John Byrne talks to actor Paula Brett about their first experiences in the acting world
After finishing sixth form I auditioned at every drama school under the sun and didn’t get in. I thought: “Well, I’m just going to start auditioning and see how I go” and ended up with a job as a character actor – also known as a ‘skin’ performer – at Disneyland Paris.
I went to the audition after seeing an advert in The Stage. It was a mix of emotions for me, as I was so incredibly excited to be working professionally, but my mental health was also really poor at the time. I was struggling with severe depression and an eating disorder, and didn’t have access to help at the time.
I am really proud of myself for coping as well as I did, bearing in mind I was only 18. I worked hard and learned so many new skills, including speaking enough French to open a bank account.
Despite my mental illness, I had the most incredible time. While I was there, I met my two best friends. I am now godparent to their son. We had a 10-year ‘friendiversary’ dinner recently and howled with laughter at all our happy memories. Not everyone has the kind of lasting friendship that we do, and I am so grateful for them.
The job itself showed me my love of hands-on, physically challenging roles, and my career is full of them. It has given me an enormous amount of respect for the less glamorous jobs in this industry that are such a fundamental part of live theatre – we need to look after our ‘skin’ performers, theatre-in-education and immersive actors and treat them with a lot more respect than we currently do.
Training: London School of Musical Theatre
Theatre includes: Puppeteer, In the Night Garden Live; Actor/puppeteer, The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle (Illyria Theatre); Much Ado About Nothing, The Wind in the Willows (Groundlings Theatre Company)
Agent: Lola Williams, New Wonder Management