Meet Ciara Hillyer: Behind the Scenes at Starter for Ten

2 Apr 2024

Our record-breaking production Starter for Ten sadly came to an end on 31 March. This brand-new musical was a hugely ambitious, joyous riot of songs, love, heartache and humour. But behind the slick production was a well-oiled machine, even more high-octane than the action on stage and just as much fun!

So we invited Bristol photographer (and Portrait of Britain Award-winner) Cíara Hillyer backstage during a show to capture some of the action.

Let's find out a bit more about Cíara and why she decided to jump headfirst into the action!

Some Voices at Clapham Grand

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m Ciara, a photographer and West Country native. Having gained two photography degrees from UWE, Bristol is my playground. It’s a vibrant city, with so much going and I’m always on the lookout for new photography opportunities. I love photographing people and will often use my medium format camera when doing so. I feel very lucky that I fell in love with photography at a young age, I’m 31 now and still enjoy taking my camera out and about on a daily basis! I’ve spent years working on my craft and building a good network of people around me. I recently was announced as one of the winners of the Portrait of Britain, which was a dream come true. Photography is my hobby and my profession, how lucky am I?


Why did you decide to take on this project?

Having read the book  ‘Starter for Ten’ years ago, I wasn’t sure how it would translate on stage. It’s always risky premiering a brand-new show and watching it without any pre-conceived notions of what to expect (much like everyone else!) certainly worked in its favour, because WOW, it was incredible and a very memorable performance.

I’ve had the ‘University Challenge’ song stuck in my head for weeks and I know it’s probably stuck there for good now. That’s a sure sign of a great show, when the soundtrack stays with you.

Upon leaving the theatre, I immediately felt there was potential to show the goings on behind the scenes, which would offer a whole new perspective for the viewing audience. As it was a new production, I knew the show didn’t have any BTS photos and I figured I could be the one to change this.

How did it go?

I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable night! I took so many wonderful photos and worked hard to ensure all company members were photographed. There is so much going on off stage that the audience don’t see, so I hope my photographs are able to show how much fun everyone is having, night after night. The talent on and off stage is beyond impressive.

What were the challenges/surprises?

It was quite chaotic, but in an organised way! There’s a constant “go, go, go” feeling which gets the adrenaline pumping. The stage transitions and the costume changes were seamless. It was great to be a fly on the wall and experience it all happening. Everyone was so welcoming and accommodating which made my job a breeze.


Pic you're most proud of in your career?

There’s too many to choose from, I’m very fortunate to have had lots of wonderful experiences over the years. Being a photographer isn’t an easy career, there’s lots of portfolio building and you have to really back yourself and be your biggest supporter. I certainly will remember my backstage experience at ‘Starter for Ten ‘for years to come, it genuinely was a fantastic night and I’m thrilled with the photos I took. Here’s hoping I get to photograph more shows!

Instagram: @ciara.hillyer
Facebook: @ciarahillyerphotography
Twitter: @ciarahillyer