You have just released your first book, Secrets of Stage Success. Can you tell me what it’s about and what inspired you to write it?
Louise: Secrets of Stage Success is an insight into the careers that Mark and I have carved out over our fifteen plus years in the business as professional actors – and the experiences, good and bad, that we have had. Lots of those questions you have when training in the entertainment industry are answered in our book, but there are also some interesting and funny stories in there as well – so it’s not just for people wanting to get into show business, it’s for anyone who has an interest in it. We were inspired to write it by fans and students training right now. We’ve received so many lovely letters over the years asking questions such as ‘How can I get into musical theatre?’, ‘How can I get an agent?’, ‘How can I overcome nerves?’. We thought the best way to answer these questions was to put a book together that could become the ‘go to’ guide for anyone wanting an opinion they trust.
Mark: Louise and I, together with our manager, were discussing how so many people ask the two of us for advice; be it in person at stage doors, through letters, on social media or via our agents. So we decided that we would launch a website where anyone and everyone from all over the world could submit as many questions as they wanted for us to answer. We then sifted through them and created a format that would offer as much information as we could possibly give in one book covering every aspect of theatre, specifically musical theatre. We cover training, auditioning, working and living the actors’ life. There’s even a section with advice for parents and teachers, as well as many of mine and Louise’s personal memorable moments – and some wonderful artwork by our illustrator Mark Manley.
How did you find the writing process? Is it what you expected it to be, or were there things that surprised you along the way?
Louise: The whole process was incredibly exciting and eye-opening. It was also pretty therapeutic! Taking a step back and remembering why I’m in the industry and focusing on that, rather than the stresses and pressures it can sometimes bring, was great. It was also tough, because we received so many questions it was hard to decide which ones should be included in order to make the book flow and cover all bases. There were lots of re-writes and changes but I’m so thrilled and proud of the final product. I would have wanted this book when I was training, which was another incentive to do it.
Mark: The writing process was really great. Most of the time we were on opposite sides of the world as I was in The Book Of Mormon on the US tour and Louise was in Wicked in London, so there was a lot of online communication through FaceTime, Skype, emails, texts etc. to make sure we were each happy with how it was gradually coming along.
When we finally got the printed copy in our hands for the first time, over two years since the decision was made to write it, it was an amazing feeling and only then did we realise that we are officially authors! We’re now very proud of what we have created.
What has been the best thing about putting this book together?
Louise: The collaboration, I think. It would have been really daunting doing it alone! Mark and I have been friends for so long – but not only that, I respect Mark enormously as a performer and as a person. We have very similar work ethics, we trained at the same college and have similar opinions on discipline, training and how you should conduct yourself in the industry. Because of this it was a very natural and, dare I say, easy process. Besides that, the best part for me has been getting the feedback from people who have read it saying ‘thank you, this has helped so much’. That makes me feel very proud, and if we have helped even one person then that’s wonderful.
Mark: Without a doubt, for me it was allowing myself the opportunity to reminisce and take time to really think back over the years of training and working and all the highs and lows that come with a career in this industry. Having the chance to really enjoy the memories has been great. It also surprised me that by doing so much writing in a way that was aimed to inspire aspiring performers, I felt very inspired myself. Honestly, there were a couple of times on tour when I was thinking “this show is gonna be an effort tonight” – having performed it hundreds of times by that point – but then I would just spend an hour or two writing for our book and it opened up so much passion and inspiration for the work and made me grateful that I’m doing a job that’s so fulfilling. It has been a very humbling process.
If you could only ever watch one more theatre show, what would it be and who would be your dream cast?
Louise: Ooh that’s tough!! My tastes change dramatically depending what mood I’m in. I couldn’t be without the classics like Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me, Kate, but the ‘contemporary’ side of me also loves the more modern shows such as Miss Saigon and Rent. Variety is the spice of life and I’d get bored of one without the other, so I’m sorry Wilma…I can’t pick!
Mark: I had to think about this for a very long time and honestly, I still don’t know if this is my final answer but I’d love to see Next To Normal (which was the first Broadway show I saw) with Meryl Streep playing the lead role of Diana. Lord knows if she could sing it – but I would pay a LOT of money to watch her try!
If you could be the opposite sex for the day, which theatre role would you like to play?
Louise: Jean Valjean.
Mark: I’m allowing myself permission to be a different race too: I would be Kim in Miss Saigon. Can you make that happen, please?!
Have you ever had any funny/disastrous on-stage experiences?
Louise: Oh yes – but they’re all in the book, cheeky!
Mark: Plenty! I secretly love the adrenaline rush I get when I forget my lines or make a mistake on stage. I love the challenge of ‘rescuing’ myself from a potential car-crash moment on stage, which is a good thing because it’s happened on MANY occasions. When I was in Wicked I fell numerous times on stage. In High School Musical, bearing in mind I’m suppose to be the star basketball player, I dropped the ball and literally chased it around the entire stage like a child chasing a puppy. In The Book Of Mormon, my shoe flew off into the wing during the dance break of ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, which resulted in me performing my biggest solo song, ‘I Believe’, wearing only one shoe. That happened on two separate occasions!
Why should people buy Secrets of Stage Success?
Louise: If you have a passion for musical theatre and want to be in the industry in one way or another, be it backstage or onstage, then this book will be a great help to you in making certain decisions. It’s obviously just my and Mark’s opinions, but I think we’ve experienced a lot already and therefore able to help in many ways. It’s easy to read – you can open the book at any page and hopefully read some useful information. Plus it’s got some fab illustrations and it’s fun!
Mark: We really are confident that everyone will find our book interesting and that’s a result of our decision to create something that was not only for ‘wannabe stars’ but also for people who are just interested in how the industry works, so there’s plenty of stories and anecdotes in there to keep everyone amused as well as all the invaluable advice we’ve offered throughout.
However, the main thing I have personally realised is that if I had a copy of this book when I was a teenager, I would have understood a lot more about how I could make my dreams a reality. Not having it obviously didn’t stop me, but my goodness it would have made life a lot easier!
I would say, Secrets Of Stage Success is a lighthearted, enjoyable, fun read whilst being packed full of useful information, which most of the time people won’t discover until they are working professionally within the industry themselves. We formatted it in a way so that it can be enjoyed even just a few minutes at a time since the whole idea was for us to simply answer the questions people asked.
The response we’ve received since releasing it a few weeks back has definitely shown us that it was a good idea to create this book. It was a concept that didn’t exist, and it’s so rewarding for us to see we are already making a difference to the hundreds of people who have read it and are responding with wonderful feedback and gratitude.
Thanks for the chat and tea, Wilma! (PG Tips every time.)
Plus, everyone who purchases the book via the NHB website will receive a free, exclusive A3 poster of Louise and Mark (while stocks last).