Eleanor May Blackburn chats to Bethan Andrews about always wanting to act, how a terrible accident spurred her on to succeed and her love for Sheffield
How long have you been acting for and when and where did your journey first begin?
I’ve been acting since I was about four! I used to dress up constantly when I was little and I’d devise plays with my cousins and put them on for my mum and dad. I’d charge them to watch even though it was their house! When I was about 12, I joined a drama group with an agency attached, so I did a lot of supporting artist work on CBBC and BBC, before I went to SCALA in Leeds. At college, I studied acting. I was really academic, so people would always say that maybe I should be studying maths, but I was stubborn and acting was what I wanted to do.
You were studying drama at University in Falmouth when you had an accident. Can you tell us more about that and how it has shaped your life and career since?
I was in my first term and it was 19 November 2015. I’d had a really long day at Uni and it was getting dark. There was a push bike coming down the hill, and I don’t think it was their fault, in fact, it was probably mine for being tired, but I stepped out in front of them and they hit me. I had a right-sided subdural hematoma which caused a stroke, and they rushed me to Truro Hospital before I was transferred to a specialist unit in Plymouth. My parents were called and asked how quickly they could get there and they were told they needed permission to operate and to get ready to say goodbye. I had to learn to eat, talk and walk again, but I got out of hospital on 16 January and went back to Uni the September following. I was still very much in recovery with speech therapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy and working on my concentration, but I didn’t want to give up. I rushed myself to get back into acting, but I’ve always been so stubborn and I wanted to prove everyone wrong – and I suppose I did.
Do you think getting back to acting, to the core of you and doing everything you loved, helped bring you back to yourself?
Yeah definitely, I think that’s a really nice way to look at it. It forced me to recover quicker than I might have otherwise.
Tell us about your own show that you wrote and toured with this year, Subdural Hematoma…
I had a module at Uni called Show in a Bag and it was meant to be a piece that you could take anywhere and perform at any time. I was challenged by one of my tutors to make something funny, as I usually fell back on drama and tragedy. I wondered if I could make my accident into a comedy piece, so I wrote a bit of spoken word, performed it in class and people were really laughing. I extended that and turned it into a 15-minute piece and it got an amazing reaction that I could never have dreamed of and got the highest mark at Uni. The Crucible in Sheffield were doing an open submissions programme so I turned it into a 60-minute piece, because I had the time in lockdown to do it, and it narrowly missed out at the end of the process, but I decided to take it to Manchester Fringe. It’s made up of my mum’s diary entries that she kept at the time, mixed with me responding in spoken word, with verbatim, physical theatre and testimonials from other brain injury survivors. I applied for Arts Council Funding and won, which meant I could take it on tour in March of this year.
You’re born and bred in Sheffield. Would you say it’s somewhere that’s very supportive to those in the performing arts?
Oh, I’d definitely say so. I’m from a place called Chapeltown and the Sheffield theatre scene is just fantastic – it’s really supported me. I had a short residency with Sheffield Theatres last year and I’ve been part of their script reading team and part of their Young Company for 2021 and 2022.
What are your favourite parts of the city?
I love how green it is, it’s so beautiful. I think it’s such a hub for Yorkshire, too. You go into the town centre and you’re just surrounded by all of these amazing theatres. I definitely look at it from an artist’s perspective now and I think the theatres are just incredible, they are so beautiful and real hidden gems of the city. It’s a really friendly city too, it makes you feel so at home.
Where do you like to hang out in Sheffield?
The Washington is my favourite pub and I absolutely adore it there. I also love going out to eat at Bungalows and Bears and Temple of Fun. I’m coeliac and vegetarian and it has all the gluten free options, which is always really nice.
Do you have any favourite places to escape to in Yorkshire?
I really love York. I think it’s such a beautiful city. But, I think it would have to be The Peaks – they are just so, so nice. I’ve started going wild swimming and I went to so many amazing spots in the summer. There are also so many amazing hilltops for watching the sunset on too – it’s a really special place. I wrote a long piece of spoken word for BBC Uploads about the north called Mardy Bum and I think it says most of what I’m trying to say. Sheffield and the north is such an inspiring place to be. There are so many music legends from here and it’s definitely iconic for the arts. The television, the films and the theatre that we’ve created, such as The Full Monty and This is England, it’s just all so wonderful and special.
Follow Eleanor May Blackburn @eleanormay_actor