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Elizabeth Pennington on becoming a journalist: "think outside the box"

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Elizabeth Pennington is a twenty-two-year-old journalist in the early stages of her career. Her work focuses mainly on conflict, refugee, and human rights issues. We caught up with Elizabeth to find out what she has been up to since graduating from our degree at Sheffield Hallam University in 2018.

Elizabeth Pennington volunteering with IVHQ in Mutungo, Uganda in 2015.

SHU Acting & Performance: Hello Elizabeth! Before we talk about your work, tell our readers a bit about yourself.

Elizabeth: Hi, I love to learn new languages. I speak Spanish pretty well already and I am learning, or trying to learn, Arabic, and improve my French some more. I love film and theatre. Travel. Yoga. Toast... It's really the simple things in life that keep me happy.

SHU Acting & Performance: What is it that you are doing for work?

Elizabeth: I'm working on a voluntary basis as the Communications Manager for a newly established Non-Profit Organisation (NGO) called YTT Association. It's based on an art/research project called Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow (YTT) by Paris-based Irish artist Bryan McCormack. Bryan invites refugees living in camps across Europe and Africa to draw their past, present, and future lives. The drawings were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

Refugee Drawing Title: Yesterday. By a 22 years old Syrian Woman. Currently living in Samos Refugee Camp, Samos Island, Greece.

SHU Acting & Performance: You’ve been involved in the project for some time now. How did that come about?

Elizabeth: It started when I was at Sheffield Hallam University in 2016. I got involved in some performances and installation pieces. I also did some work as a photographer. Now I’m part of a small team that travels internationally to the camps and centres in places like Serbia and Morocco. I feel very passionately that if we weren't there, then the people we meet might never have their voices heard or their stories told.

SHU Acting & Performance: Are you doing anything else?

Elizabeth: Other than YTT, I'm a contributing writer to Nations Media in the US, which is a wonderful organisation and the team there have really championed my passion for profiling causes in the world that aren't often discussed.

SHU Acting & Performance: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced since leaving SHU Performance?

Elizabeth: It can be difficult to really know how what you want to do for a career, translates into "a job." I'm still learning that and I'm still exploring what that means and how my skills and interests can fit together. But I can safely say that through working on the YTT project, I have found my calling.

SHU Acting & Performance: What advice would you give to other SHU Performance students who are about to graduate?

Elizabeth: We all have our own path. Regardless of whether you want to be an actor, a director, a film-maker, a teacher, or a journalist. Or even if you aren't quite sure, own it! Enjoy the process of "figuring it all out" because while it is scary at times, it's so exciting to explore different options.

SHU Acting & Performance: That’s good advice. The work you are doing involves working with some pretty high profile partners and projects. How do you manage to make those relationships?

Elizabeth: Networking is really important, regardless of the industry you want to go into. In my final year of study, we had placements and because I wanted to be a journalist, I networked and established a contact with the Senior Foreign Correspondent at ABC News in London. There, I had a two-week internship which was insanely amazing and inspiring. Then, six weeks later, I found myself working as an assistant for ABC News at the Royal Wedding. I was suddenly living in Windsor! You NEVER know what opportunities could come from reaching out and making contact.

SHU Acting & Performance: What's your best memory from your time at SHU?

Elizabeth: So many! The course is so varied - it encourages you to explore new things and think outside the box. In my second year, I studied a brilliant module called Applied Theatre. It made us think about using theatre for a social cause. My group created a performance for the Sheffield Institute for the Blind, which was wonderful and hugely inspiring. And it was in that module, we were introduced to YTT.

Refugee Drawing Title: Today. By a 14 years old Afghan Girl. Currently attending the P.I.N. Refugee Centre, Belgrade, Serbia.

SHU Acting & Performance: It sounds like that module has had a profound effect on you.

Elizabeth: Yes, that and the SHU Performance tutors, the friends I made, they all really encouraged me - not just in what I wanted to do, but personally through my time at university, which wasn't always rosy because there were a number of things going on in my life, which made it difficult to be away from my loved ones. Everyone at SHU supported me and helped me through and I’m so grateful or that.

SHU Acting & Performance: And I hear that you won an award from SHU for your work on YTT?

Elizabeth: It was so humbling to have my contribution to YTT recognised, and Graduation was amazing too because I never thought I’d get there, truly!

SHU Acting & Performance: What is the number one thing that you learned from your time studying with us?

Elizabeth: I've learned to not be afraid of changing my mind. That's OK, you know? When I first came to university, the goal was a pursue a career in the West End or Broadway, working on gritty, contemporary plays, and using Stanislavski, maybe Artaud or working on installation pieces. Then when I studied the Applied Theatre module, that changed everything for me. It inspired me in many ways. It led me to work abroad in Uganda, Moldova, and Bosnia, during my summers away from university, and I would come back home and friends of mine and family would say "Gosh, I had no idea that was happening there..."

SHU Acting & Performance: And is that what led you to want to pursue a career in media/journalism?

Elizabeth: Yes. The course is so broad and varied so what I was doing, it never felt "wrong.” My career path still felt 100% valid, even though I was studying a performance degree. If anything, it made me care more, it made empathise with people in a way that I might not have been able to had I studied something else.

SHU Acting & Performance: What do you hope to achieve in the years ahead?

Elizabeth: I'm planning on studying a Masters in Human Rights later this year. It's an online course so that I can continue my studies from anywhere in the world if I want to. I’d also love to continue my work with YTT and help develop our international projects.

Refugee Drawing Title: Tomorrow. By a 9 years old Iranian Girl. Currently living in Principovac Refugee Camp, Sid, Serbia.

SHU Acting & Performance: Is there anyone else that you’d like to work with?

Elizabeth: I would love to work alongside Amnesty International or similar organisations. I see myself as a bit of a nomad - working internationally and learning so much about the world as I go.

SHU Acting & Performance: If you could study Performance for Stage and Screen again what would you do differently?

Elizabeth: I wouldn't change anything - honestly. Over my three years studying Performance for Stage and Screen, I learned so much. Not just about theatre and performance, but about myself. It's cliche but it's true. I would not want to change anything about my university experience because it's made me the person that I am now.

SHU Acting & Performance: What are you going to do next?

Elizabeth: I have a few more international projects coming up in Europe. I hope to go and spend some time working in the refugee camps in Greece and maybe in Lebanon as a field researcher, but that's mainly for my Masters. Towards the end of the year, I'm traveling to Central Turkey to work on a story about female refugees for Nations Media. Then, I'm hoping to work on a documentary film project close to the Turkish/Armenian border.

SHU Acting & Performance: It sounds like you’re going to be super busy!

Elizabeth: You could say that. This work can be emotionally taxing at times - but I have a strong support network that I am so grateful for. It seems I'm going to live on a plane for the foreseeable future! Joking aside, it's amazing and I am very lucky to have had the opportunities I have had.

SHU Acting & Performance: Thanks for talking to us Elizabeth and all the best with the future!

Elizabeth Pennington will soon be returning to Bosnia and Herzegovina where she will be continuing her work with Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow.

Follow Elizabeth of social media:

YTT Association:

Do you want to study Acting & Performance?

Find out about our degree at Sheffield Hallam University.


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