RISING stage star Isabel Canning (23) had just finished performing in Paris in her dream role when Covid-19 struck. The former Dinnington Comprehensive pupil landed her first professional role shortly after graduating from a prestigious theatre school last year. We caught up with her in lockdown.
Q: How did you first get into musical theatre? Do you have any memories of your first rehearsals, roles or performances?
I first got into musical theatre when I auditioned for the part of Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz with Dinnington Operatic Society when I was 12. Having danced from a young age and always enjoyed singing, this felt like the next step, as I just loved performing and being on stage. It was during these early years with Dinnington Operatic Society that I really learned about the world of musical theatre, putting on a full show, and the foundations of acting a part. I guess you could say this was the start of my journey and where I discovered my love for musical theatre.
Q: What part if any did you play in school productions? Were you nervous before curtain up or did you relish the spotlight?
When I was 15 my comprehensive school put on a production of We Will Rock You, where I played the part of Killer Queen. I was often a little nervous before curtain up, but as soon as I was on that stage I was absolutely in my element and just relished in singing my heart out and pretending to be someone else. (And when that character is a sassy, powerful ‘baddie’ who belts out Queen songs, it's hard not to feel pretty amazing!)
Q: What have been your most memorable shows at home and further afield?
I have so many wonderful memories of performing at home. Playing Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie in Dinnington was such a fun and incredible experience. I think this was the moment when I really thought I could pursue a career in musical theatre. When I was 17 I then moved a little further afield to broaden my horizons and joined the renowned youth theatrical company RTSA (Rotherham Teacher's Student Academy - now Rotherham Theatrical Student Academy) headed by the fabulous director-choreographer Dee Bennie-Marshall. Working with Dee was massively eye-opening, she inspired me in so many ways and the experiences with RTSA paved the way for me to audition for drama schools. A particular highlight would have to be playing Eva Peron in Evita when I was 18. I was so passionate about the part and researching the true story of Eva Peron, it was an incredibly emotional and rewarding experience.
In my second year of auditioning for drama schools, I was finally successful in getting a place at the prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London, as well as being very lucky to receive the Andrew Lloyd Webber Scholarship to fund my training there. Moving to London was a huge change, exciting and sometimes scary, but I knew it was where I wanted to be. The training at Mountview is intense and requires a lot of dedication and hard work. It not only enabled me to learn my craft and open up doors to a career in the arts, but it also shaped the person I am today, and will continue to influence me both on a personal level as well as in my work, well into the future.
Q: What roles have you performed recently, have you had any setbacks or big achievements?
Soon after graduating, I was very lucky to audition for and be given my first professional contract, covering the lead role of Fanny Brice in a production of Funny Girl (a dream role of mine!) to be produced at the beautiful Theatre Marigny in Paris. After five weeks of rehearsing in London and then in Paris, we performed from November 2019 to March 2020. Being the cover (understudy) for the lead role was incredibly challenging and came with a lot of responsibility and extra preparation. As the cover, I had to be confident and well-rehearsed in the lead role as well as performing my own part in the show (Emma, the maid), in order to be ready to go on and play Fanny should the lead actress (the fabulous Christina Bianco) be unable to perform. Luckily for me, for one of the shows during the run, I was given the opportunity to play the part. This was the most nerve-wracking and high-pressure moment I have ever faced, but all the work paid off and it was the most amazing experience I have had to date. My family were able to travel over to Paris and watch me lead the show - it really was a dream come true and is an achievement I am hugely proud of.
Q: Who have been your favourite people to work with over the years and who do you look up to?
Working with Stephen Mear on Funny Girl was inspiring. He has choreographed and directed so many amazing productions - I learnt so much seeing him at work and collaborating with him in the rehearsal room. Not only is he ridiculously talented, but he is also the loveliest person in the world and has a heart of gold! I am very grateful and proud to say I have worked with him.
Q: Coronavirus has caused huge disruption to the entertainment world. How are you coping with this and keeping morale up?
We were very lucky to have finished our show just before the lockdown. I know there are so many people whose work has unfortunately been cancelled and the future of which is uncertain. It has been a devastating time for everyone, and the theatre industry has been very hard hit. However, creatives are super passionate people and I have seen so many resources taken online during this time to inspire people to keep going. From classes in dance, fitness, singing, and acting, Q&As, pre-recorded and live-streamed theatre, it is amazing how the theatre industry has pulled together. Personally, I have been using this time as an opportunity to enjoy singing songs I don't usually sing, read books I've been meaning to read for a while, try a new hobby with painting, reconnect with friends and family, and just take this moment to be present and re-ground myself. The creative industries bring so much joy to so many people. It may be a while before the theatre is as it once was, but I have every confidence that when it does return, it will feel bigger, brighter and more electric than ever before.
Q: What are your hopes for your future career and what's next for you?
At the moment, the future seems more unknown than ever. However, I am looking at this as an exciting thing! No-one knows what's to come or where they'll be in a year or even ten years' time. There are lots of roles I'd love to play in the future, I only hope to continue working with wonderful people, inspiring others and making the world a better place through theatre and storytelling.
Q: What would be your message to someone who thinks they might like to be on the stage but isn't sure how to start.
It is very important to know that being an actor isn't easy - there can be lots of knock-backs and disappointments. But if performing and being on the stage is what you feel passionate about and makes you feel most alive, then my biggest piece of advice is to simply work hard and be yourself. Get as much experience as you can, listen to everybody's advice, but at the end of the day always stay true to yourself. Your uniqueness is what makes you special, and you should be proud of that.