Weston-super-Mare's stage stars reveal what life is like in 'tough' performing industry
PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 January 2017
"Always give it 100 per cent and remember there are no wrong answers - your imagination is your best friend." This sage advice is shared by one of Weston's biggest performing success stories - yet the town boasts a wealth of theatrical talent, ranging from those entertaining us on local stages to those who have found success in the wider world. Reporter Sheridan Robins explores what some of Weston's most successful singers, actors and dancers are doing now - and how this seaside town played a part in their success.
Monty Python comic John Cleese, Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and film actor Rupert Graves head a list of well-known performers born and raised in Weston.
However, the town’s rich showbusiness heritage runs much deeper than these big names. Scratch beneath the surface a little, and you’ll find a whole generation of young stage talent rising towards the top of the profession.
Former Priory Community School student Jacob Fisher is one such up-and-coming star. The 22-year-old is currently touring the country in Mamma Mia! as a member of the ensemble, and as understudy for the role of Pepper. He describes the experience as ‘living the dream’, but insists his coveted role in a musical is a far cry from the ambitions he held in younger days, when he was not interested in performing at all.
He said: “I was one of the really sporty kids to start off with. I was always playing football and doing athletics. Then my drama teacher tried to persuade me to go for the school show – so I have her to thank really.
“I gave in, in the end, which was to my mum’s delight. I think they knew because I started taking the mickey out of people and imitating them and they thought ‘oh actually he is pretty good at this’. My mum kept telling me to do Little Shop Of Horrors. I got one of the parts and then it took off from there.”
Jacob only really found his passion when he was in year 10 and then decided performing was all he wanted to do.
He added: “I then decided I wanted to go to college and do drama or musical theatre. I applied to Filton, Weston and Bridgwater. I got places at all three and decided to go to Filton. It was hard because I didn’t know anyone.”
Since those difficult early days, Jacob’s career has gone from strength to strength, and he says those three ‘gruelling’ years at drama school helped him grow a thick enough skin to survive within a notoriously competitive industry. Jacob already has his next role lined up for when he finishes in Mamma Mia! in February – and it is a new tour which will bring him closer to home.
Jacob will join the cast of The Addams Family, which includes West Country dates in its run, with slots booked at the Theatre Royal Bath from June 13-17 and the Bristol Hippodrome from September 19-23.
One performer who has already been enjoying some stage time a bit closer to home is Chloe Hawkins, who lives in Worle.
She has just come to the end of her role as Beauty in the Playhouse pantomime Beauty And The Beast, which ran throughout December. The production saw Chloe take a starring role alongside Only Fools And Horses star John Challis, even though she was told at school ‘she was not a natural performer’.
Chloe says she kept tight-lipped about her Weston connections in her audition but told the Mercury being in her home town over Christmas meant the world to her – something performers do not often get the luxury of. While her home is in Worle, she often travels to and from London for auditions and roles but says she has learned a lot throughout her career.
She said: “From a young age I loved dancing, singing and performing for my family. I then did a lot of creative subjects at school. Then I went to Weston College to do performing arts and got a triple distinction. I was 18 then and I did look at drama schools but felt like I was too young and people often said to me it is hard at this age. I did a few years later go to the Guilford School of Acting and did my masters and that helped mostly with my singing.”
In this day and age, versatility is vital for ambitious up-and-coming performers. Acting, singing and dancing talent is crucial to any wannabe professional, but Chloe thinks that may not be enough for future performers, as the amount of skills needed is increasing.
She said: “This industry is not a triple threat anymore – it is a quadruple threat, as many performers play instruments and some even have skills such as acrobatics as well as having to dance, act and sing. I have been told before I was not a natural performer and some people take that and believe it and some people take it as motivation. I have to prove people wrong and I think from a young age I developed a thick skin, which you need in this industry.”
Chloe’s time at Weston College holds fond memories for her, although she says she has seen a host of changes over the past few years.
She said: “The college is so different now to when I was there. For me, it was a good starting point and really helped with my confidence. It also gave me an insight into the theatre world. We did so many different shows – even pantomime, which is great. I think it is good to do that style as it is a great British tradition.”
Her career is also taking on an upward curve after she landed a role in cult TV comedy Red Dwarf, which is set to be aired in February next year.
As well as these success stories, there is also a host of talent ready to be discovered.
Chrystal Bliss, aged 18, is a student at Weston College who is set to release an album, following a Christmas single.
She has been performing across the town and is hoping to eventually go to drama school.
Chrystal told the Mercury she believes the college is a great environment to learn in and she is enjoying her local performances.
She said: “I started my singing lessons when I had my two front teeth out. When I was five I was the narrator in Joseph and that was amazing and I knew this was for me.
“I then knew I wanted to do drama and joined the choir and the band.
I am going to Bath Spa and I am more into the acting and singing as I am not the best dancer.
“I was quite scared and concerned it would be hard but we get to see the University Centre Weston students and it is a really supportive environment.
“I would like to go to drama school in the future but for now I have a lot of exciting things happening.”
Chrystal is a trained soprano and her style includes elements of opera and country music. Her debut album Perfection will be out on January 27.
She added: “The album has a lot of different styles of music which has been a real challenge for me.
“But it has shown me I can do it and now I know I can challenge myself.
“I am really excited for what the future holds.”