“FINALLYYYY the day has come that I can say this… I got into drama school!!!!!” So read Louise Henry’s ecstatic Facebook announcement that she has been accepted for the fast-track diploma course at the Musical Theatre Academy (MTA), in London, from October.
Louise, you may recall, made her professional debut in December as “York’s very own” Louise Henry – in reality from Knaresborough – playing Snow White in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. From 30 auditionees, she had landed the part while working at the Hoxton North café bar in Royal Parade, Harrogate,
In the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, she secured her MTA place through a Zoom audition – “how bizarre,” she says – and now comes the challenge of raising the finance for her two years of musical theatre studies in Tottenham Green.
First, however, let 22-year-old Louise celebrate her good news. “Anyone who knows me will know this has been my dream forever,” she wrote at https://www.facebook.com/louise.henry.311/posts/.
“Some of the most vivid memories of my childhood are centred around shows and performing, the earliest being chosen to play Whoops A Daisy Angel in Year 1 – a role I played with absolute conviction, I’ll have you know.
“If I were to ask you what your wildest dream was, beyond all imagination, what would you say? Genuinely, what would it be? Mine would be to perform for a living. My heart is so happy on stage.”
Now, the bad news. “To attend this phenomenal school and receive the training I have long yearned for, I must fund the £32,000 fees with no government funding,” she revealed on Facebook.
“The MTA is not linked with a university and therefore I cannot apply for a student loan in the same way other courses can. Yes. I know. BUT, and humour me here, if every one of my 1,481 Facebook Friends generously donated £20 (or £21.70 to be precise), I would make the amount in full.”
Louise understands that such a proposal is “wishful thinking on my part”, but her Facebook post added: “However, if, by chance of incredible generosity, half, a third, or even a quarter, of said friends donated anything possible, I would be in a much more promising position to be able to attend this school.
“If people kindly donated even £1, I’m £1 closer! If you could share it to reach your friends and family further afield, my chances are immediately increased.”
CharlesHutchPress is delighted to spread the word, having enjoyed Louise’s performances in such York Stage Musicals roles as 16-year-old Liesl von Trapp in The Sound Of Music and 40-year-old Jane in Twilight Robbery, as well as a young Australian woman, Gabrielle York, in Rigmarole Theatre Company’s When The Rain Stops Falling last November.
Since then, there have been her dark-wigged Princess Snow White in pantoland and her latest York Stage outing as plucky, resolute but physically fragile Louisiana bride-to-be Shelby in Steel Magnolias in February.
“We are living in such strange, difficult times,” her Facebook open letter continued. “Everything is uncertain for everyone I know and the world is suffering every day. I’m hoping, by this point in the post, that you can appreciate that I simply have to continue as if we aren’t in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Please believe me, I wish I wasn’t asking for help at a time like this. I understand and agree that there are far more worthy and important causes but I feel I have to consider the potential of my future career.
“Of course, I have spent every minute since I received my offer considering how I could logistically, carefully and respectfully raise money under the current circumstances. But making sure I abide by the Government’s restrictions is leaving me with little I can offer by way of help in exchange.
“Saying this, if there really is anything – walking dogs with my gloves on, helping in the garden, an online singalong or bedtime story for your children – I will help in any way I can! Equally, if you have any suggestions, please send them my way! Once these restrictions are lifted and we are all much less at risk I will, of course, help in any way possible.”
Summing up her situation, Louise says: “I have to be optimistic in that I don’t know who’s hands/Facebook timeline the post might fall into. I’m doing all I can to make this dream a reality, and that means, for me personally, asking kindly for any help I can get.”
To assist Louise, go to gofundme.com/f/mta-musical-theatre-training.
Charles Hutchinson puts the questions to Louise Henry as she chases her acting dream and the means to secure that future
WHAT attracted you to MTA in particular? How long will you be studying there and what are your hopes and expectations with this course, Louise?
“MTA’s diploma is only a two-year course and so your training is intensified throughout this time.
“The school only accepts 22 students per year and, therefore, you’re in a very elite group of performers, and the contact time, as with many drama schools, is incredibly high at 40 hours per week.
“Equally, the course is split 50/50, 50 per cent focused on stage and 50 per cent on screen acting, which is always something I have wanted to study alongside musical theatre. Everything I read about MTA made me feel as though the course would fully prepare you to be a triple-threat musical theatre performer, but also be trained thoroughly as a screen actor.”
What steps did you have to go through to land a place at MTA?
“The audition process was obviously very different to that I’m used to: the lockdown implemented by the Government on the outbreak of Covid-19 meant that travelling to the audition would be impossible and potentially very dangerous.
“I soon received an email from Annemarie [Lewis Thomas], the school’s principal, who stated that the auditions would go ahead regardless and instead be held over Zoom, which I was actually very excited about as it would be a totally different experience!
“When the day came, I set up my laptop in my bedroom and had prepared the monologue and song I’d have taken to the audition anyway and from then on it was actually very simple!
“It felt much less daunting than actually being in the room, and I suppose if that translates through people’s auditions it would make the panel’s decision much easier in that it’s based off a very true and honest performance.
“We were even able to do some improv over Zoom with the other auditionees, which was such an interesting experience, led by their head of acting, Tilly Vosburgh, and a group vocal workshop with the head of voice, Josh Mathieson.
“They work very quickly there and so once I had sent in a dance audition – to a song of my choice – I heard back within about 24 hours actually! It was record timing and meant I didn’t spend two anxious weeks refreshing my emails – a feeling I’d grown used to over the past few years’ auditioning.”
Over the past year, you have done a variety of roles on the York stage – musicals, a pantomime, an Aussie play, an American play – showing an all-round talent. Why pick a musical theatre course?
“My first love has always been musical theatre and was initially what I wanted to study straight out of A-Levels. However, it felt as though my dance ability was always letting me down and so I spent a few years going to dance classes with Lyndsay Wells in Harrogate and instead chose to audition for a few years for straight acting. “That being said, singing and acting have always been my strong point and so musical theatre was always my preference.
“Working with Nik Briggs’s York Stage has been invaluable and being able to perform in a few predominantly acting roles has been a great opportunity to exercise that skill without relying on song and dance.
“Equally, working in the Grand Opera House pantomime over Christmas only intensified my drive to pursue musical theatre and so, on being recommended the MTA, I felt led to audition.”
What did you learn from making your professional debut in the 2019-2020 Grand Opera House pantomime?
“Performing in the pantomime was such a brilliant insight to the kind of life I could be working towards. Every day I would try to remind myself that actually soon it would be over and everyday life would assume, and in actual fact you don’t go through every day singing and dancing and dressing up!
“I constantly allowed myself to feel grateful for each performance and despite the intense hard work put into every show, I never tired of performing it. In fact, I really wish we could’ve had more shows somehow crammed into that mad month!
“It taught me that performances can be put together under your very nose and all of a sudden your show is ready and you’re opening. It also taught me that the illusion of a show is one of the most magical and fulfilling experiences for both the performer and the audience member.
“There was no better feeling than getting to the end of the show and being able to see our audiences dancing in the aisles and singing along with us. I’m just really grateful I had that experience and insight to what my life could be like – with a lot of hard work and luck obviously!”
How did it feel playing the title role in your professional debut in Snow White?
“Playing the title role was a little bit of a shellshock experience every day really; everyone else I was working with – even the incredible children playing the dwarves – had worked a panto run previously, so I was a total newbie.
“The cast and crew made me feel so welcome and I learnt so much from the friends I made. There was also something pretty lovely in that, because I wore the black wig, which was in total contrast to my hair at the time, very few people recognised me leaving the stage door. This was nice as it kind of protected the magic of the show for the kids who had come to watch.”
Did you pick up any good tips from the old pros in the company such as Vicki Michelle, Martin Daniels and Mark Little?
“Working so closely with Vicki, Martin and Mark was incredibly insightful and I got so many opportunities to chat with them about their experiences with performing and acting.
“Mark and I were interviewed by BBC Radio York at the same time and so we had a good chat that morning about his career and I spoke to him about how different things are now, in terms of getting into performing.
“Everyone was so encouraging and supportive, they were always spurring me on to try and keep working for this career. It was incredible watching the show being put together and acting with them was a real joy.”
How had your year gone before lockdown, on stage and off?
“Before lockdown, I was applying to any auditions I could find via the National Youth Theatre member’s board, having been a member since 2015 when I was lucky enough to be invited to attend their intensive summer-school course.
“I sent off applications for a film in which I was cast as an extra, so drove down to London to film for a couple of days in February. That was a fab experience and something I’d never done before.
“I auditioned to attend a workshop with Katie Greenall, a National Youth Theatre associate, and was asked to go down and work for three days on an idea of a performance she is devising.
“I had a couple of auditions and recalls for National Youth Theatre’s REP company, and throughout all the trips to and from London I was working on Steel Magnolias back in York with York Stage.
“This was probably my favourite show I’ve ever been involved with, from the incredible cast I was lucky enough to work with, to the direction and production of the play.
“I just feel so grateful that it came together and we could perform before this lockdown was implemented. So, actually, I had quite a busy few months!”
How are you coping with lockdown?
“Lockdown has been a little bizarre and definitely an adjustment. But I really do love a routine, so once I’d established my routine at home, I got comfortable very quickly! “I love exercise and training in different ways, so I’ve been training my family in ‘bootcamp’ sessions three times a week, then one big workout on a Sunday morning.
“I’ve been creating workouts for three friends separately and doing many Zoom dance classes and yoga sessions. It’s probably the most active I’ve ever been! “Alongside this, I’ve been trying to learn a new song each week, focusing on songs that I wouldn’t usually go for. I try and sing these when my family are out walking, so I don’t deafen them with a loud belt!
“Obviously, I had a lot of preparation for my audition and also was asked by Nik [Briggs] at York Stage to get involved with his Songs From The Settee, singing Doctor’s Orders from Catch Me If You Can.
“I’m really glad to have the offer from MTA, so it feels like I have something to work towards once this is all over.”
What would going to MTA mean to you after all the work you have put in already to develop your skills?
“I’m not going to lie… it’s been a long few years, auditioning to train at drama school, and it has always felt really gutting to have not secured a place despite usually getting to final recalls.
“Every time you feel so close and then can’t help but wonder what it is you were lacking? Or if they already have ‘x’ amount of 5’6 females with brunette hair? You hear that it can be down to issues that small, and it becomes really frustrating trying to pinpoint what it was about you that they didn’t want.
“So, this year, to finally secure a place, in the middle of so much uncertainty, I really feel overwhelmed by it! I know it is so clichéd but this is really my one dream to try and achieve making a career of performing, so the place at MTA, I believe, is the first step towards that dream becoming reality.
“I can’t put into words what it was like finally seeing ‘we are delighted to inform you…’ on my acceptance email. I ran downstairs screaming; I feel bad for my neighbours!”
It may be an obvious question, but what makes you want to be an actor?
“Not at all an obvious question as I have absolutely had moments over the years of ‘oh god, why am I doing this?’. ‘Why am I putting myself through this?’. But quite simply, there’s no better feeling to me than being on stage and performing.
“I don’t know how I can describe this concisely, but there’s a feeling I get when I’m taking my bow or at the end of a run or in the ‘big bit’ of a song and it’s just like you’ve won the marathon or the lottery or you’re reunited with someone, and your whole chest is just full and you feel like you might just ‘Mary Poppins’ it at any second and take off.
“And that feeling to me makes everything else worth it. It’s massive lows but MASSIVE highs and for some peculiar reason the highs make you forget all the lows.
“It’s all I could ever see myself doing, and I would regret it forever if I didn’t throw myself at it and give it everything I have.”
Grim question: If you can’t get the money together, what happens to your plans to go to MTA?
“Interesting. I suppose I can’t really answer this, as that simply isn’t an option for me. I will, and am, doing everything I possibly can, given the current circumstances, and I truly believe I will make this work.
“To me, there is really no alternative: this training is all I have longed for over the past four years. Obviously, so far, I have received some wonderful and incredibly generous help from friends and family, and alongside that I’m saving every penny and plan to work alongside my course.”
“I plan on creating a series of videos, mini-performances of songs or spoken word to post online hopefully for the viewer’s enjoyment – which might encourage people to donate whatever they can.
“The payments are termly and so that breaks down the sum, and I’m incredibly lucky as the MTA are very keen on not letting money be an issue between you attending the course.
“As I said, they choose only 22 students per year and so they have spent a lot of time in selecting who they truly want to train. Not only is this a real honour to have been offered a place, but it also reassures me that the school wants me there. There’s no better feeling after working so hard over the years.”