For his professional debut, Tom Francis was directed by Luke Sheppard when he was cast as lead character Roger Davis in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, with the production only being able to have their previews and opening night before theatres were closed once more due to the pandemic, and the show was then released online for a limited time. Tom graduated from Arts Educational Schools last year, and whilst there, he performed at Turbine Theatre for MT Fest’s Eurobeat – Pride of Europe workshop and he also appeared in a number of productions including as Wells in Freaky Friday and Kyle in Legally Blonde. We recently caught up with Tom, who answered our questions about making his professional debut in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, being cast as Roger in the musical and performing in last year’s MT Fest.
How did it feel booking the role of Roger Davis in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre and what were you looking forward to most for the run?
It was the most incredible feeling, my heart was pounding. I haven’t felt so many emotions at once like that before. It was overwhelming in the best way. The thing I was looking forward to most was learning from new people. Many of the cast and team members are seasoned pros and I was looking forward to feeding off their knowledge.
What did you know about the musical before being cast and what drew you to the role?
I knew the story inside out. It’s been my dream role since I started musical theatre as it taps into my muso side as well. The main thing I learnt from Roger is what a complex character he is and how to deal with that as an actor. With Luke (Sheppard)’s help, I started thinking in ways about characters and started asking myself questions that I wouldn’t previously have even considered. The role pushed me out of my comfort zone for sure.
The show was only able to have previews and opening night before theatres closed again, what was it like preparing for the show and did you get chance to watch the musical when it was streamed online?
Preparing for the show was an absolute whirlwind of emotions. I would go to work every day and try to block out the news and stay focused on the show. I would turn up about half an hour before I was called, have a cup of tea and read through my script and notes for the call ahead. That routine helped me remain focused.
For our online press night, everyone involved in making the show happen was given some tickets to stream the show. Very surreal experience watching yourself back… But it was equally as mad being able to see bits you miss when you’re focusing on your track. I felt so proud watching the cast smash it. We got really close during this rehearsal process and it was the best feeling being able to support each other.
What was it like seeing the response to the show and your performance of Roger?
We couldn’t have asked for a better response! It was reassuring because I felt we had done a really good job of staying faithful to RENT but, bringing a new energy to it with Luke’s staging. So, it was cool to see people voicing their opinions on it.
How did you find the experience making your professional debut and working with Luke Sheppard?
Inspiring and humbling. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and remarkable director. Hopefully I’ll work with him again because he’s a breath of fresh air.
You were part of MT Fest last year in Eurobeat – Pride of Europe, what was this like to do?
This was such a fun experience. There were four of us from my year at Arts who did this show. It was my first insight into the industry out of school and we just had the best time putting it on. The show is hilarious, and I met some great people doing it. Scott Paige is one of the funniest people in the world!
Had you seen any MT Fest workshops previously and how was it performing at Turbine Theatre?
My best mate was in an MT Fest workshop the year before, so I had gone to support then. It was a great opportunity to perform there. The Turbine is a cool space and the kind of shows they put on there are really current and interesting.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at ArtsEd and what did you enjoy most about your time there?
The main thing that encouraged me to go there was the amount of times I would see ‘Trained: Arts Educational Schools’ in a program at the theatre. The thing I enjoyed most was my third year because we were finally putting into practice the skills we had learnt.
Whilst at ArtsEd, you played Wells in Freaky Friday and Kyle in Legally Blonde, what were the roles like to do?
These two roles were such fun. I loved playing Wells because I got to be a kid all over again going on treasure hunts and messing about with my mate Henry, who played Parker. I found Kyle strangely difficult because being smooth is hard, haha!
Can you tell us about being involved with BBC Proms: On The Town and The Olivier Awards?
It was really interesting to see how all the cogs work with these staged concerts and awards ceremonies. I just love watching people smash it and with these experiences, there were lots of those moments.
Had you always wanted a theatre career and where does your love of performing come from?
Strangely enough, I was set to be a farmer until I was about sixteen where I had a swift career change. Both sides of my family are farmers and that was the way I could have gone, however my dear friend Paul said I should give musical theatre a try. I couldn’t thank him enough for that conversation because I can’t imagine doing anything else now.
My love for it comes from doing it. I love being in a rehearsal room with other like-minded individuals. It blows my mind that people earn a living doing this.
Do you remember the first theatre show you attended and what are some of your favourite shows to watch?
The first big-scale musical I watched was We Will Rock You with Oliver Tompsett playing Gallileo. He is a massive inspiration for me and funnily enough, we had the same singing teacher at Arts.
Some of my favourite shows to watch are Merrily We Roll Along, Bonnie & Clyde, Spring Awakening, Dogfight and, of course RENT.
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
I play a lot of guitar, write/record music, and take my beautiful little dog for walks.
What are you looking forward to for when theatres can reopen fully?
To potentially have a job again and to watch all of my mates kill it every night in whatever shows they end up doing. I just can’t wait. In addition, this pandemic has allowed me to be really creative, and I’m VERY excited to see what new work comes out of it. All of those ideas that people have had but haven’t had time to execute. The mind boggles!
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