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The Stage Debut Award winners: One year on – where are they now?

2018 winners from left: Katherine Soper, Lekan Lawal, Abraham Popoola, Andrew Polec and Samuel Thomas at Joe Allen Restaurant. Photo: Alex Brenner 2017 winners from left: Katherine Soper, Lekan Lawal, Abraham Popoola, Andrew Polec and Samuel Thomas at Joe Allen Restaurant. Photo: Alex Brenner
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The Stage Debut Awards are back for 2018. Nick Clark caught up with 2017’s winners over brunch at Theatreland restaurant Joe Allen to find out what they have done in the past year and how the award has impacted their careers


Best Composer (For Everybody’s Talking About Jamie): Dan Gillespie Sells

Dan Gillespie Sells. Photo: Alex Brenner
Dan Gillespie Sells. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has been taking off – from Sheffield to the West End, and now it’s being turned into a film, which we’ve been working on. Jamie has kept us quite busy but I’ve also been developing other work. I did A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Sheffield Crucible with Rob Hastie. I’ve started writing music for that. I’ve also started working with the band [the Feeling] again. We did a live version of our first album at the Apollo theatre and we decided to tour it.

What was the impact of winning?

It made me feel acceptance. I was moving into a field that wasn’t my natural home as a musician. I felt recognition from peers and other people in the theatre business was important. I didn’t want anyone to think I was taking this new world for granted. It was something I’ve always wanted to be part of and never had the guts to do before.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

Yes, 100%. A lot of people want new writing to flourish in this country. It is so important to have new work and to support new talent. That’s why these are great awards. I hope the business puts its money where its mouth is. The awards shed light on new writing.

Best Director (for Betrayal at Derby Theatre): Lekan Lawal

Lekan Lawal. Photo: Alex Brenner
Lekan Lawal. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I’ve been at Battersea Arts Centre as one of the three co-artistic directors working with David Jubb across the organisation and programming a couple of seasons of work. It’s been really fun. I’ve created a show, Superblackman, which will run in November.

What was the impact of winning ?

The Stage Debut Awards have helped in lots of different ways. They help give you a bump and to say: “This is going to be all right”… and on to the next one. Awards and nominations are few and far between. It’s good in an uncertain career to have a little bit of a “Yeah you’re doing okay, keep going”.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

Go for it. If you’re doing your work you should feel comfortable putting yourself forward for it. You’ll be surprised at how many people see the stuff that you do, even if you’re working regionally and not in London like I was. It’s a really great opportunity to back yourself and say: “I’ve been doing this, have a look.”

Best Actress in a Musical (For On the Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre): Miriam-Teak Lee

Miriam-Teak Lee. Photo: Alex Brenner
Miriam-Teak Lee. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I went straight into Hamilton and I’ve been in it since. I’m having the most amazing time. I’m in the ensemble and cover the Schuyler sisters. So most days I’m in the ensemble but every now and again I get the call two hours before that I’m on. Because I’m a cover, I’m always in rehearsals too.

What was the impact of winning?

People bring it up. It’s nice to know people are talking about the award and On the Town. It’s amazing to have that.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

Absolutely. It was such an amazing start to my career. I had just graduated, and to have that award after my first job out of college was really special. It’s important that it continues to recognise upcoming talent.

Best Actress in a Play (For The Country Girls at Chichester): Grace Molony

Grace Molony. Photo: Alex Brenner
Grace Molony. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I shot Mary Queen of Scots, directed by Josie Rourke, which was my first film. After that I played Lady Windermere in Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Vaudeville. I never thought I’d make my West End debut a year after drama school. Kathy Burke [the director] was so brilliant, she understood the text so well, and was fun and caring. We did three months, I had only ever done five weeks before.

What was the impact of winning?

Before the award I’d get auditions for big shows and automatically write myself off. It’s given me huge encouragement. Everyone brings it up in auditions, which is a nice way to start. In the marketing for Lady Windermere’s Fan they put it next to my name and mentioned it in every article.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

You’ve got nothing to lose, so put yourself forward. It opens so many doors and gives you confidence.

The Joe Allen Best West End Debut (for Bat Out of Hell): Andrew Polec

Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington in Bat Out of Hell. Photo: Specular
Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington in Bat Out of Hell. Photo: Specular

What have you been up to since winning?

I’ve been going hard and heavy with Bat Out of Hell the Musical. We opened at the Dominion Theatre in April and it has been a whirlwind of adventure. It’s rock and roll and sweat because it’s the summer. We’re having a blast with everyone who has come to see us.

What was the impact of winning?

It has helped the whole musical and the team come together and realise that people love this story and the music – they can connect to it and find that common connection with humanity.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

My advice is, I guess, just take that risk. I have this job because I went to an open call. Most people are like: “If you go to an open call, you’re not even seen and nobody really cares.” But going forward and putting yourself out there, having courage and just taking a leap of faith could leave you with one of The Stage Debut Awards. So go for it… and rock and roll.

Best Actor in a Play (For Othello at Bristol’s Tobacco Theatre): Abraham Popoola

Abraham Popoola. Photo: Alex Brenner
Abraham Popoola. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I’ve been doing loads of plays. I was doing Boudica at the Globe, which was on at the same time as the awards. Then I did Secret Theatre at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and I have just finished Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre. I’ve been busy. [Abraham is currently appearing in Pity at London’s Royal Court Theatre, which was announced shortly after he spoke to The Stage.]

What was the impact of winning?

It’s hard to tell as an actor. I assume it has [had an impact] as I’ve been able to get into rooms and it’s been mentioned by people who have seen me. I guess it gives you extra credibility. I’m sure the rewards are still to be reaped.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

Do it. Absolutely. It can only be helpful.

Best Writer (for Wish List): Katherine Soper

Katherine Soper. Photo: Alex Brenner
Katherine Soper. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I have written a Connections play for the National Theatre. I also worked with a charity called Big House, which works with young people who have been through the care system and that play has just finished. It was about the disproportionate number of care leavers who work in the sex trade.

What was the impact of winning?

Since the awards a lot of people have asked my agent to set up meetings and that sort of thing. At the moment I’m trying to take things slowly and make sure the things I choose are the right projects, but it has definitely opened doors.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

Anyone thinking of putting themselves forward should absolutely do it. Particularly for directors and actors. People can think you have to pay your dues for a time, toiling away before you get this sort of recognition. For those areas in particular it’s an opportunity you don’t necessarily get elsewhere to have an early stage performance spotlighted in this way.

Best Actor in a Musical (For Allegro at Southwark Playhouse): Samuel Thomas

Samuel Thomas. Photo: Alex Brenner
Samuel Thomas. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I’ve joined the cast of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre in the West End. There’s a lot of falling over and jumping off things and hanging off ropes and vents. It’s a bit crazy and different to what I’ve done before. It’s my first West End show and first play, it’s a change from musicals. I’m really enjoying it.

What was the impact of winning?

The award has given me a public boost, more people know who I am, and socially it’s been great. It’s always lovely to go into an audition and talk about that, and you’re able to network with people you may not have been able to before. It’s been fantastic in that sense.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

My advice to people starting now would be to keep hungry for everything and work really hard. Try to keep your eyes on what you want. Never settle.

Best Designer (for The Convert at London’s Gate Theatre): Rosie Elnile

Rosie Elnile. Photo: Alex Brenner
Rosie Elnile. Photo: Alex Brenner

What have you been up to since winning?

I’ve done The Unknown Island at the Gate, Goats at the Royal Court [London], and Returning to Haifa at the Finborough Theatre [London]. I’ve also done Three Sisters with RashDash, which was at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and the Yard in London. I’m also working on The Mysteries with Chris Thorpe at the Royal Exchange and The Wolves with Ellen McDougall at the Gate.

What was the impact of winning?

It’s hard to say, because the show I did at the same time as the awards was really successful, so that has had an impact too. I expect it’s given me some more confidence. It was really great to receive it.

Would you recommend young talent put themselves up for the award?

Yes, for sure. If you feel you need a profile boost, it is a great idea – you get something written about you in The Stage.

Nominations are open for the 2018 awards. To put yourself or someone else forward for consideration go to: thestage.co.uk/debuts

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