Positive Profile: Scott Kyle on Outlander and saving a community theatre

Actor Scott Kyle is busy changing the fortunes of Bathgate Regal Community Theatre, when he isn’t working on prolific shows such as US drama Outlander, where he played Highlander Ross.  Scott talks to us about how his army of “Kylander” fans have greatly benefitted the Bathgate theatre, how he keeps his cool when things are going wrong and the importance of meditation and taking time to chill out.

Are you a naturally positive and cheerful person?

I definitely make a conscious effort to be. I do a lot of meditation and stuff, and if I have had a tough day there’s a guy I like listening to called Wayne Dyer, he’s an American spiritualist guy. So if I am listening to him, my wife always goes “what’s going on, has something happened?” [laughs]. I am naturally positive and cheerful but I do try to consciously be positive.

Tell us a bit more about Bathgate Regal Community Theatre?

It was originally a cinema, and has been a theatre since 1998, but five years ago the theatre was recording a deficit and they were going to close it down. There was a public meeting to see if the community wanted a community theatre and if they would be willing to do anything to save it. I came to that meeting and there were 40 people at the meeting, and I thought “40 people are not going to save this building, we need a whole community to engage”. I was asked to be the director and the short version of the story is five years later the turnover has grown 100%, we now run a radio station, an HNC/HND in musical theatre, a children’s theatre, a youth theatre, Regal Animation …we have so many things going on.

That is testament to a lot of positive people in the community. I was fortunate enough to have some ideas that people were willing to buy into. It’s a melting pot of arts activity. We’ve had guys from Pixar coming in; Fraser MacLean, who worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam, is Scottish-based and he heard about Regal Animation and came along and got very, very excited about what we were doing – he said it was “real maverick stuff”. He has got us a meeting in December with the head character animator on Trolls, a new Disney movie, which is dead exciting. He has worked with Justin Timberlake and Russell Brand, and he is coming to the Regal to do a workshop with our kids!

Why does Bathgate mean so much to you?

There is still a real sense of community here. I come from Rutherglen, outside Glasgow, and they don’t do the gala days any more, but here thousands of people turn up. I travel an hour here and an hour back to work every day and it’s worth it.

What are the stresses and how do you combat those?

You have to be good at problem-solving. Working in a theatre, every day someone has some sort of disaster going on, so you have to watch you don’t fan the flames, and instead you have to calm everything down. There is a wee bit in Shakespeare in Love, when the theatres have all been closed because of the plague and a wee guy who owns a theatre owes the debt collectors loads of money, and when he is asked how he is going to get money to pay his debts when the theatre is closed, he says: “I don’t know but it will all work out fine, it’s a mystery.” And then two minutes later a bell goes and an announcement is made: “The theatres have been reopened by the order of the Crown”, and he says something about it being a sequence of disasters on the way to a calamity, but it all works out in the end.

And that’s exactly what the theatre world is like. When you are building a show someone’s always lost a wig or doesn’t have a shoe or something, but it always comes alright on the night. I’m top of that chain and I need to be the calm one – if I’m losing my cool, everyone is losing their cool.

You were asked to help turn the fortunes of the theatre around… how have you been doing that?

We don’t get a lot of subsidy or support from anybody so the fact that the business has grown by 100 per cent over five years is not testament to Creative Scotland giving us money, or another company giving us money, it’s community engagement, entrepreneurship, smart thinking, a bit of business savvy and making things work. Having our own radio station has helped us get better deals for promoting our shows, we now have 40 presenters a week on our radio station, and there were only 40 people at the public meeting to save the theatre so we have a real support network going on.

My background in theatre and in TV has helped, and I want to make sure children are coming in here and having fun and they are also learning. They can go from children’s classes to the youth classes, to the HNC/HND course. I was on Outlander and I met Fraser Murdoch,  who does the visual effects, making 100 men turn into 1000 men in an army, and all that kinds of stuff, and he is now doing that for the theatre and updating our website, so we are making animated movies as well now. Anybody I meet, I tend to try to rope them into the theatre and most people who are really talented and passionate want to get involved in something as big as what’s going on. It’s an easy sell when you’ve got a building as old as this, with the history and the fantastic things going on.

So your role on Outlander has really helped the theatre?

I’m the manager of the theatre and I’m also a working actor, and I was very fortunate this year to get 12 weeks on Outlander, and the theatre supported that …. fast forwarding to today, and the theatre has been gifted and raised £40,000 through merchandise towards projects within the theatre and that’s from Outlander fans all over the world. I now have 53,000 followers on Twitter, so this is a new part of my day I didn’t have before, being responsible for keeping all these people up to date with the theatre and what we are doing here. It’s a massive asset and it’s been wonderful but it does put more pressure on the whole thing we are building.

Do you have methods to deal with that pressure on a day-to-day basis?

I like my quotes and my spiritual stuff, and I always remember a quote from Gandhi I think: “I’ve got so much on today I’m going to have to meditate twice as long.” There is an aspect of truth in that. Being honest, I don’t get up in the morning and do two hours of meditating before I come to work because I’m sleeping, but there are times when you just need to take a chill-out and take a couple of minutes. I love coming in to work with a class, that’s when I feel most relaxed – when we do focus exercises and we chat about why we’re here and how important the storytellers are in a community. It used to be the cave people sitting round a fire but it’s done for the same reason – to forget about the harsh winter or to forget about your troubles.

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How did you get the part in Outlander?

About two years ago I went down to London to audition for this unknown show called Outlander for the part of a hairy highlander called Angus – well, I couldn’t even grow a beard [laughs], and I did the audition and never heard back. So when I got the call this time, I Googled and researched the show, and me and my wife watched a few episodes and we thought it was really good and decided to watch it whether I was in it or not. As we started getting near the end of the season, we said “Imagine if my wee face turned up in it, that would be amazing wouldn’t it”, and then I went and auditioned and got the part. It was really strange because I’d been watching Sam [Heughan] and Cat [Catriona Balfe], these TV stars, and then I was going in… it was a bit surreal!

Were your family excited to see you in the show?

As I said to my mum, if I was in Taggart, I’d be the guy who comes in with the files and says “That’s the files there Sergeant” [laughs]. When she saw my Twitter followers she couldn’t believe it was a wee part. I think the scenes the writers gave me were a gift. I was working with such big stars I would look round and think “how have I blagged this!” I was chatting to Stephen Walters, who plays Angus, one day and I said to him “I look round and think ‘how is this wee Glaswegian here on an American TV show as big as this,” and he said “Scott, we all feel that. Everybody thinks God, we are going to get found out! How did I blag this?” [laughs] and that made me feel better. That’s when I tap into a spiritual level and think this is something bigger than me telling a story through me.

What was the most enjoyable part about working on such a well-known show?

For me, any time I get to work on something where I am not the producer – which is when I’m in it, I’m running it and it’s my fault if anything goes wrong – and instead in a show like Outlander where everybody is the best in the country at doing their job, then all you need to focus on is your job. That is very rare for me – for example, today I’m doing a tour with three Italian fans, there’s rooms getting brushed, there’s loads of other things, so very rarely do I get to sit down and do my one job. Outlander is the biggest, high profile show I’ve ever been on. I was also in Kajake, which was done by the producer of The King’s Speech and I was No.3 on the cast list, so I loved that. But on Outlander I had a small part on one of the biggest shows around, and I would think “great I have three or four lines today so no pressure”, and I could go in and watch the spectacle of how huge this show was without there being much pressure on me.

Can you explain how the term “Kylanders” came about?

Yes, the fans are proclaimed as the Kylanders! All the stars of Outlander (which I am not by the way), have their own fan base – Sam has Heughan’s Heughligans, Angus has Angus’s Angels – and someone said we need to give Ross, the character I played, a name… I’m a glorified extra but I said OK… people put up names and and some were naff but then Kylanders came up. I was happy to go for that, and a Facebook page was set up. The cafe/bar in the theatre was paid for by my Outlander fans and I want to call it the Kylander cafe! I don’t know if the staff or the community will let me do that [laughs]. Either way, I will be calling it that on every tour I do anyway. And the kilt shop that loaned me a kilt for the BAFTAs, the Kilt Studio in Bathgate, said they would like to make a design of Kylander tartan, which is crazy!

How did your acting career start?

I’ve always been interested in storytelling, but it wasn’t until I went to college that I grasped the craft of it. At school I did acting up until I was 16. I was also a keen footballer. I remember when I was 16 I got the new Arsenal kit for my birthday and I wore it to PE on the last day of school before they broke up for the summer. The teacher gave me into trouble because you were supposed to wear black shorts and a white t-shirt for PE, but I had this new kit and I was running faster than ever before and I was scoring goals I’d never scored before, all because of this magical costume I had on playing football [laughs].

The teacher ordered me off the pitch and I told him to shove school and I left! I was due to stay on and do Higher drama but I  ended up working in a supermarket for five years. My wife then said to me “why don’t you go back to college and do something you are passionate about”. I was good in the supermarket – I was one of the youngest managers in the company [Safeway] – but it didn’t inspire me. So I went to college to do drama and did three years as a mature student at 21, and I couldn’t remember how to write an essay! I had to ask the teachers. I set up a wee theatre company from my bedroom in my mum’s house while at college, and I started winning awards for entrepreneurship. When I graduated I picked up the play Singing I’m no a Billy, he’s a Tim and took it out and put it on a pub to 60 people, then five years later we were playing to 3000 people a night at the SECC. I paid off my mum’s mortgage and did all the nice things you’ve always dreamed of. After that, I got The Angel’s Share with Ken Loach.

What do you do on your time off?

I don’t have much time off, which is why my wife is an absolute saint. I love going to the cinema because the phone is off, and I love going to the theatre. My wife and I also go for long drives to nice places. We went to some of the Outlander locations last time, to Drummond Gardens [in Perthshire], where they filmed the Paris scenes, which was incredible.

Are there any special parts of Scotland that makes you feel serene and calm?

Probably anywhere near the water, I love just sitting by the sea. Looking at the ocean makes you feel small and I think that’s a good thing –  to just remember you are a tiny speck on the grand scheme of things and if you can make a positive impact, that’s great.

Do you have any top tips for maintaining a happy, healthy mindframe?

The world we live in is all about how many friends you have on Facebook or Twitter – we live in a popularity contest. It’s a big smokescreen, but I pull it all back with a quote from Bob Dylan. Someone asked him “what is success to you?” and he replied: “Success to me is waking up in the morning, going to bed at night and doing what you love in between.”

And that’s all we get in life really, isn’t it? I do that every day by working in the arts.

For more information about Bathgate Regal Community Theatre, go here  

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1 Comment on "Positive Profile: Scott Kyle on Outlander and saving a community theatre"

  1. A remarkable interview with a rather rare guy – the theater – which is a registered charity – is lucky to have him, the improvements have been astounding – he deserves an award not just for what he’s achieving but for his ability to draw in so many people to the cause.

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