Can you tell me about some of your career highlights for anyone who may not be familiar with your work?
I’m currently playing Nessarose in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria. I first played the part when it opened back in 2006; it’s an amazing show, I work with lovely people, and I’m loving being back. Before heading back to Oz I played Sister Mary Robert in the original production of Sister Act at the London Palladium, and I have the most incredible memories of that time; a feel good show = a feel good job!! I’ve also toured the UK many times, as Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Swallow in Whistle Down the Wind (my first and much loved job), among others.
You have just opened your own Theatre Academy in Woodford Green. What inspired you to do this and what has the process been like of setting it up?
There are two reasons that I was inspired to do this really – were it not for the Amateur Dramatics productions I did as a kid, (the equivalent of Saturday morning-type theatre schools that are so popular now I guess), I wouldn’t have realised how much I loved singing and acting. You certainly can’t rely on mainstream education alone to expose children to everything they might be interested in, and through what started out as a hobby, I realised I had a real passion for performing. Also, even at that young age, I learned brilliant life skills, such as working as part of a team.
Secondly, we will bring current West End performers into the Academy to teach and take masterclasses, so that the students get a more authentic, first-hand experience. For me at drama school, there was nothing more inspiring than the masterclasses that were taken by people who’d actually gone out there and done it.
As far as the process has been, well it’s terrifying and exciting in equal measures! It was hard to know where to start at first, but once I got my vision clear and got into the planning of it, the ball just kept rolling. We had a pre-launch workshop back in December which was a brilliant start and stood us in good stead for this term. I’m so excited about what we have to offer, and the amazing teachers I have on board, Sheila Grant and Philippa Buxton. Anyone who has set up their own business I’m sure will agree, that it’s a steep learning curve, but I really believe in what we have to offer.
Can you tell me about the academy and the services you are offering to people?
We are offering three hours’ tuition every Saturday morning, in singing, dancing and acting, for children between the ages of eight to eighteen. In addition to this, we will run Musical Theatre workshops during the holidays, starting with a Matilda workshop this coming half term. This will be led by the amazing Jason Winter who is currently starring in the show.
We’re also really excited to be planning some 16+ masterclasses with some incredible guest teachers, covering a range of topics, such as audition technique. Watch this space!
Have you ever had any funny/disastrous on-stage experiences?
Too many to mention! From tripping all the way down the stairs in massive heels in The Rocky Horror Show, to bowing with my dress firmly tucked in my tights!! I think the funniest one has to be – children look away now, it is magic really – during my time playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast. One performance, after I detached the beast from his wires after his big transformation into the prince, as the wires were flown out, they hooked onto his prince wig, taking it along with them. It looked like a dead furry animal ascending into the sky. But the funniest thing was that Nic Greenshields, who was playing the beast, had just shaved his head, so we had a completely bald prince for the remainder of the show. It just didn’t really go with the outfit!!
If you were going to name a pet after a musical theatre character, what would you choose?
I’m dying for a puppy, so I would get a golden cocker spaniel and call him Simba!
Why should people come to the KRJ Theatre Academy over some of the others that are out there?
It’s true that there are a lot of theatre schools out there, including many big franchises. But quantity doesn’t always mean quality. I want to keep my school on a scale where we can effectively deliver a top quality experience for every student, using the best teachers the industry has to offer.
I’m fortunate that, over the past fifteen years or so, I’ve met and worked with some amazing people. So as well as being accomplished teachers, all our staff have current and relevant performing experience.
In addition to our regular teachers, once a term, we will invite an industry professional to take a masterclass in their field of expertise at no extra cost. I want to inspire my students by bringing a cross-section of the industry to them.