My first adult, professional job was when I was 19. I was assistant stage manager and understudy for all three women in a touring production of Uncle Vanya with Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company.
I got the job through Myra Egan, my drama teacher at Arts Ed. I had performed a very emotional speech from Three Sisters in class as I had been feeling in despair at the time. We were close to graduating and I was one of the few who hadn’t been taken on by an agent. I was worried, and rightly so – I had hardly any auditions for 10 months after leaving college.
When Myra’s husband – Peter Egan – was directing Uncle Vanya, she remembered my performance in class and suggested me for the ASM/understudy job, thus rescuing me from a very inauspicious start to my career. It was a wonderful opportunity for someone who’d trained in musical theatre, rather than on a drama course.
I was working with amazing people – including Richard Briers as Vanya – so felt very lucky and excited to be there, but also incredibly frustrated to be understudying rather than ‘in it’. It was a tricky position to settle into. I was always a confident actor, but was quite confused about my status, also being part of the stage management team.
The backstage element was an invaluable lesson that has really supported my work as a writer, producer and director over the years.
Looking back, I wish I’d made my mark more as a personality offstage. I didn’t want to look like I had ideas above my station, so I stayed in the background.
The advice I would give to any performer would be to not assume people can see how hard you’re working and ask outright for what you want. You have to get yourself noticed and remembered in a confident way. I wish I’d done more of that as an actor.
Training: Arts Educational School
Theatre includes: My Fair Lady (national tour), Abigail’s Party (York Theatre Royal), seasons at Chichester Festival Theatre and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, A Funny Stage (one–woman show at various venues in London)
TV includes: Waking the Dead (BBC), Doctors (BBC), Final Demand (BBC), The Second Quest (YTV)
Other credits: Writer/director/producer of audio drama for Big Finish Productions; winner of the One Voice Award for Best Radio Performance (2018); cabaret and concert singer in UK and abroad.
Agent: Shining Management/Berlin Associates
Helen Goldwyn was talking to John Byrne