The opportunities you turn down are just as important as the ones you seize

‘The opportunities you turn down are just as important as the ones you seize’ – President Bill Clinton

I spend a lot of time contemplating how making different decisions at cross roads in my life could have taken me down a dramatically different path. There are decisions that I have made that I have come to regret but it would be impossible to say that things would have turned out for the better.

Jim Carrey starred in a movie called the ‘Yes Man’ which was about a man who is unable to say no to anything that is asked of him. He ends up having to yes to things like giving people money and working the weekend at work, which in turn leads to a promotion for his perceived commitment to the job. I often wonder how life would be if you just said yes to everything and what experiences you would actually have. The closest that I have ever got to this is leaving the house without a plan and doing things on a whim. One Saturday we ended up seeing a lunchtime concert, adding drawings (not a skill of mine) to a big piece of art that was being created in a church and walking around parts of the City Centre that I had never been before.

I think we all self-censor our lives, set ourselves too many boundaries and in someways can stop living. It is very possible to be alive and breathing but just going from day to day without doing anything you enjoy. Working full time is massively draining and it takes so much mental and physical effort. I remember accepting a job where the pay was good but it was basically putting an end to my dream of working in the arts. In the end I had to leave because I just knew there was so much more out there for me. The biggest lesson that I ever learnt from working was how everyone is replaceable. My mentor in the job left and the company was never the same and a much worse place without them, but everything just keeps moving on. I was told never to put work first in my life and to enjoy it for everything it was worth but find what makes me happy. I believe you judge your achievements in a job not on your day to day activities but on what you did to personally make the company or guest experience better.

Pursue your dreams and never ever let someone tell you that you are not good enough. So many negative comments come from people’s own demons, own insecurities and own jealously. Be the person that you want to be and start today because tomorrow you could be just that much further down the line. It is never too late.


Taking the time

I really did go to a terrible school with bad teaching (with few shining exceptions) and terrible facilities. One of things that always both bemused and annoyed me was when an OFSTED inspection took place. No maintence work was done to our school all year but soon as the inspection was announced walls were painted, pupils work was suddenly displayed, signage was put up and uniform standards were monitored. The week after the inspection the usual drab standards returned.

When I worked for the Wales Millennium Centre maintenance work was always being carried out but due to the busy nature of the building it was always a losing battle. I was part of nine Royal visits and everytime a Royal came we would paint the route they would walk and make sure it was as imaculate as possible. You would also have every manager in the building on duty where as on a normal shift you would never see them (or expect to see them).

Pulling out the big guns or decorating for a special occasion is a normality of life in an institution. But on a personal level, we sometimes let ourselves live by varying standards.

I’m not talking about making sure your clothes are ironed and your kitchen is clean and tidy. I’m talking about always responding to situations in a way that reflects the person you are. We’ve all done things and said big things that we regretted but there are small things in life which are just as important as well.

On every given day we have a chance to make somebody’s life better. Working in the theatre there would be people who mistakenly turned up on the wrong day, month or even year for the show they were meant to see. If the person had missed the show, it may suprise you to find out that in cases of genuine misunderstanding several theatres across the country including WMC would try and accomodate audience members. There’s no official policy on this but there are managers who understand such a gesture can change a very upsetting experience to a suprisingly happy one. These small acts of kindness have a ripple effect.

When I was starting out in my career I would e-mail other artists an ask for advice or if we could support them at a concert. I don’t believe that I ever received a response in several cases. I never had a problem with a politely worded rejection email, but a wall of silence could be really soul destroying.

So now, whenever possible we try and answer every tweet and message and offer advice anytime we can. If we can get someone into a concert we are hosting then we will try and do that as well. Helping people is not a sign of weakness and can inspire people.

Kevin Costner at age of 22 found himself sitting across from Richard Burton on a plane. The now world-famous actor was filled with internal conflict about if acting was his true calling. When he saw Burton on that plane he approached Richard Burton who convinced Costner to do more than dabble in acting and go for it! This is another great example where Burton easilely could have said “please go sit back in your seat and leave me alone, that’s why I bought all these seats around me, so no one would talk to me”. Instead he inspired that young man to go and pursue his dream.

Be the change you want to see and always keep your standards high. Help cut someone a break anytime you can.

Learning the only way – first notes

One of the regrets of my childhood was not learning to play the piano. I did go for a few lessons but never kept it up. Ever since I can remember I have had melodies pop into my head and occasionally I would record them into my mobile phone or call my grandparents answerphone and sing them in and I cannot tell you how many laughs that caused when picking up voicemail messages.

My first experience of actual song writing was with a friend of mine Daniel Newman,  we sat with some lyrics that I had written and created a few songs that I can still remember some of to this day. I always wanted to be able to write down exactly what was in my head but I had no way to do this and it caused me a lot of frustration.

When I first met Laura she had a digital piano which was the very first time I had any kind of piano in the house. I used to walk up and play a random selection of notes on the piano and say ‘there is something in that!’ thinking I had struck something brilliant (believe me it wasn’t). Despite numerous offers from Laura to teach me, I found myself being a complete pest and just had to do things my own way. It took me just a year to learn to play and during the course of learning and the first melody I wrote was for ‘A Miner’s Song’. I don’t read music but I learnt to play chords which meant I had the tools to bring the melodies to life!

Eventually we bought a real piano and I never looked back. Today we have just part exchanged the piano for a baby grand piano which we have named ‘George’ after George Gershwin and we look forward to seeing what songs can be created on this piano. The lady who owned it cherished it and was a musician but sadly arthritis made it too difficult for her to play. I have always wanted a baby grand piano and we will look after it very well for her.

Myself and Laura write music in an unusual way – but it works for us and I think that is because of the fact that we are married and have a real understanding. Normally I write the basis of the melody and some of the lyrics from the outset. I will then hand over the song to her and she will pour some magic into it and embellish and alter some melodies, as well as comes up with an introduction and instrumental. We often then have a domestic as we both battle to alter or keep the parts we like. (Laura nearly always wins) and we then work on the song together again to finish it.

Sometimes people have a dream which seems impossible based on their circumstances, and for me that dream was to be a composer without being to play a note on the piano and having little musical training. I spent many hours of serious frustration literally shouting at myself for making mistakes on the piano.  I was determined with every piece of me to learn and see if I could actually write songs (will leave that one for you to judge) but I strongly believe that if you want something enough you can do it. It may not happen overnight but you will get there.

I was asked recently about somebody’s chances of making it in the industry. They were very talented but here is something that is true. Just by preserving and not stopping at the first hurdle you have out-done 99% of people because not very many find the guts to stick with their dream. Find what it is that makes you want to wake up in the morning and then do everything you can to reach for it. Always push yourself to be better. Ramin Karimloo is storming Broadway at the moment in Les Miserables and he has found his own way of playing Jean ValJean and in doing that unlocked some of the character that has not been seen before by audiences. It doesn’t matter what has been done before, you can sing to your own tune. To quote Ramin ‘you have nothing to prove, only to share’

Calling it in!

I often get asked what made me want to work in theatre and for me, it is the magic of the stage. From the audience perspective normally you will have seen some form of marketing surrounding the show and decided to book tickets. You arrive at the theatre and take your seat and are whisked away for a few hours to a place where your own troubles don’t exist. There is nothing better than that. 
What I particularly love about the theatre though is what it takes to make that experience. Going all the way back to the concept and then all the work that goes into writing, directing, producing the show. The hours and hours of rehearsals not only for the cast but the technical staff. Then you have the theatre and all the staff it has taken to market, sell tickets, manage the front of house experience. All of those elements and so many more go into making that perfect night for the audience. 
Working for a theatre can make you take it for granted. I remember going to see the original production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium with Michael Ball. I was completely captivated by how they made the car fly across the theatre. Years later when the show came on tour I had my chance to sit in the car and fly. I remembered back to how I wanted to know how the car worked and yet when I saw the brilliance of the most expensive piece of set ever created I discovered I would have prefered never to have found out as it took away the magic for me.
I remember seeing one production 17 times whilst working as part of the front of house team and I know many staff in London theatres will have seen shows hundreds if not thousands of times. From an actors perspective it can be very very repetitive if you don’t continue to push yourself, care about your own performance and what you are delivering to an audience. Some of our greatest performers get very, very angry at seeing other actors ‘calling in a performance’ which means just turning up and going through the motions on auto-pilot. There is nothing worse than turning up to a show and the performance being completely flat and uninspired. I have seen shows back to back nights and had a completely different experience. Tiredness and audience response makes a massive difference but I think everyone sadly will have been to a show and understand the experience I am writing about. 
I have stood by the side of the stage and seen casts who have been doing a show for over sixth months embrace each other every single night and wish each other well. Every single night each actor took the time to focus on giving their best performance. Sadly I have also seen casts who literally moan about having to go and do the performance seconds before curtain up. Of course being a performer is a job like any other and on a day to day level most people complain about their job no matter what they do. However; in this industry there are thousands of people who would die to get the chance of just performing once in a production. Keeping our standards high and ensuring we never lose track of why we started in the first place is all important.
From personal experience of performing or writing I am inspired at every concert by those incredible people who have bought tickets to allow us to perform and do what we truly love. To quote someone who inspired me the great tenor Mario Lanza ‘You should sing every song like it was your last on earth’ 

Working in the arts – the day job!


Working in the arts really does have massive ups and downs. You can be performing on stage in front of 2,000 people one night and literally the following day be back in your day job washing dishes to pay the bills.

So many people have messaged us about doubting their own talent, saying that they have given up on their dream because it can never happen and feeling like they have failed – an opinion exasperated by the fact they now have a very unglamorous day job.

The stereotype of the aspiring actress, working nights in a restaurant is well-known. What is less known is that many of today’s leading men and women have to take on such work in between shows. And it’s REALLY hard. The world of musical theatre is tough. Not helped by the fact many of the general public can’t appreciate that it is possible to be highly talented and work in Starbucks. The culture of Britain’s Got Talent has given the idea that such talent hanging around behind the counter of Gregg’s is a rarity and must be plucked out of obscurity. But it really is not. Amazing talent surrounds us every day and should never be underestimated.
For example in 2007, internationally acclaimed virtuoso violinist, Joshua Bell went and played in a D.C Metro Station. See for yourself how much interest people paid him: Money wise he earnt $32 for his 45 minute performance.

For four and half years I worked for the Wales Millennium Centre which is an incredible theatre in Wales. I have some very memorable times and something that I will never forget is the incredible talent that existed amongst the theatre staff. On any given night the front of house team alone consisted of writers, actors, singers, comedians and musicians. Some of who, have gone on to be very successful in their fields whilst others are waiting patiently for their next opportunity.

Every night whilst working as a Front of House Manager, part of my job was to go down to the stage and give clearance for the show to start. As I did that, I never felt so far away from my dream – being stood literally a few feet away from where the performance was taking place and yet having had no part in the creative process of that show.

All of us have had to or continue to hold down second jobs and pursue our dreams as and when we can – but this in no way makes anyone less talented. Luck has so much to do with it but hardwork gives you the best possible chance. Never ever doubt that you are good enough and give it everything you have. It is never to late and you can do it!