Ulster University student Michael Way hopes to follow in the footsteps of some of Northern Ireland's most celebrated actors, having treaded the same boards that catapulted the likes of Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt to stardom.
Way, from Eglinton in Co. Derry~Londonderry, played the lead role in the Riverside Theatre's first student-led production in 15 years, an adaptation of The Great Gatsby by Coleraine Amateur Stage Society. He's now set to graduate on July 4 with a First Class Honours in English.
James Nesbitt, who was installed as Chancellor of Ulster University in 2010, began his acting career when he featured as The Artful Dodger in Riverside Youth Theatre’s production of Oliver at the age of 13. Since then the Coleraine native has enjoyed decades of success on the big and small screen, with acclaimed turns in Cold Feet, Murphy's Law, The Hobbit and most recently The Secret helping to weave him into the fabric of Northern Ireland culture.
Neeson, meanwhile, performed at the Riverside in the early '80s, and is now a household name the world over, from receiving an Oscar nomination for Schindler's List to the blockbuster Taken franchise which made the Ballymena man an A-list action star.
Although Way studied English, he feels what he has learned will provide him with a strong foundation to pursue a similar path in performing arts.
'I have always wanted to be an actor, however I believe there is great importance of the context and subtext of any play,' he said. 'These details can only be truly explored with the textual analysis skills that studying English provides.
'Inevitably, I want to attend Drama School, as I believe professional training is a necessity in order to make it as an actor and I’m currently considering a number of opportunities.'
Before delivering the student address at his graduation ceremony on behalf of the School of English and History, Way also had a chance to reflect on his time at Ulster University.
'The bonds of friendship that I’ve found are a highlight for me,' he said. 'Through a mixture of my classmates, my lecturers, and my membership of the UUSU Coleraine Amateur Stage Society (CASS) and the Magee CORE Gaming Society, I have made lifelong friendships. I would greatly encourage anyone attending university to join a society, as it allows you to meet people across different disciplines and year groups and provides much needed stress-relief as deadlines loom.'
The Riverside Theatre is Northern Ireland’s oldest operating professional theatre venue outside of Belfast. It was commissioned by Ulster University during the 1970s and has been serving Northern Ireland for 40 years. For more information visit www.ulster.ac.uk or follow Ulster University on Twitter @UlsterUni.