When I was young, I wanted to be a hedgehog.
I didn’t understand that the mantra “you can be whatever you want to be” had limits.
I don’t remember going through a phase where I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman. I don’t ever remember wanting to be something. Once, I wrote down that I wanted to be a cricket umpire as I was fed up of the teachers asking me! I wanted to shout “I’m only fourteen! I don’t know what I want to be!” and I think a lot of people have felt the same.
I’d been involved with youth theatre for many years but I definitely didn’t want to be a performer. I hadn’t really given much thought to how productions are put on and my experience with theatre was simply the annual pantomime at the Liverpool Everyman (it was a rock n’roll Liverpool themed panto – Rockin’ Robin and the Babes of Hale Wood will forever be cemented into my brain). I’d seen Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat but it hadn’t made a huge impression on me.
When I was fourteen, my school announced it was doing a trip to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I decided to go along and the moment the chandelier rose from the stage I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that – not the performing, I wanted to make the ‘magic’ happen. I briefly became a Phantom ‘Phan’ and scoured message boards for information about how it all happened and how you could do that for a living.
Eventually I found out about stage managers, lighting technicians and all sorts of wonderful technical positions.
At sixteen, I went to Preston College to study technical theatre. I’d been stage managing at the youth theatre for a good two years by then and hadn’t really explored the other aspects of theatre. I thought I wanted to be a stage manager and focused my first year on those roles. That first year was also the year I saw my first West End productions – We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre and Bombay Dreams at Apollo Victoria. The following year I was picked to light the big outside directed production, after a brief moment of panic and frustration because I’d never lit anything before I soon realised that I not only really enjoyed it but I was quite good. Going to see two more iconic West End productions (Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre and the Lion King at Lyceum Theatre) cemented my feelings about lighting.
I made the wrong choice in choosing to study stage management at drama school, I probably should have chosen lighting design or lighting production but if I had, I wouldn’t have met the person who got me my first West End job so I think I’ve been very lucky to have spent the last ten years working on several large scale West End productions.
I am still disappointed about the hedgehog thing though.