Q.When did you first realise you wanted to make a career on the stage?
A. While I was at secondary school we had a supply teacher come in, called Mr Harvey, I’ll never forget him. He filled in for our English teacher for a few months and loved drama. Then at parents evening he told my parents that I had a flare for making people laugh and that I could consider a career on stage. That really resonated with me. He urged me to go to drama college. I’d love to meet him again now, and explain the role he played in my career. He had a great head of hair, but was only a supply teacher so we naturally lost contact.
Q.How did you find drama school?
A.I loved it, naturally. It was basically like the ‘80s movie “Fame” although set in my home town of Liverpool rather than New York! I could have gone to London or whatever to study, but staying close to home suited me and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.
There are plenty of amazing drama schools regionally out there today, offering courses for Sixth Form and degree level students. The level of drama teaching nationwide has gone through the roof. But you have to go and train and learn the basics to make a career on the stage.
Q.How often do you teach and do you enjoy it?
A.I absolutely love teaching and I do it as much as I possibly can. It’s hard to commit to full terms and whatnot, because I am working so much. But I’m very lucky in that regards as I can drop in and out of the classroom. And I believe it helps that the kids and young adults I teach can buy a ticket and see me on stage, working at the theatre, writing and being interviewed in the press. That’s something most full-time drama teachers suffer from and I believe it really helps when I take a class as the students know and understand I’m speaking to them directly from the stage door.
Q.How does teaching special needs differ from regular under-18 classes?
A.Just thinking about my special classes makes me smile. I’ve taught at Bridge Chapel for seven years and it’s the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. It’s completely different and so satisfying. They are so appreciative. Give them one line in a show, and you’ve given them the world. I encourage everyone I teach and work with to come and see these students on stage, make sure the shows are packed. Then I tell them, “people are paying to see you act, so you are professionals now.” And they love that, and really respond to it with the most committed performances you can imagine. They are unique and so passionate. They love it. I’ll keep teaching those classes for as long as they’ll have me!
Q.What’s the best piece of advice you have for teaching drama?
A.I treat everybody in the class like they’re my own kids. I’ve always don’t that. I listen to them more than most teachers and nothing is off limits. I let them express themselves as they want too. For example, curse language may come out of kids mouths in the moment, especially teenagers, but I don’t react to that. I explain a different type of language they could have used but I wouldn’t chase a child out of the room for expressing themselves. I think drama teachers can get away with that.
I find kids open up to me much more than they probably would with another teacher. Maybe they’re upset at a maths teacher or English teacher and as a third party I like to be a confidant. I want the class to be like a home from home. We have to be totally relaxed and at ease to be fully engaged and expressive. Lie all over the floor, kick your shoes off and, most of all, having a laugh and you will always get more out of them.
Q.Which scripts are most fun?
A.Even now, comedies are my forte. The Royal is the best fun. I wrote it, it was my baby, I created her. So that’s the best. It’s had two runs back-to-back in the last two years and is a full-on comedy. I was very fortunate to have Cal McCrystal come up from London as director, and as anybody in the industry knows, that’s a huge coup. But I’ve done everything, of course. My first play in college was King Lear, and at the time I hated Shakespeare. And I say that to kids all the time, “it’s OK to not like Shakespeare right now,” because I also know that one day, just like me, they’ll come to love and fully appreciate his work.
Q.How important is it for kids to visit the theatre?
A.I went to the Everyman Theatre with school, once I had it in my head to be an actor, and I went to see a play called >No Holds Barred< about two dockers doing Shakespeare. It was hilarious and that’s the moment I knew the stage was for me. I wanted to make people laugh. Now, the actors in that play, Michael Stark and Drew Scholfield, I’ve actually played their wives on stage so many times. It’s quite surreal. Visiting the theatre is so important, even for kids who don’t necessary want to become actors or work in the industry.
Q.Why are theater trips and drama lessons important to curriculum?
A. I was lucky growing up as my parents were always taking me to the theatre to see musicals and live shows. But it’s so important for schools to visit the theatre as not all parents can afford the price of family tickets. Seeing arts live is very special and when kids groups come to see shows I’m in and interact with them, there’s nothing better. It’s a great way to capture imaginations. Kids get drawn into a play or a live performance so much more than a book read.
Q.Does pantomime still have a role in British theatre?
A.Absolutely. Pantomime is often the first experience children have with performing arts. I spent many years touring the country doing panto and that’s a wonderful introduction to theatre because it is so interactive. It’s tough, three shows a day, but also massively rewarding. Aged 4-5 upwards, the children really get it and are drawn in. They get so emotionally involved.
I did Peter Pain one year and the kids on the front row were sobbing when Tinkerbell died on stage. They were clapping their hands furiously to try to wake her up. I often played the evil queen and had sweets thrown at me and everything (which was good) but the kids totally bought into the fact I was a baddy and they could shout and scream.
You are encouraged to take part in panto, and kids love that. Singing, shouting and dancing. One run I had 16 costume changes as an ugly sister, three times a day. But it was worth it to see the impact it had on the school groups in the audience. Kids get panto and it often helps them to express themselves publicly for the first time.