Currently in her final year at Arts Educational Schools, Jessie Angell has made numerous stage appearances including roles in Curtains and Disney’s Newsies, which was directed by Luke Sheppard. Earlier this year, MT Fest UK hosted a festival of workshops where Jessie played two characters, Kimberly and Hillary, in But I’m a Cheerleader which showcased to sold-out audiences at The Other Palace. Taking time out of rehearsals for her end of year show, we find out from Jessie about attending ArtsEd, appearing in Disney’s Newsies and being involved with But I’m a Cheerleader.
Last month, you were part of MT Fest’s workshop of But I’m a Cheerleader at The Other Palace, how did you find your time performing in the show?
But I’m a Cheerleader was the first workshop I’d ever been a part of and MT Fest was a whole new experience for me. It was unlike anything I’ve done before and I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed it. Performing in such a cool venue, it meant we were in close proximity to the audience and so their responses hit us first hand, enabling us to play off them differently every night. We all met two days before the first performance, rehearsed for 12 hours and then showed to a public and paying audience. It was an exhilarating five days that taught me so much about the writing and rehearsal processes. My duet with Jamie Muscato, What If We Were Wrong, was a personal highlight – it was such a fun song to sing and Jamie was great to work with.
You played the roles of Kimberly and Hillary, was this your first time playing two different characters and how did you find the experience?
I have had experience playing two different characters. When I was in Curtains, my character Georgia also plays the part of Madam Marian in Robbin Hood (the show within the show), however these characters had a lot of similarities. But I’m a Cheerleader was the first time I’ve played two very different characters and it was so fun! Obviously, I didn’t have long in rehearsals so I made sure I had two very different physicalities and voices which I got creative with, the discovery that I could do a New Zealand accent being one of them!
How different was it rehearsing for this show to previous productions you’ve been involved with?
The rehearsal process of this show was unlike anything I’ve done before, it was two days long! By the time we’d all met, rehearsed the songs, read through the script and blocked it, it was show time! It only needed the audience to hear Bill Augustin’s beautiful lyrics and to hear Andy Abram’s gorgeous score and the important message they both portray was enough. It was also incredible to watch them both at work, to see them change the odd lyric here and there, and to see a musical being shaped before my eyes.
What was it like working with the rest of the cast?
It was unforgettable. I felt like our cast bonded quickly, we went for Nando’s and discussed the industry, life outside the industry, literally everything and every single person gave me advice that I will take with me into my career. There’s a professionalism and energy they all had, from working and being in the industry, that you can’t learn at drama school – it comes when you’ve graduated and experienced it first hand. I felt like this filtered down to us students and given us a taster of what’s to come!
Have you received much audience feedback from the workshop?
We had some great audience feedback from the workshop on Twitter, YouTube and directly from audience members. The show is so relevant in today’s world as, unfortunately, Conversion Therapy is still happening. But I’m a Cheerleader tells a powerful story of acceptance, love and a celebration of who you are – it’s a beautiful story to tell and one I feel more people need to hear.
If But I’m a Cheerleader was to get a full run, would you consider auditioning?
Absolutely. I would love to be in this show. It’s super fun, the music is some of the catchiest I’ve heard in a long time and I would love to work with Andy and Bill again. They’re incredible at what they do and they’ve written a musical that, I feel, the world needs to hear!
You are currently training at ArtsEd, what’s it like being a student there?
Without sounding cliché, it’s actually a dream come true. Growing up, it was THE school I aspired to train at and I still have to pinch myself that I’m here. It’s the perfect balance of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, mixed with the most supportive, caring family of tutors and friends. They’ve taught me everything I know and after being there for four years, I’ve not only developed my skills but I’ve grown into a young adult who feels like I can take on whatever life throws at me, in or outside of the industry!
Do you have a most and least favourite aspect of attending theatre school?
My favourite aspect without a doubt is the fact I spend all day, every day doing the thing I love most. To be honest, I don’t have a least favourite aspect but I guess it can be testing when you’re having a tough time and maybe the last thing you want to do is an 8:30am ballet class but then you just have to remind yourself of why you love doing what we do and then that ballet class ends up making you feel so much better!
Can you tell us about your time in Disney’s Newsies and the character you played?
Newsies was SO MUCH FUN. Directed by Luke Sheppard, MD’d by Laura Bangay and choreographed by Ashley Nottingham, it was always going to be an incredible experience but I don’t think anything could’ve prepared any of us for what was in store. Ashley had a way of choreographing to show everyone off at their best and we surprised ourselves daily at the things we were achieving. Amongst a variety of ensemble roles, I played Tommy Boy as part of the group of Newsies. I created her as this tomboy who has been brought up by this raucous pack of boys and knows no differently to the life she’s living. She had this quirky trait of sucking her thumb showing her immature, childish persona compared to the other parts I played (nun, showgirl, Brooklyn Newsie) and it was exciting to go out there every night and make new choices – it kept it fresh, exciting and youthful. Plus, who wouldn’t want to go on stage and play a 14 year old every night?
Out of the many shows you’ve worked on at ArtsEd, which would you say has been the most memorable?
I think my most memorable show has to be Curtains, which we did as our third year show November 2018 and I played the part of Georgia Hendricks. It’s a witty, show-within-a-show, Kander and Ebb comedy and we just had such a blast putting it on. It holds a particularly special place in my heart because of the part I played. I’ve always struggled with self-belief and confidence, but the process made me grow so much as a performer and also as a person. It’s shaped me so much in all aspects of my training and I’ll always remember it.
What was it like being in the ensemble for both the Olivier Awards and West Side Story at BBC Proms?
Even being able to attend those two events at the Royal Albert Hall would’ve been incredible but to actually perform there and share the stage with the likes of Chita Rivera, Ross Lekites and Eden Espinosa – it was crazy. We would go and rehearse for West Side Story at Maida Vale Studios and get to listen to the John Wilson Orchestra rehearse with these actors. We’re always told that you can learn a lot by just watching and it’s so true – so at both of these events I was sure to just take as much in as I could and learn from everyone on and off the stage. In 2017, I’d never even stepped foot into the Royal Albert Hall, and by the end of 2018 I’d performed there on three separate occasions.
Is acting something you’ve always enjoyed doing and how did you start?
I wanted to act for as long as I can remember. As kids it’s what we all naturally do, but my mum always told me I had such an overactive imagination and so I guess stage school on a Saturday seemed like the best place for me! It then continued throughout my life, gradually developing more and more until finally, studying an Honours degree at a drama school was all I wanted to do.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch?
I love a good true story so Come From Away was my favourite musical I’ve seen in a long time. It was everything a musical should be, plus it was a musical about people being kind to each other which we don’t see a lot of! Company was another show that I thought was incredible and Waitress I saw recently. A Monster Calls at The Old Vic was a theatre experience I will never forget, it was beautifully directed and so moving – there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre!
Which London venues have you performed at and what would be your dream theatre to work in?
Aside from the Royal Albert Hall and The Other Palace, the other day I performed on the Olivier stage at the National. I’ve always loved the Savoy and London Coliseum but the Southwark Playhouse would be a really cool space I’d love to work in.
When do you graduate and what plans do you have for after leaving?
I graduate at the end of May and my plans are to get out there and work! I would love to do a variety of jobs, obviously West End would be a dream but I’d also love to do off West End, fringe, commercials, TV, film – anything! I want to keep all my doors open. I’ll be auditioning and making sure I keep up classes, I just want to continue to improve and learn – even though I’ll have left college. The other day I finished rehearsals for a performance at the National so the only thing I am currently working on is my end of year showcase. After that, my next project will hopefully be a job! I also really want to buy a dog but I think that may have to wait!
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