Alumni engagement and philanthropy

MEET CHRISTINE MCKENNA-TIRELLA – LAW GRADUATE TURNED NEW YORK CASTING SPECIALIST  Christine McKenna-Tirella dressed in green with New York bridge in background

27 October 2020

A thorough knowledge of – and passion for – the worlds of TV, film, and theatre, along with a keen eye for talent and a comprehensive knowledge of actors and acting, are all attributes that Queen’s graduate Christine McKenna-Tirella has in abundance.

The New York casting and talent specialist at Backstage worked across a variety of mediums including commercials, TV, film, and theatre at the high-profile offices of Stewart/Whitley Casting, Harriet Bass Casting, Telsey+Co, and Paladino Casting, before joining the weekly magazine and online platform.

Christine is an expert in sourcing, casting and booking talent and has over 10 years of industry experience of projects ranging from commercials to Broadway and everything in between!  

“I am originally from Bangor, County Down,” Christine told her alma mater. “I moved to New York to pursue a career in entertainment – via attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) – upon my graduation from Queen’s.”

Passionate about all aspects of talent procurement – and in fact everything to do with the theatre, movies and television – Christine’s helps identify and book talent, to enable those individuals reach their full creative potential. She’s also fanatical about fitness and pop culture and, according to the company website, will ‘eat anything that involves avocado…and loves a good glass of wine’!

Graduating with an LLB (2006) from Queen’s, she also holds a Diploma in Acting from London Academy of Music & Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) (2003), as well as an Associate Acting Degree from AADA in Manhattan, New York (2008), a clear indication of where she hoped her future career lay.

"Although my Law degree doesn’t play directly into my current career, the experiences I had as a student at the University certainly set me up to succeed. I’ve always keenly followed theatre and the arts, and Queen’s gave me multiple opportunities to experience fantastic art.

“I attended a lot of events at University,” she continued. “A few standouts were seeing CK Williams read poetry in the Lanyon Building just after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and Fergal Keane speaking at Elmwood Hall. Not many people can boast that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a speaker at their graduation – it felt incredibly special!”

Since arriving in the US, Christine has worked at a number of casting agencies, auditioning talent, generating influencer, celebrity and actor lists, attending showcase events, handling documentation and generally learning her craft.  

Starting her career freelancing with Paladino Casting, she worked on various international and national commercials, live and promotional events and reality television projects for Nickelodeon CBS.  

Three years at Harriet Bass Casting as a Casting Associate, saw Christine work primarily on regional Equity theatre and Off-Broadway theatre/projects. Joining Stewart/Whitley Casting in 2017 she was Head of Casting for high profile National Tours, as well as several television and film projects and was responsible for supervising employees and overseeing training.

Over this time Christine built up both her knowledge of the industry, with its ever-changing trends, and her understanding of the art of acting. She perfected her ability to spot actors with ‘star quality’, who would fit well into individual roles and, through working with agents, became a top negotiator.

Projects she has worked on recently include: SpongeBob The Musical (First National Tour), Waitress (Non-Union National Tour), Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief (Broadway/National Tour), Elf the Musical and Sound of Music (both for National Tour).

Christine also aided in the casting for the Broadway production of Chicago The Musical (Broadway/National Tour), while off-Broadway projects include A Clockwork Orange (New World Stages), As You Like it (Classic Stage Company) and Dirty Dancing (National Tour).

“I am currently a Casting Specialist at Backstage LLC – a media company with editorial and casting calls which connect actors with opportunities. I’ve leveraged my career as a casting director for Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatres, TV, Commercials and Film, and now act as a consultant as the brand pivots into the changing landscape of casting talent for projects.

“I speak with emerging creators from respected film schools, work with our internal engineer team on new technology for casting remotely and more, and am working on a number of editorial and content projects to serve our acting community.”

While she returned to Belfast temporarily a few years ago to care for a sick family member, being based in the US is Christine’s plan for the foreseeable future.  

“I was incredibly impressed with the fantastic improvements – including the plans for the new students’ union – that the University has invested in. Belfast – and Northern Ireland in general – are certainly bustling with opportunity!

“Even though I live in New York, I am still very close with all of my school mates who attended Queen’s with me,” she said. “There is a very strong group of Queen’s alumni here; last year I attended the Seamus Heaney Centre Showcase featuring the talented artist and writing graduates from the University, including honorary graduate Colin Davidson, who spoke about his last meeting with Seamus Heaney.

“It was an impressive and inspiring event, and a great networking opportunity.”

Given her current success, what guidance, if any, would Christine offer her younger self, if the opportunity presented itself?

“If I was to give my younger self advice it would be to get into networking with my fellow Queen’s alumni sooner! I find we are a helpful, genuine, talented bunch of people that are more than happy to help each other in our careers!”

Married in 2018, Christine McKenna-Tirella currently lives in Brooklyn, with her wife Valerie and cat Rumi.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast.


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