Welcome back to the fourth episode of my blog series 'Deeds Not Words'; Women Who Inspire in the Arts and Politics'. This week my guest is London actor, singer and coach, Abigail Rose. I met Abigail when she was a tutor on an audition masterclass with NYT this February and though she wasn't leading my course, the week included an industry Q and A with all the tutors from the week. This was a remarkable opportunity to ask questions to all four tutors from the courses and I was so intrigued by Abigail's background and input that I approached her straight after and we arranged to meet the following day.
Having worked as an actress in both musicals, plays and on screen as well as coaching students in both music and drama, it's a pleasure to add Abigail's insight to my collection of inspiring women in the arts industry. It was also really fantastic to meet someone so similar to myself with regards to her attitudes to musical theatre. It got quite spooky, especially where Disney was concerned...
Having performed at the National theatre and now working as an associate for the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, I am proud to share her interview with you to celebrate her wonderful and honest attitudes to this crazy industry.
Here she is...
Which women across history inspire you? Do you have any female icons or idols?
If I could say anyone that was an idol for me at the moment; I love Deborah Frances White. She runs a podcast called The Guilty Feminist and if you've never heard of it, oh my god, you're going to love it! Deborah Frances White is a comedian and she created this podcast, a year ago, called The Guilty Feminist and they get loads of female comedians on there and its absolutely hilarious. It's one of the funniest things I've ever heard and everything starts with 'I'm a feminist BUT...' so like 'I'm a feminist BUT... I wear make up' or whatever. But much funnier, they're much funnier. And last Wednesday, when it was one hundred years since some women got the vote, SOME women, (laughs) I went to their first ever massive live show at the Palladium and god, I was just so inspired by her. At the moment, she's inspiring me to be a better feminist. Not that I think there's like an ultimate thing or way to be a feminist but I mean doing things like this that you're doing with the series. At the moment there's this whole period poverty thing and working towards ending that. Because I'd never even thought about that, of course it can be a struggle for some people not being able to afford tampons and pads! So I'm looking into how I can help with that. Deborah brings up so many issues on this Guilty Feminist podcast every week that I've never even thought about so she's really inspiring to me at the moment to get more involved.
Yeah, I'm just trying to think if there's anyone else. Do you know, it's quite sad that I'm not saying there's anyone in theatre who I'm particularly inspired by but maybe that's the sad thing. I don't think I got into acting because I was seeing a woman I particularly wanted to be like. Which is interesting, because I think there's a lot of guys who'd say 'Oh I wanted to be like this person', it was more like, I just wanted to do it. So yeah, I think Deborah would be my woman at the moment.
What first inspired you to be involved in theatre?
I always loved musical theatre. I always loved singing. So when I was young, everything would always be like a play or a musical. I used to be constantly singing. I remember I had some singing lessons when I was very young, about seven, and my singing teacher gave me the physical tape of Starlight Express. I used to play this Starlight Express tape over and over again. I knew every word to the show and I remember going then to see it and being like 'Oh my god'; it just changed my world, going to see Starlight Express. So it was always musicals for me, that was all I knew. I didn't really know about plays, it was always musical theatre and then when I was at school they had plays. We did some and my school was quite classical with plays so I still didn't really connect with any of that until I started National Youth Theatre soon after. Because I still wanted to do things but not what what was on offer at school. So yeah, on the whole it was definitely musical theatre for me.
I have a big gripe with musicals theatre attitudes as well. Because I've worked in both mediums, I hate that people think that musical theatre is anything different from acting, it's not. For me, I always go by the sentence 'If you can't say it, you sing it and if you can't sing it, you dance it.' So therefore if you have to sing or dance something, if you're writing musicals or playing them, it's just because, it's like Shakespeare, it's too much just to say it. Think of Wicked, Elphaba's Defying Gravity. She doesn't just say 'Ok, I'm going to defy gravity now', she has to do a four minute, complete, epic ballad where she's singing this incredible song and you know?! No-one comes out of Defying Gravity going, 'I'm not sure she really means it.' (laughs) Everyone's like 'Oh my god, WOW', remembering that makes me go funny even now. So I think, the whole musical theatre/ actor thing- very strange. We're all the same. It should be taught the same, the acting should be just as important. Acting through song is more important than just getting all these notes fabulously perfect. I work as a singing teacher too, so I work a lot with that. I am fighting the fight for 'It's all the same.'
Are there any moments in your career that you view as pivotal/special?
It was really special for me when I got my first job at the National Theatre because that was my goal. So my whole goal, was never to be a movie star or anything like that, I never really watched films, I watched Disney continuously, I just want to watch Disney all the time, but it was never really films for me. It was musical theatre or being on stage and then I went to the National Theatre a lot when I was younger and when I was training because they had this £5 scheme that they still have now, so I could go all the time because I could afford it at only a fiver. And I was like 'Do you know what? If I could work here? I think that would be it.' and I'd always felt like that. So I got my first job there doing a filming for something called London Road and that meant a huge amount to me but when I got my first job doing an actual show there, that for me was truly pivotal, because I was like 'Oh my god, this is what I wanted and I've got it.' It was lovely, it was a musical actually; Wonder.Land. I did it for a while and I loved it and I learnt so much because I'd never done a professional musical before either. And that was excellent. And I was like 'Ok, now I've done that, I think I can be happy if that's all I ever do.'
What advise do you have for young people perusing a career in theatre?
Do you know what? When I was younger I'd get told a lot 'It's really hard' and all that and I'd get really pissed off because I'd be like 'yeah, I know it's hard but I want to do it'. But the advice I would give, which I hate saying this, is that do your A levels, do your GCSEs, do the other stuff in your life because when it comes to you being an actor, unfortunately it's not a stable career, it's not a stable life, it's not like you're always going to be in work. You can't rely on it. I call acting like the 'bad boyfriend' or the 'bad girlfriend'. It's great when he takes you out for dinner and you got to the films and you have lovely times and it's amazing and then he doesn't ring you back. Then date three, they just stop calling. But then they'll ring you again in like three months and you'll be like 'Hello, bad boyfriend. Oh ok! You wanna go out with me for another year? Great!' or whatever. And what do we need when we have bad boyfriends? We need like a really great support network around us don't we? We need like great friends, great family and stability. So, I have done so much around acting that have used my degree and my A levels, that basically, if I didn't have that, I just wouldn't be able to eat because I wouldn't be able to afford the basic things or have a place to live. Sometimes you can earn fantastic from acting, but the problem is once you start relying on it, you will lose the love. Because it doesn't always provide. And the love is everything. The passion is everything. And that's the problem of working with something in the arts; you're working for passion. But then you need to eat and live (laughs), you need to have a career. So I would just say that my advice is work hard on other things as well. Make sure you have other stuff going on. For instance, I've tutored for years! Maths and English. Because it pays incredibly well and I got to a time in my life where I didn't want to do promo and all that anymore but now I'm a singing teacher. That is my job and I enjoy teaching as much as I enjoy acting. I genuinely do. I genuinely feel passionate about that. I went to Guildhall when I was younger and I started teaching singing at like sixteen, not like properly but then at Uni, I learnt more about it so I did it more seriously but that was always something I did. So yeah my job is that I am an actor but I am also an acting coach and a singing coach too. I adore it, I think it's really important.
Did you train at drama school? What was your experience like?
Yeah so I did go to drama school. I went after I finished university and I went for one year to Mountview and I studied acting, not musical theatre. And I chose Mountview because I knew it had a really good musical theatre vibe there and I wanted that but I wanted to study acting because thats what I knew would be best for me. I applied for musical theatre courses when I was seventeen, didn't get into any of them and that was probably so for the best because I'm not a dancer really and I don't enjoy dancing, I don't have a passion for it. So sometimes you think, well I can dance to a standard but I'm never going to be THAT person and I first I thought that was going to hold me back but then I just thought you know what, it's just not me. Why would I want to go to tap class twice a week when I hate it and I'm not good at it and there'll be a million people who are brilliant at it. I'm just not going to get a role that taps. Which is fine by me. So I thought I would actually limit myself if I was then going to go do musical theatre again. And do you know what? I learnt so much. I learnt so much about just stopping acting. It was really important to me and I made loads of mistakes because it was just such a safe place to just be you and be a bit shit and learn and not feel pressured. I mean it was pressured but because I was a bit older and I'd already been to uni and stuff, I think my brain wasn't thinking about a career and all that stuff. I was just thinking about being a better actor. All the time. I just wanted to be better and that was it.
If you were alive 100 years ago, do you think you would be a suffragette?
No, I think I'd be a suffragist. Because it started with suffragists and they then became suffragettes- did you know the term 'suffragette' was actually coined by the Daily Mail? probably why actually, I can't bare that!-but I think I'd be a suffragist just because, well actually I don't know actually maybe thinking about it, I wouldn't. It's really hard because I don't believe in doing something bad to get your way. Not bad, but I don't believe in violence so I would go the more suffragist way. I think. I think! I'd try and get it done without being violent but if those ladies hadn't done what they did, who knows where we'd be? So maybe sometimes we do need it. It's a really hard one. I'd probably be a suffragist and they be swayed REALLY easy to be a suffragette. They'd be like 'do you know what, we need to do it' and I'd be like 'alright then.' (laughs)
How important do you view the fusion of theatre and politics in portraying a message to the audience?
I think it's really important when it's done by the right people. We see too much of -I hate saying this- but like white, middle class men who are very well educated doing plays about politics, which is fantastic and really great but we're not getting enough political plays from the people who are being affected by the bad policy. We need people who are getting affected by policy, making plays about that. There is stuff out there definitely, but I think it's just not enough stuff. I think theatre is a way in which we can put politics to account as long as we're showing a really wide range of that. Whether it's women or people from different cultures, different races. I think it's incredibly important, as long as we're always giving a balanced argument, as much as possible or a balanced view. I've seen some absolutely incredible stuff which is all based on that. And I do feel like there is a change, we're not letting it be like what it was before. I'm certainly not. You just can't; we just can't let it. I'm constantly surrounded by so many young people and I teach so many young people who feel the same. So I do think it's important. Let's make theatre to make the change.
However do you know what I do think? Obviously I'm big on musical theatre, I think musicals are incredibly political and people forget about that. Look at Hairspray, Billy Elliot, Hamilton on down the road! Actually you'll love this, The Guilty Feminist are commissioning a musical about the suffragettes and they're doing it in the style of Hamilton, I saw a little section of it and it's freaking amazing. So, so good. So I think music and musicals are so apt for politics. So I'd want to say to any young writer who wants to write a play, I'd say write a musical, (laughs) or write the libretto for a musical, then get someone sick to compose the score and make sure that whenever you write a song in a musical, it wouldn't work if it wasn't there. Because sometimes people go all funny about musicals and are like 'why are they singing' so just make sure that what is sung needs to be sung because if it wasn't sung at that moment, the play couldn't carry on. Dear Evan Hansen, I think is so well written because every song, if it wasn't there, it wouldn't work. So I think there needs to be more new musicals doing this. If you're going to write, let's write well. For musicals especially.