Before the pandemic closed theatres and cruises, Annie Winstanley had been performing with Headliners Theatre Company for P&O Cruises, which marked her cruise debut, and at the end of last year, she was part of one of the only pantomimes to perform in the UK when she joined the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. Annie has worked with WinterWorks Productions on a number of occasions, including as Janet in The Rocky Horror Show and as a featured dancer in Sky One’s Brassic. In 2017, Annie received Alesha Dixon’s Golden Buzzer when she performed with her dance group on Britain’s Got Talent, ultimately making the finals, and she has since performed on the MOVE IT Main Stage with Dane Bates Collective Dance Company. Answering our questions, Annie spoke about her time performing with P&O Cruises, returning to stage for Jack and the Beanstalk and receiving Alesha Dixon’s Golden Buzzer on Britain’s Got Talent.
Before the pandemic, you were part of P&O Cruises – Headliners Theatre Company, what was this like to do?
So, I graduated in 2019 from Phil Winston’s TheatreWorks in Blackpool, and after graduating straight away I started auditioning for jobs. I always wanted to do a cruise ship first, as I was only nineteen when I graduated so I thought it was a great way to travel, save and perform at the same time. Luckily I got offered several ships with different companies but after working with my agent and deciding which was best for me I went with Headliners Theatre Company on P&O Cruises.
Working for Headliners was amazing, when I was younger I would go on cruises for holidays and I always remember watching the company saying, ‘wow, I want to do that,’ and with being able to do it, it was everything and more. Rehearsals were long and you learn seven shows (one show per week) and have to remember them all by the end before you go on the ship. However, I loved it, and it was so rewarding finally performing them in front of an audience with such a talented cast and seeing the reaction from the audience. The shows on my ship were full out, but that’s how I like it!
How did you find the experience of working on a cruise for the first time?
Well, originally I was meant to be on the ship for ten months, but obviously we only got two months on the ship due to COVID. However, the time I got on the ship was amazing. Installing the shows was full on, as you had a few days to install the shows on the stage and then perform them and then move onto the next. So at first you don’t get much chance to do anything else apart from rehearse rehearse rehearse, but it’s just amazing doing what you love. The cabins are very small and I took way too many clothes which I couldn’t fit in my cabin, but you make them homely, and my roomie was the best. Waking up in different places was incredible and we had days where we could explore these beautiful places but as we left the ship early we didn’t get the chance to see many places. Overall, performing on a cruise ship was great, and I was so thankful to have an amazing cast.
Last year, you returned to performing in Jack and the Beanstalk, what was it like returning to live shows?
YES! So after the year we had in 2020, I was lucky enough to get back on the stage over Christmas for Shone Productions with Jack and the Beanstalk. We rehearsed for one week and then went to the theatre. Honestly, stepping onto the stage for the first time was emotional. We all felt it, after the theatres being shut for a year, it just felt amazing. Unfortunately we couldn’t have a full audience due to social distancing, so lots of the chairs had covers on them, but it didn’t matter. I was just glad to be back performing to a live audience with such a talented cast! I think there was only something like five pantomimes happening in the whole country, and we were one of them! Pretty amazing!
What do you enjoy most about working in pantomimes?
I have done several pantomimes over the years, from when I was eight years old performing at the Liverpool Empire alongside Cilla Black, Les Dennis and Jennifer Ellison, this was my second professional contract and since then I fell in love with pantos. They are just such feel good, high energy shows. I always meet the most amazing people doing pantos who are friends for life, you always have such a laugh and seeing the audience getting involved and just smiling all the way through – it’s magical.
You were a dancer at the 80’s Festival with Martin Kemp, can you tell us about this?
This was fun! Getting to dance for several 80’s stars on stage was great. We just improvised on stage getting the audience involved, and getting to meet everyone was great! He is super lovely.
What is it like working with WinterWorks Productions on stage shows such as The Rocky Horror Show?
WinterWorks are a great company. They do so many different types of shows all across the country. I have done several Rocky Horror Tribute shows playing the role of Janet, which is so much fun. She is such a great character to play and even though dancing is my forte, having to sing Janet’s songs is a ball. I have had so many laughs with this show as you never know what type of audience you are going to get. Performing it at Milton Keynes Pride was fun as the audience were all dressed up and just loving it.
What was Brassic like to film and how did you find the experience on set?
This was also with WinterWorks Entertainment, they provide such high standard of performers and opportunities. Filming Sky One’s Brassic as a featured dancer was such a fabulous experience. We got to know all of the main cast who were super lovely and watching them do what they do best was brilliant to watch behind the scenes. Michelle Keegan was so lovely and such a talent. Most of our filming was with her. It was very long days filming all day and sometimes through the night, but was great watching it back on TV.
You performed with Dane Bates Collective Dance Company on the MOVE IT Main Stage, how did you find the experience?
Dane is a great choreographer so it was a pleasure dancing his choreography on the Main Stage at MOVE IT. MOVE IT is a great huge dance convention, with top colleges and companies being showcased on the Main Stage. Along with many classes too, I also had the opportunity to assist Dane in his sold-out workshop which was a great opportunity.
For the performance we had many rehearsal days in Liverpool and London, and the finished piece was fantastic and, of course, FULL OUT!
In 2017, you entered Britain’s Got Talent and received Alesha Dixon’s Golden Buzzer, how did you find your time on the show?
This was the most amazing experience with unforgettable memories made. So, when we auditioned for BGT, there are so many rounds before being on TV, which most people don’t know. Usually for BGT, people get scouted, putting them straight in front of the judges but this was not us. We applied for an audition and queued like everyone else. We auditioned on one of the Manchester days along with thousands of others. Our first audition was just in front of a producer and they then gave us a ticket through to the next round which was on the same day. The next round was in front of a different producer who asked us questions and also filmed us. We didn’t think anything of it and thought we would never hear, but a few months later we got a call and from then we started rehearsing for the judges audition. We were all super nervous but once we got on stage, you kind of forget about all of the cameras and you are just in the moment. After we got the Golden Buzzer, we had many costume meetings, contract meetings and went to London more than I can remember. After the audition aired on TV we had the most viewed week which was millions of viewers and from there our social media blew up with so many supportive messages. In the live shows this was scary, we were very prepared for our semi-final but not so much for the final. We didn’t expect to get through. So when we did we were up till all hours making our routines up and only got costumes the morning of our final. It was such a great experience and I have memories to last me a lifetime, with endless opportunities.
After your appearance on BGT, you performed at CBBC Summer Social, what are some of your favourite memories from your time performing at this event?
This was such a fun weekend and we got to meet the most amazing people all because of BGT so we were forever grateful for that show for giving us the platform. This was a weekend festival aired on TV on CBBC and live with thousands in the audience. We had the pleasure of performing our own routines and got to speak to some of the audience members, but also got to perform on stage with Mackenzie Ziegler from Dance Moms, Johnny Orlando (American pop star), Bars and Melody (BGT) and Donel Mangena from The Voice. We also had many interviews with CBBC, and got to meet and take pictures with many people who came to watch us.
Where does your love of dance come from and is it something you always wanted to do professionally?
I have loved dance since I can remember, my mum always wanted to do dance when she was younger but never did, so I think that’s why she put me into it and I loved it straight away. When I was younger, I had a bubbly confident personality which helped me when on stage and in class and I think I have always just loved being on stage. I started dancing at the age of three and went to a couple of dance schools in Liverpool, but then we moved house and I found Hoylake School of Dance, I then trained here from six to sixteen. They taught me what I now know and I’m forever grateful for the training I received which really helped when I went on to further my training at the prestigious Phil Winston’s TheatreWorks. Here I matured as a dancer and performer and really worked on bettering myself as a triple threat, and they really prepared us for auditions in the big world of theatre. I think I have always wanted to perform professionally, it’s such a hard industry and you have got to LOVE it to be in it because it’s so cut throat. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
What dance style did you learn first and do you have a favourite dance style to perform?
I think the first class I did when I was three was Ballet, this is usually the first class most go to, but I was never going to be a Ballet dancer, firstly, I’m not the right shape for a Ballet dancer and secondly, I just love style and everything about Jazz. Ballet is so important though as it is the foundation of all styles. Jazz will always be my favourite style, I just love doing old style fosse Jazz as well as the more modern style. There is nothing better than a full out jazz routine.
Have you been given any advice from your time as a dancer so far that has stuck with you through your career?
Someone once said to me to trust the process, if it is meant to be then it’s meant to be and others’ success is not your failure, this has always stuck with me. I’m really bad for constantly comparing myself to others and thinking how come they get this and I don’t etc. During this lockdown I have had time to think, everyone has different paths, we are all on different roads but if someone else is successful in something, that doesn’t mean you are not going to be. Trust the timing and if you want something, you can get it.
What do you enjoy doing away from dance and how have you been keeping busy during lockdown and the pandemic?
I always love spending time with my friends and family, being around people you love, that make you laugh and smile is so important and I’m thankful to have so many amazing people in my life. I have really missed seeing my close family and friends as I’m sure everyone has. I also have many teaching qualifications so, during lockdown, I have taught at so many different dance schools and helped inspire and share my knowledge with the next generation. I really love teaching and choreographing and seeing students achieve things and perform my choreography is so rewarding. I have also been joining in so many dance classes. I just want to mention Lindsay (Atherton) and Alex (Christian) who created Magnetic Studios, which is a platform full of amazing classes with industry professionals. By doing these classes, I have had the chance to take so many classes with top choreographers and really got to know them. This is the one good thing that lockdown has done for me. I feel like I have improved with style and performance by doing all these incredible classes and can’t not mention the people who have inspired and kept me going during this hard time. To just name a few, thank you, Robbie McMillan, Jo Goodwin, Jane McMurtrie and also Bryan and Josh, who created the amazing Intensive, which was also another amazing platform to meet and train with the best of the best.
Do you have anything planned for when the industry is back up and running fully?
I just can’t wait to get back to auditions and hopefully get in the room and just keep getting myself known and out there as a performer. My dream is to do musicals and be in the West End so I’m just going to keep working hard and keep training and pushing so I can some day achieve this. My agent is constantly supporting me and I can’t thank him enough for putting up with my constant messages. I am always dreaming big and hopefully I will get there some day.
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