Since playing the role of Billy Elliot in the West End musical, Josh Baker has continued his stage career with his most recent appearance in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors this summer. Josh had the experience of performing at Dame Vera Lynn’s 100th Birthday as well as the Queen’s 90th Birthday, and can now be seen in Southampton Mayflower Theatre’s pantomime Dick Whittington. Chatting to us recently, Josh tells us about his time in Little Shop of Horrors, his pantomime appearance and his choreography work.
How did you first get into acting?
I remember my mum calling me into the living room at the age of maybe nine or ten and got me to watch a clip from the 1951 film “Royal Wedding”. It was the Fred Astaire’s famous ceiling dance “You’re All the World to Me” and I was mesmerised by this iconic scene, constantly attempting this stunt and teaching myself to tap dance… but all I really wanted to do was be able to dance up walls. Of course I failed, but my mum must have watched me trying to replicate this performance and thought “let’s enrol this kid in some acting and tap classes”. So she did.
Have you always been interested in choreography?
Always. I’m not entirely sure where it came from or what set it off for me. When I was younger I used to create my own little shows to perform in my nan’s living room, and I loved the idea of having my own big show with hundreds of people involved all under my direction – HAHA! I was also obsessed with art and music from a young age, so I guess I’ve always had that creative side within me. There’s even an interview somewhere of my eleven-year-old self where I’m asked what the ambition is – I reply saying “a choreographer”, but barely know how to say the word properly!
Can you tell us about the video ‘all the kids are depressed’?
As much as I love being a part of this industry and is something I am very proud of, it obviously comes with its difficulties. One being self acceptance and how we look for validation online. We only post the best of the best, the highlights, the things that make us look good and the things that will benefit our careers. I had a few conversations with various people in the months leading up to the creation of this video, and all of them said something to the effect of “you look so happy, Josh” or “you have had the best year. I wish I could be in your shoes”. I promise you, you don’t. I have had a nice year career wise and been successful in that sense, but actually 2018 has been an incredibly tough year for me. I found it interesting how no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors and I have hidden behind this facade online to portray happiness and accomplishment, perhaps for my ego, when actually I’m feeling the total opposite. After some research I found out I am not the only one feeling this type of way. In addition to this, I feel like we do not allow ourselves to feel these things properly or seek help from others as we have to constantly be “switched on” in order to execute our jobs properly. I am not actually depressed, but I feel like we all have some kind of relationship with depression, and this video was just exploring those themes, throwing a bunch of questions in the air as opposed to making opinionated statements, whilst creating something choreographically and visually cool to compliment it. I know I have made it sound majorly depressing, but I promise it’s brighter than you think. Plus, theres a lot of talented people involved who inspire me immensely, so if you haven’t seen it check it out.
What was it like performing at the London Palladium for Dame Vera Lynn’s 100th Birthday?
This was an incredible night; majorly overwhelming. To be part of something that affected and meant so much to hundreds of people at such a young age was a humbling thing. Dancing with Sue Pollard and having to do some pas de deux with her was a laugh too!
You’ve also performed for the Queen’s 90th Birthday; was there a different experience for both events?
This might have been the most fun I have ever had on a job. Working for Antony Johns and Dougie Squires is always an absolute pleasure, and being given so much experience and knowledge from those two would make this anyone’s favourite job. However, four teenage boys staying in the Queen’s infinite garden for a week with their own golf cart… what could have gone wrong?
What do you remember about your time as Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical?
I remember the show inside out. As an eleven-year-old boy it is imperative Billy Elliot is drilled into you and I don’t think it will ever leave me. I know in previous interviews most of the Billys say they will never forget the feeling of the standing ovation after “Electricity” and it seems to be a popular statement to make, but I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing like it, and I don’t think anything will ever come close. To be that young and know that the roar of cheers and applause is all for you and your accomplishment is just breath-taking. I do wish I remembered more of the social elements as us kids spent so much time together over the years and I’m sure there are many funny anecdotes and entertaining stories that I no longer remember. What made the job for me wasn’t the show itself (even though it’s definitely the best show ever), but instead the family, lifelong friends and memories I made along the way. I believe those little things had such a huge impact on me growing up and have shaped me who I am today.
What was it like having this show as your West End debut?
At the time I appreciated everything so much and took it all in, but because I was so young I feel like I didn’t fully understand exactly what was going on. A few years ago I watched some of the Billys that were playing at the Victoria Palace at the time and I just thought WOW – I cannot believe those boys are that age and carrying the entire show with such ease. I had to remind myself that I did the exact same thing during my time; something I find so hard to believe but definitely was the best opening to a career in this field I could ask for.
Was there anything that drew you to the role?
My mum had taken me to see the show after being obsessed with the film and as the curtain came down I immediately said that’s what I want to do. We looked online for auditions and saw they were holding open calls in London in a few weeks. I went, and after seven recalls and a five-week summer school I finally got the role.
How long did your Billy Elliot experience last?
A year and a half. I trained for 6 months, then performed for a year. I was auditioning for six months before that so my entire Billy journey spanned over two years.
What did you enjoy most about being part of Little Shop of Horrors?
The burgers. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre do the best burgers and fries. Cast rate for a fiver too.
Had you worked with any of the cast members previously?
No, none of them. But Stuart Burt, the casting director, worked his magic and somehow found a group of the most extremely talented individuals but also the nicest human beings. Truly made some friends for life and hopefully will have the pleasure of working with some of them in the future.
Why did you want to be part of this production?
The music. I fell in love with the music and the score when I was part of a condensed version at my old school.
How long were you working on the show from start to finish?
One month rehearsal period, followed by a seven-week performance run.
How different is it performing in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre opposed to indoor theatres you’ve previously performed in?
It is different in every way. Performing in broad daylight for matinees is extremely strange for starters, and almost feels like you’re performing in someone’s garden. The weather was also the most unpredictable thing this summer, but due to contingencies you never knew what version of the show you were about to perform, which kept me on my toes and bought a new level of excitement every night. Audiences always loved it no matter the weather and performing in the rain has always been a dream of mine so that was a fun experience.
You are appearing in Mayflower Theatre’s pantomime, Dick Whittington, this year in Southampton, will this be your first pantomime appearance?
This will be my first pantomime, and I’m working with a great cast, lots of which I have worked with before, and an amazing creative team. I’m playing Dick’s cat and we’ve changed it up this year so get your tickets!
What are you hoping the run will be like?
I hope it brings lots of laughter. After all, it is Christmas and we’re all spending the period together so I just hope whoever has me for secret santa gets me a car.
What are your career plans once pantomime has finished?
I’m looking forward to next year. Starting in a new show which is exciting and I’m looking forward to talk about that in the new year, but until then I’m just going to be continuously perfecting my craft and my choreography, perhaps fitting in a few of my own projects here and there to release to the world. I have so much stuff I want to say and create about. I’m also planning on writing my first show. Whether I do anything with it is another story, but that is what I’m heading toward at the moment.
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