MIND THE GAP, AND DON'T OBSTRUCT THE DOORS
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
I'm not another Kiwi actor and writer who touched down in Heathrow Terminal 5 with stars in my eyes. Just bags heavier than my luggage beneath them, following a 32 hour flight from a small dot on the world's stage.
My love affair with 40s / 50s fashion, coupled with severe motion sickness, mean my far-flung adventures inevitably result in two types of bags - an excess one and a sick one.
On this occasion, it was neither porcelain face powder nor turbulence that turned me whiter than the clouds from which London emerged. It was a kind of bag not mentioned above - one of mixed emotions.
Pursuing my lifeblood meant leaving my own blood behind. But despite the queasy feeling in my gut, I trusted its instinct when I hopped a one-way flight in further pursuit of my lifelong passion for performing arts.
I never expected my endeavours to fly as fast as my A380 once it hit the tarmac, which is just as well because they completely crash-landed.
Thus began a new type of 'take five' - the number of months I spent pulling pints doing live-in pub work. It offered a home and a job when I found myself on the other side of the world without either. But killing two birds with one stone proverbially killed this bird in turn.
My new career path kicked off with a dirt one amidst the rolling hills of Surrey. I'm perpetually proud of the country roads that I traverse in my hometown of Woodville, New Zealand. But I never envisioned the English equivalent for my young adult self.
Awaiting me there was a bed that was, quite literally, one of rice. My spirit became as broken as my door, which wouldn't shut without a crate of beer against it.
I haven't had much luck with doors, in the literal sense. I've locked myself either outside or inside of every home I've had, on both sides of the globe. So it should come as no surprise that I found myself phoning for help inside the conservatory of a London flat, ahead of my first glimpse at West End showbiz.
It was a meeting with fellow New Zealander Geoff Sewell, the classical crossover singer, multi platinum international recording artist, impresario, entrepreneur, creator and CEO of London-based entertainment company Incognito Artists.
He once said, "What makes you different or weird is your strength."
I've been called both on numerous occasions. Yet despite my aforementioned lack of luck with life's literal doors, I've been pretty fortunate with its figurative ones.
Following Surrey, I returned to London and another live-in pub. Only, this one proved more than a little rough around the edges. The rough threw their glasses at the edges of the bar, and themselves at me.
By now I was sick and tired in more ways than one. The manager offered me the chance to clean the pub every morning in exchange for accommodation, whilst I made alternative arrangements. So I swept cigarette butts by day and got my own butt into gear by night.
I pounded the West End pavement in my vintage glass slippers, armed with my resume. I had to rewrite it from scratch in the sort of Internet cafe where the clientele search for everything but a job, because both my computer and back-up had failed simultaneously.
Well, they say when it rains it pours. I won't forget the pouring rain when I walked into Her Majesty's Theatre, home to the original West End production of Phantom of the Opera. It was my last call of another "We'll call you" day. I almost didn't enter another door, either, because my mascara was running as much as the ink on my CV. The heavens had cried on both my face and bag sans brolly, and I'm very lucky that someone took the time to pull my paper from an ever-mounting pile.
I'd just been told that I'd have to vacate the pub. My roof was needed for an expanding team of full-time staff, and I could no longer justify living in London without a stable home or job.
At this point I sorely regretted saying goodbye to my sick Mum. But she insisted on my OE whilst I was still eligible for a two year youth visa. Sadly, her genes didn’t quite enable me an ancestry one. At the time, time itself was running out. So I left a good job and home, the very fundamentals I kept finding myself without on the other side of the world. I also left something else, at the airport - my first true love.
As far-fetched as this story is, I was literally zipping up my suitcase when the phone rang. On the end of the line was Her Majesty's Theatre. The Front Of House manager wondered whether I'd come in for an interview. Tomorrow.
Despite the number of homes I've had, the theatre has always been a steady one. 24 hours later I found myself with a job in one of the most famous ones in the world. It was my first foray working in front of the stage instead of on it. I accepted a modest job as an usher but was quickly given the opportunity to progress to positions of higher responsibility, which I relished.
Working at the theatre, being a part of Phantom's 30th anniversary celebrations and meeting the man responsible for the show have their own personal resonance for me. The soundtrack was the first I owned and in many ways it inspired my career.
I have a very vivid memory of wandering around a record store at The Plaza - a mall in Palmerston North, New Zealand. I was desperate to spend my hard-earned pocket money on a theatre CD, as a mark of what I knew even then would be a big part of my lifelong calling. What were the odds that, 20 years later, I'd find myself in the presence of the very people I listened to on repeat as a kid?
Remember what I said about doors. I've had many sets of keys, all of which I've failed to work, and many of which I've had taken from me. As my two years in London drew to a close, I didn't even have keys to my last residence there. Yet I still managed to lock myself inside it.
Nevertheless, it's timely to do what I've been asked, and that's to share a bit about the latches that have opened and locked in my life - to tell my stories of work and play, and what I've learned along the way.