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The Stage Debut Awards 2018: the winners in their own words

The Stage Debut award winners, left to right: Gus Gowland, Akshay Sharan, Katy Rudd, Amara Okereke, Louis Gaunt, Khadjia Raza, Gemma Dobson and Andrew Thompson. Photo: Alex Brenner The Stage Debut award winners, left to right: Gus Gowland, Akshay Sharan, Katy Rudd, Amara Okereke, Louis Gaunt, Khadjia Raza, Gemma Dobson and Andrew Thompson. Photo: Alex Brenner
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First-time theatre talent, from performers and directors, to writers and designers were celebrated at the second The Stage Debut Awards, in association with Access Entertainment.

At a ceremony in central London on September 23, The Stage recognised some the industry’s brightest new stars, each of whom have made their professional debuts in the past year.

Here, we speak to the winners as they picked up their awards.

Portraits by Alex Brenner.


Katy Rudd, best director (sponsored by Smith and Williamson)

I’m very excited, I’m ecstatic. It’s an incredible thing to be recognised by The Stage, and so difficult as an emerging director – because you emerge for years. It’s lovely to have some sort of recognition and feel like you are doing the right thing and going in the right direction.

Akshay Sharan, best actor in a play (sponsored by Audible)

It’s the first time that I’ve been to an awards show like this, and to be recognised is very flattering. I feel very grateful, thank you so much. Tonight really shows how much love and connection [The Stage] can generate and I really recommend it to anyone who is in this world or who is hoping to break into it.

Gus Gowland, best composer or lyricist (sponsored by Trafalgar Entertainment Group)

This is a vert tasty cherry on top of a very nice cake. I’ve worked on this show for a very long time so the fact that it happened is incredible, and [this award] makes me think this is the right thing to do and maybe I should carry on doing it.

Louis Gaunt, best actor in a musical (sponsored by Encore Radio)

This was one of my dream roles and winning this has just made the experience even more memorable. It’s a massive confidence boost for people like myself, for whom winning or being nominated for these awards is being able to believe in yourself and continue to push for what you want to do.

Gemma Dobson, best actress in a play (sponsored by Audible)

I’m absolutely ecstatic. I can’t believe it, honestly I’m really overwhelmed, I’m having an out-of-body experience. It was a dream to play the part of Sue and to bring Andrea [Dunbar’s] work back to life was amazing.

Andrew Thompson, best writer (sponsored by InterTalent Rights Group)

This is genuinely huge. It really does matter. You spend so long trying to get that breakthrough, to get your first play on, and then that can be the end. This gives people the opportunity to make it more than that and build a career. I’m not saying it’s easy and this is a magic wand but it gives you an acknowledgement that what you’ve done mattered and had an impact.

Khadija Raza, best designer (sponsored by Robe Lighting)

Theatre, or anything creative, can feel really impossible sometimes, you work constantly and always try to get the next job, trying to make enough money to live, so it’s really nice to just stop and be recognised and for someone to say ‘I think you’re doing a good job’.

Amara Okereke, best actress in a musical (sponsored by R&H Theatricals Europe)

This feels amazing, any kind of support that helps you make a career is a brilliant thing. I’ve been reading The Stage since I was about 10 years old so it’s amazing that it’s come full circle and my professional debut is now associated with The Stage. It’s brilliant.

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