From Saturday lie in to curtain up in six hours: the tremendous tale of how Centre Stager Trudi Camilleri turned professional overnight!
“This has been the most surreal, crazy and fabulous experience of my life.
“If you’d have told me in the summer that I’d be about to start rehearsals for a West End show with the actor who played Michael Carrington in Grease 2, well, the 10- year-old me would have squealed with delight and the adult me would have thought it was a hoax!”
2016 has been unexpected for many of us in more ways than one. And none more so than for Trudi Camilleri as she reflects on the events of the past six months.
Earlier this year, Trudi was juggling her role as a co-ordinator of adult education courses with performances of Ragtime, a collaboration between the Bishopsgate Institute and Centre Stage, as part of the charity’s 50th anniversary year. But a series of chance happenings led to this year being a ‘rollercoaster ride of adrenaline’ for the bubbly Australian when given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reprise her Ragtime role on the West End stage.
A trained opera singer, Trudi performed on the professional circuit before leaving her native Australia for London and the stability of ‘paying the bills with a proper job’. But the love of performing remained and once in the UK, Trudi retrained to adapt her style and threw herself into singing musical theatre as a hobby.
Bishopsgate Institute and Centre Stage's production of Ragtime, recently nominated for several gongs including Best Fringe Musical for the Broadway World UK awards, was a huge success and, playing the role of Mother, Trudi relished her time with the ‘very talented’ creative team and cast – ‘the RagTeam’.
But in November, just a few months after the show ended, Trudi’s life took an unexpected turn.
“It was a regular Saturday morning and when my phone rang I just thought ‘who’s calling at this time?’. The next thing I know, my acquaintance Danielle, who was producing a professional production of Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre, says ‘the actress playing Mother is unwell, I don’t want to cancel the show and I’ve got a crazy idea for you!’.
I just said yes. I said yes before my brain kicked in. Ok, yes! Go!”
With Danielle’s words of encouragement – ‘you can do this, you can do this!’ – flying around her head, Trudi put down the phone at 0930, arrived at the theatre at 1130 and performed her first matinee at 1500, just six hours after accepting the challenge.
“The team at Charing Cross was amazing. They walked me through the show and around the scenery, advising me which parts of the set and stairs would be moving so I wouldn’t hurt myself!”
Before the performance, producer Danielle Tarento announced to the audience that Mother was ill and how she called Trudi only that morning. “Believe me, you won’t know she’s not done this before”, she said “You’re not getting the understudy – Trudi didn’t know she was going to be here.”
Only expecting to perform in two shows – the matinee and evening – Trudi celebrated with champagne in the bar with the cast and friends. Before being called on Monday and invited to do a further 6 shows…
Trudi says hearing Danielle announce her name was ‘mind blowing’ and that the adrenaline was pumping as she stepped onto the stage for the first time. Excited and nervous, she was keen to ‘get the job done’ and the ‘supportive and generous audience’ included half a dozen of her original RagTeam.
“If I’d had time to think about it, I would’ve been more nervous and don’t know how I would’ve coped. Having only a few hours from phone call to stage turned out to be a helpful thing. It was surreal and exciting.”
With hardly any time to prepare, Trudi appeared on stage with script in hand. Whilst providing her with reassurance, this also proved tricky:
“All the music was still in my head because Ben Ferguson, our MD at the Bishopsgate Institute, had drilled me so well and made it part of me. I knew the music wouldn’t be an issue but the lines were harder.
“I was off book by the end of the run but for the first few performances, it was incredibly difficult. You try climbing onto a piano in a floor length dress with a baby in one arm and a script in the other! Or on stairs that are moving!
“I was battered and bruised by the end but the people on stage were so generous to me. The boy who played my son was fabulous to work with. I’d walk upstage the wrong way and he’d grab my hand as if to say ‘come on mum, we need to walk up here’. I told the other actors to physically move me if I got in their way but they were so supportive. ‘Keep going, you’re doing so well’, they told me.”
Now, eight performances later, Trudi has been reflecting on how professional experience and her time in amateur theatre.
“I said to people after the first Ragtime – I understand this woman, I need to play this role again. So to get the chance to play the role again and interact with other actors, to find new nuances and find a really fresh feel was exciting. I got a creative buzz which was fabulous and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s been part of both productions for that.”
“But whether you’re performing in am dram or a professional company, it all comes back to the show. It comes back to giving everything you can, in whatever capacity.
People are coming to see you do a show and you need to do your best in any instance and enjoy what you do.
“We have busy lives and you give up your spare time to do what you love. We’ve all had a rehearsal when it’s hard to learn the dance steps - ‘my feet don’t do that!’ -, when you’re struggling with keeping a harmony line in your head – but amateur theatre is such good fun, provides such a good grounding and I’ve met some wonderful people.”
After her professional appearance, Trudi was invited to audition – and secured – a role in Death takes a holiday with actor Maxwell Caulfield from cult-hit Grease 2.
“It might seem like this happened overnight but it’s taken 20 years to get here. I got another audition, agents are interested, it’s amazing. I’m very lucky that a person happened to be in the audience who happened to need someone, who happened to think that I might be able to do it. They took a chance on me and I’m ridiculously grateful for that.
“I said I wasn’t done with the role and wasn’t done with the show and now it’s completely changed my life. Thank you to everyone who was involved in the original Ragtime for giving me the start of an amazing opportunity. This has been a fantastic end to the year.”
Trudi Camilleri in Charing Cross Theatre's 2016 production of Ragtime
To vote for Bishopsgate Institute and Centre Stage's production of Ragtime in the 2016 BroadwayWorld UK / West End Awards click here!
The production has been nominated for the following awards:
Best Fringe Show