At the end of last year, Blake Patrick Anderson was cast as Mark Cohen in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, with previews running at the end of October, and with theatres once again closing, the show was postponed and streamed online before being announced for a return later this year. Blake was part of HAIR in Concert at Turbine on the Jetty as Woof, once again during the pandemic, and before COVID closed theatres in March 2020, he was in the original London cast of Be More Chill at The Other Palace playing the role of Michael Mell in the UK premiere. Other roles for Blake have included playing Straight Dave in Closer to Heaven, having his first major role as Rusty in the 30th Anniversary of Starlight Express in Bochum and making his professional debut in Lucky Stiff at the Union Theatre. Answering our questions, Blake tells us about being part of RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, returning to live performances for HAIR in Concert and playing Michael Mell in the UK premiere of Be More Chill.
During the pandemic, you were cast to play Mark Cohen in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, how was it rehearsing for the role and playing the character?
In any normal circumstances, to have been cast as Mark in RENT would have been a dream come true. RENT is, and will always be, an iconic story that through the years find ways to remain relevant. For me, the most memorable part of this experience was being a part of such a beautifully diverse and inclusive cast (not to mention talented!). We worked so closely (not in a literal sense due to COVID, haha) and every single one of us allowed ourselves to be so vulnerably creative, at a time when we were all so blessed to be able to create. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and the social/political imbalances both in our story and in the real world, it certainly made all of the characters feel that much more real.
The show had opened for previews at the end of October, how had these gone and what were you looking forward to most for the run?
There were so many feelings during this time, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed with a sense of joy and sadness. A bittersweetness. To have even made it to previews was a blessing so getting the chance to perform this show, with this cast, even only a few times, was a gift. However we all knew that at any moment we may have to say goodbye. So although there was this worry hanging overhead, I think it made us all appreciate each and every moment to the fullest.
How was it returning to live theatre as Woof for HAIR in Concert at Turbine on the Jetty?
After such a year of uncertainty. I was absolutely over the moon to be making theatre during this time. I remember after our first performance the cast were all walking back to the theatre from the jetty together on what was like a summer evening from a movie and I had a beautiful sense of feeling young. I felt truly in the moment. A moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
What was it like being part of the cast and working on the production?
It sounds so cheesy, but in such a short space of time we all became so close, which just felt so perfect for HAIR. A real tribe. We learned the material in literally no time at all and we were all so stressed but we didn’t even care because at the same time we were all so excited and we had so much fun!
The London premiere of Be More Chill had opened at The Other Palace in February, can you tell us what it was like opening as Michael Mell before the pandemic closed theatres and the run was put on hold until further notice?
Michael Mell has my heart entirely! And until I am able to return to this show he will have it, haha. This show came for me at a time when I most needed it. I had no idea how much this show, this character and, most importantly, the fans of the show would bring me. The character of Michael resonates with so many young people and has had such a positive effect on queer young people especially. And to be a part of that means everything to me.
How was the experience as one of the original London cast members and being part of the UK premiere?
Originating a role I think is every actor’s dream. Although I have huge shoes to fill after George Salazar made waves with the character on and off of Broadway. This only inspired me more to truly make Michael my own whilst still continuing to carry the flame and staying true to this iconic role.
What were you enjoying most about the run and what are some of your favourite memories?
I made so many memories in such a short space of time. Meeting everybody on the first day was a really exciting one. It really was a show where we all had a lot of fun on stage and off.
What was it like playing Straight Dave in Closer to Heaven?
This was my first job back in the UK after Starlight Express! Again, this was a small, close cast and I love them all. It was summer time. I got to meet Pet Shop Boys which was incredible as I have listened to their music for forever. And it was an honour as a bisexual actor to play a bisexual role in a venue dedicated to telling queer stories.
You played Rusty in the 30th Anniversary of Starlight Express in Bochum, how did you find the experience?
Playing Rusty in Starlight Express will be an experience I will never forget. This was my first major role and was the most exhilarating learning experience for me. The job itself is so incredibly difficult but equally rewarding. I owe so much of my courage, self belief, and self discipline to this show. Learning how to skate and getting to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beautiful score every night was epic and I feel so lucky to have had this experience.
Can you tell us about some of your earlier roles you’ve performed?
Before Starlight Express I made my professional debut in Lucky Stiff at the Union Theatre. I played a very fabulously camp French waiter in the ensemble as well as a few other extroverted characters and I couldn’t have asked for a better first job. The show is hilarious and the music is so underrated. There was certainly a lot of improvising and we spent most nights trying not to laugh at each other onstage.
What do you enjoy about workshopping new productions?
What I love most about workshopping new productions is that nothing is considered to be a wrong answer at first and this process allows you to really explore yourself as an actor and to learn how you create your best work. Most of the productions I have worked on have had this feel during rehearsals and I am a huge fan of this way of working.
When did you get into acting and how did you start?
I think from a very young age, as young as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with telling stories. I love to share my imagination and I find so much joy in watching other people express their imaginations. So, like many others, I took as many opportunities as I could while growing up through school and then later in college to be creative.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career?
I would describe myself as incredibly introverted and when I’m not working I very much just enjoy spending time alone, or with my friends and family, enjoying the simple things in life. I have always loved music and I write a lot. Hopefully one day I’ll have the courage to share.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch?
This is always a hard question. I think I most love to see shows that I have friends in. It always fills me with pride.
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