Céline Planata, Hayley Dawson and Gina Millington will perform in BGT’s “Wolves Are Coming For You” in the first week of September.
Photo: Mike Zenari
An increasing number of secondary school graduates are pursuing studies and careers in the performing arts. Delano talks with 4 acting hopefuls.
“Don't put your daughter on the stage The profession is overcrowded And the struggle’s pretty tough And admitting the fact She's burning to act That isn't quite enough”
The opening lyrics to Noël Coward’s “Mrs Worthington” are fraught with sensible warning. But if everyone took heed, the world’s stages would be very empty indeed. Luckily for an increasing number of budding young thespians in Luxembourg, the adults who have any influence on their education and career development are much more encouraging.
One mentor who has been laudable in his work with young actors is Tony Kingston, drama teacher and director of the BGT English theatre company, which this September is producing a play--“Wolves Are Coming For You”-- that specifically showcases the talents of student actors. Among the three actresses who will be on stage is European School graduate Hayley Dawson, who is completing her first year at in politics and sociology at University College Dublin. She has come a long way since appearing as the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” in her 3rd year. “I realised I really enjoyed putting myself out there on stage. It was the first role that made me realise theatre was something I felt comfortable doing.” In 2014, after she starred as the young Jo in BGT’s production of “Little Women”--the first time she has played in front of a paying audience--Hayley says her mother (OPL violinist Rhonda Wilkinson) encouraged her to take courses outside of Luxembourg’s tight-knit theatre scene. Summer schools at Mountview and Rada in London allowed Hayley “to get experience and compare myself to other aspiring actors my age and see what the standard is. I thought it would either intimidate me and I wouldn’t want to pursue acting, or it would make me want to do it more.”
Clearly it was the latter as Hayley went on to appear in more productions in Luxembourg and has also performed in three shows in the short time she has been in Dublin. She even received best newcomer and best supporting actress nominations at the ISDA Festival for student drama in Belfast in April this year for her performance in “Radiant Vermin”. However, immediately going to drama school after leaving the European School was an option Hayley eschewed. “I wanted to get a little life experience beforehand. Quite a few actors didn’t just jump into drama school.”
Indeed, Kingston explains that in the UK drama schools generally prefer to take on students who are not 18 but are in their early twenties. “Partly because of the maturity aspect, but also because they are very business oriented. A responsible drama school is looking for students with another degree, so they have a backup, because let’s face it, 90% of actors are unemployed most of the time. In Germany, it’s almost the reverse. If you’re 23 you’re almost too old because drama schools there like to take people young and form them.”
ISL graduate Mika Bouchet-Virette says he has learned valuable lessons from acting that can be applied to life and studies. Photo: Mike Zenari
That has not put off Mika Bouchet-Virette, freshly graduated from the International School of Luxembourg, from taking the plunge and accepting an offer to start a one-year foundation course at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts this September. He had auditioned at four reputable UK drama schools or conservatoires. “I knew it would be difficult to get in because there’s only a 2-3% acceptance rate,” says Mika. But he jumped at the chance of studying at LIPA because it’s one of the few acting schools that promotes training not just actors. “I feel that it is really a place that corresponds with me, and where I could fit in and grow as a performer and a person,” he explains.
Mika says he received great support from his mother, “although she knows it’s a difficult path and that she worries about certain aspects of it,” and that his teachers at ISL “have always been positive about my choice.” After all, he says he has learned valuable lessons from acting that can be applied to life and studies. “I’ve become better at listening to both verbal and non-verbal cues and at observing people and surroundings.” His immediate ambition is to become an accomplished stage actor, capable of taking on a large scope of characters and roles in both classical and contemporary plays. But ultimately Mika would love to have his own little theatre, where he could produce, direct and act. “Being able to create my own work, while keeping things on a ‘human-scale’ and being surrounded by inspiring people.”
One of Hayley’s co-stars in “Wolves Are Coming For You”, Gina Millington (with whom she also appeared in “Little Women”) is also off to the UK this September where she will start studying at Durham University. After that, she wants to audition for one of the big five drama schools in London, a city with which she is familiar through workshops she has taken in musical theatre and acting technique. Since leaving school she has also studied drama at Loughborough University and gained valuable work experience at Intertrust. Her ambition is to be able to work constantly as an actress. “I’d be more than happy with that,” she says. “I don’t have any crazy salary or particular role in mind.” Gina is grateful to Tony for the opportunities she has received through BGT and the lessons she has learned under his tutelage.
The “Wolves Are Coming For You” show is the first of what promises to be an annual showcase by BGT for actors aged between 18 and 23 who are either studying at drama school or planning to pursue a career in the performing arts. “We don’t take on students who don’t show real potential,” he explains. The third star of the show, Céline Planata, fits the bill perfectly as she has recently accepted had an offer from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, where she will start in September – she chose New York over London’s East 15 drama school and courses at Essex and Kent universities.
A keen student of musical theatre, Céline has performed regularly for Pirate Productions here in Luxembourg. Tony has been impressed by her professional attitude throughout the time he has worked with Céline, who says her experience in the BGT production of “Picnic At Hanging Rock” not only took her out of her comfort zone, but also set her a new bar. “There was a level of professionalism that made me want to be at the top of my game all the time. The group dynamic was amazing.”