she wanted to be a teacher – she just didn’t know if she wanted to teach maths or drama! But the same God who’d given her a love for young people knew exactly which path she’d follow. He had his hand over her further education applications, and she secured a place at the Welsh College of Music & Drama. After a decade teaching in a local comprehensive, Jill stepped out in faith and set up her own drama school, Class Act Theatre School (CATS). Over the past 24 years, it’s gone from strength to strength – and, for Jill, the shine hasn’t gone from directing productions.
‘Drama productions are wonderful because they create community and instil confidence in young people. I love to encourage people. The best moments in my job are when a super-quiet child does something simply amazing. When that happens, I grab my phone and text their parents as soon as the class finishes.’
And her gift of encouragement spills into other areas of Jill’s life, too, as she affirms the good she sees in the world and moulds culture around her.
‘Our society is so quick to be negative. But the Bible tells us to build each other up. So, if I’m eating out and a waiter or waitress goes above and beyond, I always ask to speak to their manager so that I can commend their amazing service. It’s so important to celebrate the actions and attitudes we see around us that are in tune with kingdom values.’
‘I try hard to not speak negatively about others, or myself for that matter. And, when I do encounter negativity, I choose not to take offence and to turn the other cheek. In fact, at the start of each day, I ask God to help me to be a gatekeeper of my mind, to not allow anyone to steal my peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that comes from above.’
By modelling godly character through her kind and patient words, Jill points those she lives and works with to Jesus. And she also uses her words to be a messenger of the gospel, seeking to share her faith in a fun and positive way with those she interacts with at her drama school and in the local community. She openly speaks about how God’s been at work in her life, opening doors when she reached crossroad moments, and sustaining her through difficult seasons.
But Jill recognises that, to be a truly powerful witness, her edifying words must be accompanied by caring and loving actions. In July 2019, Jill took up the position of Resident Director of Disney’s The Lion King UK Tour. In the bestselling film version of the musical, Sarabi profoundly explains that ‘a true king’s power is his compassion’. It’s a beautiful picture of Jesus, the King of the universe, who showed his power not through military might but through love and mercy at the cross. And, in this role, Jill sought to reflect Jesus’ humble service and deep compassion.
‘It was a truly international company, with members from South Africa, the Philippines, and the United States, to name just a few examples. And being far from home can take its toll, especially on the younger performers. I wanted everyone to know that they were known, valued, and cared for – that I’d follow up with them if they’d had a tough day. I’m not perfect, but I’d think about what Jesus would think, say, and do in each situation and lift it up to him in prayer. Some of them called me “Mama”, which always made me smile. I think it reflects the deep relationships formed on the road.’
Not long after starting this new role at The Lion King, Jill was furloughed. But she knew that the show must go on and, trusting in God’s timing and provision, she threw herself into caring for her family and volunteering roles at her church food bank and vaccination centre. It wasn’t what she’d planned but she knew that God was working with her in the storms.
After returning for a post-pandemic leg of the tour, Jill has now finished her work with The Lion King and is back at her beloved stage school in Swansea. Last Christmas, she directed her first professional panto in New Brighton, and in December she’ll be directing Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal, Bath. She’s excited for what God’s got in store for the next season of her life and continues to pray that God will work with her to make the world more like heaven, right where she is.
Jill was speaking to Sophie Sanders, Marketing & Communications Executive, LICC