Up until theatres closed around the world, Piers Bate was in the original West End cast of Waitress the Musical at the Adelphi Theatre as Ensemble and understudied the roles of Dr. Pomatter and Earl. Having appeared in Waitress with his girlfriend Olivia Moore, they both performed an online concert during lockdown with Lambert Jackson’s Leave a Light On series. Previously, Piers has appeared in shows such as Kiss Me, Kate and Mrs Henderson Presents in Toronto, and after training at Arts Educational Schools, he booked his first professional job as Ensemble and cover Corny Collins in the UK Tour of Hairspray. Piers spoke to us about being in the original West End cast of Waitress the Musical, performing as Dr. Pomatter and Earl and appearing in Kiss Me, Kate.
How did you find your time as part of the Ensemble in Waitress the Musical and learning the choreography?
Being a part of Waitress was nothing short of sensational. I couldn’t ask for a better show to have as my first West End contract. Hopefully not my last, but with the current circumstances, who knows when I’ll work again? (laughs/cries into my oat milk latte)
The camaraderie on the show was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before professionally. Every department working on Waitress was so close that it really was like a family. I know everyone says that about every show, but this job really was the best and I am so sad that it won’t be reopening at the Adelphi.
In terms of learning the choreography, the show is unique. It doesn’t matter if you’ve trained in dance your whole life or you’ve never moved a step, the beauty and intelligence of the choreography is in its simplicity and unison. Nothing choreographed was “showy”, it was all based on extensions of pedestrian movements and it always had an intention behind it. The ensemble of Waitress had a rather strange job in that, if we executed the choreography correctly, then we were essentially invisible, it was only when something was out of time or executed incorrectly that it pulls focus and is jarring for the audience.
It took us some time to get on the same page, but when that relationship settled in, I feel we really created something special.
As an original West End cast member, what did you know about the show before auditioning?
I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about the show before I auditioned for it. My friend had played me one of the songs from the soundtrack on the way back from Sheffield one night after a show and mentioned that she thought I would suit the Doctor role. This of course meant nothing to me at the time.
When I got my audition through I did my research into the show. OBVS. I looked up the tracks I would be most suited for and set my sights on the understudy roles for Dr. Pomatter and Ogie.
Other than the synopsis of the show from Wikipedia, I knew nothing outside of the script I had been given. Now, I believe that you can tell a lot about the quality of a script by how easy it is to learn. When I was sent the script for the auditions, I seemed to have memorised it before I’d even started. The words were natural and the intentions were clear. This was a show I was desperate to be a part of and one where the audition process was really enjoyable.
It made it all the more devastating when I was cut at finals. (laughs/cries into my oat milk latte) True story.
You can imagine my relief when they called me back in to re-audition and, as the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, pray they couldn’t find anyone for the track and have to audition you again.
Can you say about understudying Dr. Pomatter and Earl and how did you find the experience playing each role?
Firstly, I have to say that it was my dream growing up to play the lead role in a West End show, but seeing as they wouldn’t let me audition for Jenna, I was happy to settle for Dr. Pomatter.
In all seriousness though, understudying Dr. Pomatter gave me some life highlights, from my debut with the Original Cast through to playing opposite my girlfriend, Olivia Moore in front of 1500 people.
Being a relatively awkward person myself, putting on the doctor’s coat wasn’t too much of a stretch for me. It allowed me to bring my quirkiness to the surface and really play around on stage. I had so much fun playing that role when I had the privilege of stepping in. Understudying Earl was a different story. I really struggled to connect with the character and accept playing the antagonist of the piece. It’s tough to step into the boots of a character who doesn’t care what people think of him.
The role of Earl is such a lonely part of the show. The hardest part of the show is having a large portion of the show off stage, roughly an hour and fifteen minutes, and then coming onstage with such a charged energy. Finding my own way of creating and maintaining that energy was a real challenge and one that I hope I achieved during my performances.
I have to acknowledge the work of David Hunter and Peter Hannah, who embodied their respective characters with such quality and class, they set the template for how the roles should be played. Not to mention the love and support of all departments working on Waitress every single time I went on for either role made it so easy. I hope I made them proud.
(cries into the remains of my oat milk latte)
What did you enjoy most about being in the cast and performing at the Adelphi Theatre?
If I had to pick one thing I would say, getting paid.
Truth jokes are the best.
No. As I’ve already mentioned, everyone in that building was like a family. I have done jobs before where each department can feel very separate to each other. With Waitress, because it’s such an intricate show that needs constant supervision and attention, every department worked so closely with each other. It was all helped by our total commitment to socialising outside of work. The company morale was maintained incredibly by our company manager David Massey. The best company manager I have had the pleasure of working with. Able to support the company brilliantly as well as being the link between us and the production team.
As for performing at the Adelphi, it was WONDERFUL. As I’ve said, it was my first West End contract so to be able to return to my home, rather than digs on tour, was lovely. It was also a highlight to see the friendly faces working at Stage Door every day. Adam, Anne-Marie and Rafe were a constant joy and got any day off to the right start.
You’ve performed in Kiss Me, Kate on a couple of occasions, what is the show like to do?
So, really, there are two versions of Kiss Me, Kate. There’s the original production that opened in 1948, and the new score written for the 1999 revival. Technically, I have done two different shows, even if all the songs and the script were the same. Kiss Me, Kate, if done in its entirety, would be around three-and-a-half hours long, so every version tends to make a series of cuts throughout the piece to get the run time down to about two-and-a-half hours. This combined with the fact that I played two different tracks made the experiences completely different for me.
I love the show. I had to if I’m going to do it twice. It’s brilliantly funny and it’s my preferred style of choreography. Whilst there are some dated themes within the show, both productions I have done have addressed these brilliantly and allowed for the climax of the show not to be muddied by some questionable morals.
I have been working professionally in the industry since 2012, but my first full production in a West End theatre was with Opera North’s production of Kiss Me, Kate in 2018. The production opened in Leeds, then toured to Ravenna in Italy, London and Edinburgh. The opportunity to perform at the London Coliseum was amazing. To say that I made my West End Debut at that theatre is something I will always be grateful for and this show will always hold a special place in my heart.
(makes another oat milk latte)
Can you say about your time in The Wizard of Oz at Crucible Theatre?
Doing a show at the Crucible Theatre has been on my “bucket list” since I was training. I’ve still got some more to tick off but when I got the offer through to be in The Wizard of Oz I was always going to say yes. It’s a wonderful building with a brilliant team working there. The show was directed by Rob Hastie, who is the Artistic Director at the Crucible, and from the moment he explained his vision for the show we were all on board and excited to get started. This show also gave me the opportunity to work with some friends I had worked with previously on the UK tour of Hairspray, and the three of us lived together in Sheffield during our time with the show. Being in Sheffield over Christmas time and doing a job with your mates really is something special. I’m not especially good with the cold being a born and bred southerner, but seeing the snow on the hills of the Peak District on your way to work made it a little easier.
I do sometimes wonder if each Wardrobe Department I work for has a bet to see if they can make me look the most ridiculous, and so far, The Wizard of Oz team is in the lead (see picture attached). I look forward to the next show I do and their attempt to ruin my self-esteem.
How did you find the experience as Swing in Mrs Henderson Presents at The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto?
I guess there are three parts to this answer. What was it like being a swing? What was it like being in Mrs Henderson Presents? And What was it like working in Toronto? So, let’s start with the first one.
This was my first time being a Swing on any show. For anyone that doesn’t know, a Swing is a performer that will know the majority, if not all, the ensemble tracks of a show. They step in when another actor is on for an understudy role or if they are off the show for any reason, and they often do so at a moment’s notice. Anyone who has been a Swing will tell you that everybody should be a Swing at least once. It’s an incredibly difficult job because there is an attitude towards being a Swing, from within the industry and out, that it is because that person isn’t good enough to be in the ensemble, that if they work hard they might make it into the show. If an ensemble member can refurbish your kitchen, then a swing can build you a house. They need to know the show inside out so that they are able to slot into it seamlessly and, if the situation calls for it, multiple roles within that show. It also requires a certain level of mental strength, being a Swing, as you never quite feel part of the show. A lot of cast connection comes from what happens on stage, and if you’re not involved with it, it can be quite a lonely job. This all sounds very “woe is me” but I honestly enjoyed being a Swing on Mrs Henderson Presents. Which brings me to question two.
Being in Mrs Henderson Presents was wonderful. Working with Terry Johnson and Andrew Wright, and witnessing the performances of Tracie Bennett and Peter Polycarpou every night is a career highlight of mine. The question I always get asked about this job is “how was it having to get naked?” For those that don’t know, obviously, there was nudity in the piece. Being a Swing, I didn’t have to get naked every night, but I did understudy a track that did. As part of the audition process, we were all asked if we were comfortable with nudity and we all were. During the rehearsal process, we were informed one Thursday that the following day we would be involved in an exercise where anyone who was involved in the scenes involving nudity would be getting naked if they were comfortable to do so. I have honestly never started sweating so quickly with panic. We arrived the next day and all involved went into a private rehearsal room and under instructions, if we felt comfortable enough to do so, we took our clothes off. The reason I talk about this is because it taught me a rather strange life lesson. More often than not the fear of the thing is much scarier than the thing itself. Actually, being naked in a room full of my colleagues was fine, it was the fear of it that was the scary thing. It’s really changed my outlook on auditions, rehearsals or any event I’m nervous about to be honest. Safe in the knowledge that I (probably) won’t have to get naked this time.
We were in Toronto for seven weeks in total, if I remember correctly, and I completely fell in love with the city. We arrived at the beginning of March and left at the end of April so we got a vast contrast of weather when we were there. As I mentioned earlier, I am not particularly good with the cold, so you can imagine how well I handled the -18 degree snowstorm as we left Technical Rehearsals. Toronto is a city that is incredibly comfortable with its multiculturalism, it is so welcoming. My parents were able to fly out for my birthday whilst I was there. We were able to explore the city and travel to Niagara Falls. I could not recommend going to Toronto enough if you haven’t been before. Even if you have, go again.
What was it like playing Baron Elberfeld and cover Rolf in The Sound of Music?
Significantly less nudity in this one. Touring the UK with The Sound of Music was a bit of a whirlwind. From my audition day to being at the first touring venue in Peterborough was about two-and-a-half weeks. Learning Rolf and Liesl’s pas de deux in Sixteen Going on Seventeen from Bill Deamer was brilliant. His choreography is so effective and so wonderful to dance. I love touring, it allows me to see parts of the country I wouldn’t have visited. My personal favourite venues I got to visit with this show were Edinburgh, Manchester, Malvern and Plymouth. You learn something new from every job you do, and doing The Sound of Music I learnt that you are not guaranteed to go on as your understudy role. Kane Verrall, who played Rolf, was brilliant and incredibly consistent with his performance. It’s taught me to really appreciate any shows I do as an understudy because they are not guaranteed.
In 2012, you were cast in the UK Tour of Hairspray as Ensemble and first cover Corny Collins, how was this and what was it like touring with the show?
The UK Tour of Hairspray was my first professional job. I have so many treasured memories from this job, from my parents driving up from Bournemouth to Manchester to see my understudy debut, to winning “The Murder Game” in Bristol. I won’t go into the rules of “The Murder Game” now as I’ve already rambled on too long in this interview but I must stress that it was not played during the show.
Three of my friends from my year at ArtsEd were also cast in the show which makes that first day “meet and greet” much less nerve-racking. It was my first taste of touring the country as well, visiting many places I had never been to before, some of which I won’t be visiting again unless I am contractually obliged to do so.
Touring is a very unique experience, in that your time is defined entirely by how well you connect as a company. As your colleagues and castmates are your only constant as you switch from venue to venue, the tour becomes your social life as well as your work. My time on the tour of Hairspray was brilliant because of the people who worked on it. As first jobs go, I am very grateful to have been cast among such talented artists.
Was there anything that inspired you to start a theatre career and what was your first experience of acting?
I have been involved with theatre from a very young age but in truth I didn’t decide it was something that I wanted to do professionally until I was seventeen. When I was about seven, I joined the church choir so singing and performing was quite a large part of my childhood. I attended my local theatre school called Big Little Theatre School. The work they do there is honestly brilliant and I wouldn’t be half the performer I am without them. I was involved in musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof and Dracula Spectacular when I was in my early teens. I was also involved in the local amateur dramatics production of Oliver. I wasn’t cast as Oliver. I’m over it though. No honestly, I am…
Anyway, when I was seventeen I decided I was going to really push to do it seriously and took up extra ballet, jazz and tap lessons as well as one-on-one singing lessons and acting classes.
Had you always wanted to train at Arts Educational Schools and what was your time like there?
When I was auditioning for drama schools I had set my sights on three, Mountview, ArtsEd and Guildford School of Acting. I knew when I auditioned for ArtsEd that I wanted to go there. I felt very comfortable with the atmosphere as I walked around the building. I was rejected by Mountview, I was asked to come back and dance again at a later date for ArtsEd and was recalled for a second day of auditions by GSA. When I received my acceptance letter from ArtsEd I was absolutely over the moon. My mother went to ArtsEd and she opened the letter on the phone to me and gave me the news. I think we both shed a tear. I think most people know what school they are most suited for when they audition there.
I feel so privileged to have trained at ArtsEd. If you offered me a chance to do those three years again I would take it, hands down. The school does such a good job of preparing you for all circumstances in the industry and I owe a huge amount to the teachers and the training they have given me. It was tough, very tough, but I wouldn’t change it if you paid me. Unless you want to pay me? Honestly, I’m so unemployed.
What do you enjoy doing other than performing in theatre?
I won’t lie to you, growing up, theatre was my extracurricular activity. I am very lucky to do what I love to do as my career. That does, unfortunately, make this question quite difficult to answer without sounding incredibly boring. But hey, you’ve made it this far without falling asleep so let’s dive in shall we? I’m a huge football fan. Specifically, The Arsenal. I’ve not picked the best career in terms of getting to watch live sporting events so it’s been one of the few positives of the pandemic to be able to watch so much sport.
I am lucky enough to live in a lovely area that has quite a few really beautiful walks so I’ve been able to enjoy them with my lovely girlfriend, Olivia Moore. We are also big fans of sausage dogs. Nothing makes us happier than seeing a Dachshund trotting along on a walk. I have to say that I am also partial to a Corgi, but I think this comes from my love of watching the television series Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
What was your Leave a Light On concert like to do with Olivia Moore?
It was terrifying. You’d think two professional performers would be able to sing a few songs in their living room without being nervous about it. I was unable to distract myself in the lead-up to the concert because we were streaming it on my phone. We were so nervous we had to write a script of what we would say between songs. Obviously it was wonderful to revisit some of the songs from Waitress as well as duet with Liv on some songs we hadn’t done before, but I was honestly sweating like a pig doing that concert. I think it’s much more difficult to sit in front of an audience as yourself than it is to have all the words ready and know what’s going to happen. Having said that, there wasn’t even an audience, it was my phone. I was literally nervous to sing… TO MY PHONE. To be fair, Siri can be pretty harsh. Anyway, I’m rambling. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview. Add me on Myspace. BYEEEEE!
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