This year, Karl Lankester made her professional debut in RENT after two weeks of rehearsals, with the show being directed by Luke Sheppard and choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves, and she started her run when the show opened at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre on 6th August before closing in September. In 2017, Karl was a dancer at The BRIT Awards after being asked along with other students from Evolution Foundation College and she went on to train at Laine Theatre Arts, graduating during the pandemic, and performed in Bonnie and Clyde in her third year. We chatted to Karl about being in the cast of RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, being directed by Luke Sheppard for her professional debut and training at Laine Theatre Arts.
You’ve recently finished performing in RENT at Hope Mill Theatre for your professional debut, how was it booking your role and how much did you know about the show before auditioning?
Booking the role in RENT at the Hope Mill was an amazing experience, for a trans woman very early into my transition I found the audition process to be open and accepting of my personality and presentation while seeing the talent I had to offer to the production. I was placed in a cast and crew of immense talent and diversity in all spectrums of orientation and gender, this in itself aided in my journey to express my true self-identity and to now strive to push boundaries with my trans brothers and sisters, non binary and those in the LGBTQIA+ community be seen in our industry. This is exactly what our version of RENT proves, you can negotiate a show while continuing to be openly and honestly inclusive. I didn’t have a huge knowledge of the show before I started but I soon learned its deeper subjects are still prevalent today and to me it’s a perfect example of diversity within musical theatre.
What was it like rehearsing for the musical and how was your experience attending Gala Night?
Rehearsing for RENT was a dream, two weeks to put the whole show together as you can imagine was tight but with the amazing work of Luke Sheppard and Tom Jackson Greaves we put it together in record time and created something so special to the whole cast.
Gala Night felt surreal to me, feeling like I’d finally made it to my debut! With years of hard work it was a full circle moment and I was blessed to be able to share it with my unconditionally loving parents.
Do you have a favourite song from the show and how was it performing to a live audience?
My favourite song from the show would certainly be Seasons of Love reprise. It is one of those songs that captures the audience and is emotional to perform. It was fantastic to perform live again. With the industry being so quiet for so long, the audiences were excited to watch us and the cast elated to perform to a full live audience. It really made the show electric!
Can you tell us what it was like being directed by Luke Sheppard for your professional debut?
Luke Sheppard is a talented and creative director, in some cases we worked through many versions of scenes until we found the perfect fit with the right intentions. He also listens massively to the creative ideas of the cast and other creative team members, how they thought scenes should go. This really gave a feeling that the whole group had created this marvellous production. I’m excited for possible future projects working with Luke, he’s an extremely talented director and made me feel welcomed and accepted in the cast.
What was it like working with the rest of the cast and performing at Hope Mill Theatre?
Every single member of the cast brought their own individuality and immense talent to this show. We all learned so much from each other bringing our own lived experiences to the table. I feel we created a family feel with this production and I personally haven’t seen anything like it before. The show had an authentic and sincere energy within it and I truly believe it was down to our genuine connections within the cast translating into RENT.
The Hope Mill Theatre could not have been a better venue for this version of RENT, its aesthetic worked perfectly for RENT’s vibe and is an intimate venue which pulls the audience into the show aiding with the show’s intensity. Joe and Will, owners of the Hope Mill Theatre, have created a beautiful space to work in. I personally loved every minute working there.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from your time in the musical and what will you miss most about being in the production?
A stand-out highlight for me would be getting to perform for the first time as my completely authentic self every single night, I was portraying a 100% strong, independent, gorgeous woman. It was a heartwarming experience. I will miss performing with my immensely talented cast and work colleagues. We created a family while we were performing, so I will miss seeing them on and off stage.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at Laine Theatre Arts and what was it like graduating during the pandemic?
The main points that encouraged me to train at Laine were its emphasis on discipline, time management, structure and working in all areas of dance, acting and singing, which for me had been a big part of my prior training at Evolution Foundation College.
It was certainly a change going from in person training to online training for my final years, however, I personally found it a blessing in disguise. It allowed me time to manage my college graduation, transition and gender dysphoria and my own mental health in a controlled environment, which was the fiancé and my VERY small flat, without the pressure that in person training has.
In your third year of training, you performed in Bonnie and Clyde, how was this?
Bonnie and Clyde was a wonderful experience, directed by Steven Paling and Craig Adams. Steven is also my agent now. I was very early in my transition and still very unsure of how to perform, Steven and Craig both worked with me creating a safe space for all including myself and encouraged me to be myself. A memory both me and Steven share and reminisce over is, within the process there was a day I wore a skirt for the first time and that was a tribute to how safe and supported I felt.
We, of course, created a great rendition of Bonnie and Clyde but I took a lot more from the creative process than just the show. I feel for many it was the same.
Had you always wanted a career in theatre and where does your love of performing come from?
I have always wanted a career in theatre. As a toddler I’ve been told I would never keep still when music was on and then of course I found my voice and you couldn’t shut me up! At the age of six, I started dance classes at the local lessons which swiftly turned into attending lessons at the Linda Shipton School of Dance doing ballet, modern, tap and the occasional jazz class and then onto joining the Co-op Junior Theatre Company to which I performed for twelve years with them until I left to attend theatre school. I gained a wealth of experience and knowledge from my childhood and it all aided in me getting to where I am today. In essence I was born with my love for the arts.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
Some of my favourite shows include SIX, Les Misérables, Billy Elliot, Hairspray, Wicked, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Lion King, MAMMA MIA! and the list goes on! However, I am in need of watching Dear Even Hansen, & Juliet, The Prince of Egypt, Moulin Rouge!, The Book of Mormon plus many, many more!
Have you been given any advice over the years that has stuck with you and what advice would you give someone starting to train in the industry?
With hard work and dedication anything and all is possible but it is never more important than your mental wellbeing and a positive relationship with your mind and body.
In 2017, you performed as a dancer at The BRIT Awards, what was the experience like?
This was an opportunity I will never forget, I was asked with some others from my Foundation College to assist in backing Katy Perry in her Brit Awards performance. I believe we spent five days rehearsing to learn the choreography and then went LIVE with Katy Perry. Working with Katy was great. She was very polite and kind. I was definitely very nervous on the night because it was live, however, to my recollection it went fairly smoothly and we all had a great time.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I love to take trips to the countryside and go on lots of hikes. It’s great to get away from the hustle and bustle and take time to relax. Of course, most of my self care time is spent like most, in baggy clothes watching a cheeky Netflix show and eating food we shouldn’t but I also like to attend yoga and meditation regularly to keep myself spiritually grounded, I find it helps with the management of my mental health.
What are you hoping the coming year brings for your career?
I hope to work in more shows and get more opportunities to continue to break down stigma around the trans community and aid in creating more opportunities for other trans performers while also inspiring others to do the same. I hope in the coming years it brings me success and more confidence in my true self-identity.
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This is such a beautiful heart warming interview from such a wonderful soul, eloquently written and from the heart. I hope this does indeed help others who struggle with any issues to find the courage and strength to always be who they were born to be. Thankyou always for being so open and true. May this world bless you .