On 17th July 2004, when I was just 13 years old, I wrote this diary entry to myself:
Went to see Hair tonight at Middlesbrough Little Theatre. Words can’t describe it. I just wish I was on that stage. When I’ve left school, I am definitely going to Stockton Riverside College to do Performing Arts. I just hope that I’ll make it to the West End. Jess, if you read this in 4 or 5 years, I hope you’ll be chuffed. ’
I remember that evening as plain as day. I’d gone along to the theatre that night and I left the theatre having decided that I was going to pursue it as a career. That trip to the theatre, alongside countless others growing up, inspired me like no other experience. For just a few hours, I could lose myself in a different story to my own. Tragic tales of star-crossed lovers and murder, hopeful searches for long-lost parents and, in this case, an insight to what being an anti-war hippy was like in the midst of the Vietnam war. I left the theatre educated in new topics, I left the theatre with new songs stuck in my head but best of all, I left the theatre dreaming. I was ambitious, I had a burning passion and I’d be damned if I didn’t see it through, if I didn’t try every single little thing I could possibly think of that would get me on that stage one day.
I was a member of both Middlesbrough Youth Theatre and Teesside Operatic Society during my school years. This provided me with so many opportunities to tread the boards of ‘The Little Theatre’, to the point where it felt like a second home. I made lifelong friendships, with both cast members and the backstage crew – they still have me in for a cuppa when I come knocking!
Middlesbrough Youth Theatre was a safe space for me to express myself, both as a young actress and a teenager. It was a familiar, warm, cosy environment where I was allowed to be myself and not feel judged for it. It was a place that I could explore new ideas and feed my creativity, but it was also a place that I could fall flat on my face and pick myself back up again, without feeling like an idiot. It was sanctuary.
I feel strongly that providing this opportunity to a child growing up, especially in today’s society, is of the utmost importance. We must continue to encourage our younger generations to be open, communicative and expressive and the theatre is an excellent opportunity for a child to do just that. I will be forever grateful for Middlesbrough Youth Theatre for allowing me to do just that and I’m a firm believer that it played a key role in shaping me into the person I am today.
Theatre as a whole is an incredibly important art-form, particularly at the moment. It provides people with the opportunity to escape the outside world for a few hours. It’s ibuprofen – it provides relief, especially in this time of political uncertainty and societal difficulty. It brings people together, young and old. It offers a chance to put aside differences and difficulties to come together for a few hours – unified.
I grew up watching show after show at Middlesbrough Little Theatre and I am still a frequent visitor today. I love coming back to Middlesbrough and supporting our home-grown talent. I love that shows transcend the years and that shows that I once adored as a child are now loved just as much by my god-daughter, my newest theatre-date. I love that I’ve gone on to play roles professionally that I first played at Youth Theatre, like fulfilling some kind of theatrical rite of passage. I love that in a world that is constantly evolving and changing, theatre is timeless.
On the evening of my West End Debut, my first performance as a cast member of Mamma Mia!, my Dad gave me that diary entry from my 13 year old self, framed to keep. A reminder of a dream coming true. Thank you Dr Theatre, I love you!