Ellen Jackson: From Motherhood to 12,000 Performances of Phantom of the Opera

Ellen Jackson: From Motherhood to 12,000 Performances of Phantom of the Opera

Ellen Jackson: From Motherhood to 12,000 Performances of Phantom of the Opera

Five Minute Call - S01E08 - Episode Summary

In this captivating episode of the Five Minute Call podcast, hosts Oren and Claire sit down with the incredibly talented Ellen Jackson, a veteran of the performing arts world. With a career spanning over three decades, Ellen shares her fascinating journey from her early days in Scottish Opera to her record-breaking run in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera. Throughout the interview, Ellen offers intimate insights into her life as a performer, revealing the challenges and triumphs she experienced along the way.

Ellen Jackson's story is one of dedication, resilience, and a deep love for her craft. From her humble beginnings singing in church choirs and local competitions in Scotland to her time at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, Ellen's passion for singing has been the driving force behind her success. She candidly discusses her transition from opera to musical theatre, highlighting the valuable lessons she learned while working on productions such as Les Misérables, Chess, and Fiddler on the Roof. Ellen's anecdotes about working with renowned directors and performers, including Hal Prince, Gillian Lynne, and Mandy Patinkin, provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of professional theatre.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Ellen Jackson's story is her unwavering commitment to her roles, particularly her astonishing 26-year tenure in The Phantom of the Opera. Ellen shares her experiences of maintaining her voice and performance quality over such a long run, offering valuable advice for aspiring performers. She also touches on the challenges of balancing motherhood with her career and the impact of vocal changes as she aged. Throughout the interview, Ellen's humility, grace, and humor shine through, making her story both relatable and inspiring. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in the performing arts, as well as those seeking motivation to pursue their passions with dedication and resilience.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ellen: How many performances did I do in Phantom? Did I do 12, 000? Something like that. Wow. [00:00:05] It was something incredible and I never thought I would be able to do that. [00:00:10] I found I was expecting my son. Of course that changed everything. [00:00:15] My agent said, Roger Redfans asked you to come down and audition for Fiddler on the Roof, [00:00:20] which I'd done with Scottish Opera.

[00:00:21] Ellen: So when my son was ten weeks old.

[00:00:23] Claire: Ten weeks?

[00:00:24] Ellen: Ten [00:00:25] weeks old, I packed up a car, With buggies and [00:00:30] microwave and pram and my mother and father and we all tottered [00:00:35] off with the baby down to, uh, to Plymouth. I loved singing, it was part of me, you know. [00:00:40] And it came, I just, it was as natural as breathing. Now I've [00:00:45] been in the show at this point for 26 years and the tears were rolling down my cheeks at [00:00:50] the final layer.

[00:00:52] Ellen: And I just thought, wow, wow, you [00:00:55] can still move me.

[00:00:59] Oren: [00:01:00] Hello and welcome to the five minute call This is a podcast where we take a deep dive into the [00:01:05] stories of the people that make theater happen this week We are talking to Ellen Jackson [00:01:10] who has had an incredible three decade over three decades in the performing arts [00:01:15] And she has worked on the West End.

[00:01:17] Oren: She has toured all around the UK and [00:01:20] internationally Ellen has worked on productions like chess sound of music fiddler on the roof [00:01:25] lame is and Phantom of the Opera

[00:01:27] Claire: Ellen, we're all about people's stories here [00:01:30] and how they came to be in the theatre industry. Will you tell us about

[00:01:34] Ellen: your story? [00:01:35] Well, as far back as I can remember, I loved to sing.

[00:01:38] Ellen: And, from [00:01:40] apparently the age of two and a half, I was singing at my aunt's wedding. And, uh, a wee song. [00:01:45] And I knew all the words and people at the wedding couldn't believe that this [00:01:50] child, at two and a half, was able to sing this song. And, uh, I [00:01:55] just, as I say, I loved singing. It was part of me, you know. And it came, I just, it [00:02:00] was as natural as breathing.

[00:02:01] Ellen: And I think you have to love it. If you want to make a career [00:02:05] in it. But, um, From then, I would go [00:02:10] to visit my granny and one of the neighbours liked me to come over and sing for her. [00:02:15] I think I was about five then. And of course I would come out with pockets full of sweeties. [00:02:20] And my mother was no too pleased with that.

[00:02:24] Ellen: Teeth. [00:02:25] Sweeties and pennies and you know, which I loved. And [00:02:30] um, The, the area I came from in Scotland, it [00:02:35] was in the industrial belt, you know, in the Central Belt Scotland, [00:02:40] and a lot of the people who lived here had come over from Ireland. I'm actually of Irish [00:02:45] descent, even though I was born in Scotland, in Motherwell.

[00:02:48] Ellen: Um, as I say, a [00:02:50] lot of the people had come over from Ireland, and so there was that singing, uh, [00:02:55] background. Everybody sang. You know, and, uh, [00:03:00] and I sang in the church, in the church choir from a wee girl, and [00:03:05] we sang at school as well, you know, um, we sang hymns in school, [00:03:10] and there was a great focus in music when I think about it, even in primary school.[00:03:15]

[00:03:15] Ellen: And of course there was the youth clubs, and from there came the [00:03:20] choirs, as I say, I was a churchgoer, and, uh, I was brought up a [00:03:25] Catholic, and, um, Yeah, I sang in the choirs. [00:03:30] And when I was around about ten or eleven, the priest, the [00:03:35] local priest, he was very much, he loved, you know, performing and, [00:03:40] and having wee concerts and things like that.

[00:03:42] Ellen: And he set up a, a [00:03:45] concert party of the Sound of Music. And we toured around Scotland. [00:03:50] I was a brigitte in that, brigitte. So that was great fun. [00:03:55] And, uh, I remember going to secondary [00:04:00] school and it was when I was there that a teacher heard me sing in the class [00:04:05] and he asked me if I would join his choir. Uh, so that was the beginning of that, [00:04:10] of that period.

[00:04:11] Ellen: And I, he entered me for lots of [00:04:15] musical festivals. Um, and uh, [00:04:20] Which I won mainly. Well, you know, I won mainly at the wee music festivals. [00:04:25] And, uh, I did them in Glasgow and Blackpool. I [00:04:30] won a Kathleen Ferrier. Rose Bowl and Blackpool. I was about [00:04:35] 15 I think. Um, but I still hadn't really thought of a career in [00:04:40] singing.

[00:04:40] Claire: I was just going to ask you that. Was it still just,

[00:04:43] Ellen: you were just enjoying yourself? I was, [00:04:45] I was enjoying, but I had singing lessons from an early age. Okay. I did have singing lessons from [00:04:50] about the age of 13. I think I was 13. I'd travel every Saturday to my singing teacher [00:04:55] and I was singing things like Vojkicepete at that age.

[00:04:58] Ellen: I think I had quite a mature voice. [00:05:00] Um, but she was a wonderful teacher. She didn't push me too much and she [00:05:05] herself was a very good singer. And also around about that time I started taking an [00:05:10] interest in people like Deanna Durbin. I loved Deanna Durbin, [00:05:15] her films and, uh, You know, I would, I would [00:05:20] sing along with, I would get records from the library and I would sing [00:05:25] along with things like Mozart, Hallelujah and, you know, I just, I just sang along with [00:05:30] her.

[00:05:30] Ellen: So, actually I think that was before I went to singing lessons and also then I started to [00:05:35] enjoy Joan Sutherland. So these were my sort of go to [00:05:40] people for.

[00:05:40] Claire: Were your family musical? Were they listening to these things as well? Yeah.

[00:05:44] Ellen: No, but [00:05:45] my mother and father, not so much my father, but her sister, we, [00:05:50] they all sang.

[00:05:51] Ellen: And I had an uncle who was apparently a very good singer. My father was not a good [00:05:55] singer either. You know, that Irish Catholic, you know, church going [00:06:00] background. We'd just all sing. You know, you'd go to your grandmother's at night [00:06:05] and, you know, they would have a sing song or whatever and they were good. I mean, [00:06:10] these people were good and there were a lot of people in the community who were good singers as well, you know.

[00:06:14] Ellen: So, as I say, it [00:06:15] was part of life. But at that point, I, I hadn't [00:06:20] really thought of a career in music.

[00:06:23] Claire: When did that come? [00:06:25]

[00:06:25] Ellen: Well, actually, when I left school, I became a civil servant for a [00:06:30] year. Um, and [00:06:35] after about a year of that, I thought, I don't know. It was very difficult because [00:06:40] it was in quite a poverty stricken area of Glasgow.

[00:06:43] Ellen: And I found it quite difficult [00:06:45] because I couldn't barely see the claimants not getting paid or whatever. I took the stories home with me, [00:06:50] you know. And round about that time, I thought, I don't know. I started to think, oh, [00:06:55] you know, maybe I should try and go, go into the audition for the Royal Scottish [00:07:00] Academy of Music.

[00:07:00] Ellen: But I wasn't the most confident of people, you know. It didn't matter [00:07:05] how good you said I was. I don't know that I really believed it, you know. [00:07:10] Um, I don't know where that came from. But I [00:07:15] don't know that I did. Anyway, I auditioned for, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music. I was 19, [00:07:20] 18, 19 at the time. And at that time I was singing, um, [00:07:25] the Merry Widow, the role of the Merry Widow in a festival [00:07:30] in Ireland.

[00:07:31] Ellen: And I won the Best Female Voice, maybe that was what triggered [00:07:35] it, I don't know, Best Female Voice Award. And I had sung Giannetta and the Gondoliers there [00:07:40] the year before. But anyway, I went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music [00:07:45] and, um, Uh, The background I came from [00:07:50] was working class. My father was a steel worker and um, [00:07:55] I remember when I went into the academy that first day, everybody seemed larger than life.

[00:07:59] Ellen: [00:08:00] All these big personalities and I certainly wasn't a shrinking violet, but I kind [00:08:05] of went into my shell a wee bit and As I was saying to you earlier, [00:08:10] it took me six months to walk into the buffet just to be part I know, [00:08:15] I know. And it wasn't that people weren't welcoming. This was my [00:08:20] perception of reality, as it were.

[00:08:21] Ellen: That I wasn't posh enough, didn't speak [00:08:25] well enough, my accent wasn't plummy enough. I don't know what I was thinking. I [00:08:30] wouldn't be like that now. I would just be like, take me or leave me. You [00:08:35] know, I am who I am.

[00:08:37] Claire: Anyway. Were [00:08:40] you the only person with that kind of background? Probably

[00:08:44] Ellen: not. I've made [00:08:45] that up in my head, I think.

[00:08:46] Ellen: No, I don't think I was the only person at all. But it was [00:08:50] very different then to now because, um, they, you know, these days, [00:08:55] musical, I don't know so much about the academy here in London, but music colleges, they [00:09:00] only chose two or three people in a year, you know. It was quite an [00:09:05] intensive course, you know.

[00:09:06] Ellen: We had three one to one singing lessons a week. We [00:09:10] did, uh, languages. We did movement, uh, piano [00:09:15] lessons. I hadn't started playing piano till I auditioned for for the academy because you had to have [00:09:20] a second study. So I very quickly got up, I can't remember what it was, I think it was [00:09:25] full release or something, and I still can't play the piano to this day, which, [00:09:30] which is a pity I think as a singer.

[00:09:32] Ellen: And if I had it to do, [00:09:35] yeah, if I was advising a young singer, I would say, learn the piano. [00:09:40] I really would. I think it's great because it helps you to learn things, you know. Not [00:09:45] dependent. You're not dependent on anyone, no. Um, so anyway, while I was [00:09:50] there, eventually I would get in the buffet and I ended up doing [00:09:55] most of the major roles in the operas, you know, uh, [00:10:00] Susanna and the Marriage of Figaro.

[00:10:02] Ellen: And they had wanted me to do the contest, I [00:10:05] think. I can't remember. But my singing teacher felt that it was great. At my age it was better to do [00:10:10] Susanna. And, uh, I did Despina. He was very careful with my voice. [00:10:15] And, uh, I did Despina in Così fan tutte, something in [00:10:20] Dido. So, you know, I got a lot of experience there.

[00:10:22] Ellen: And they were fantastic years. I loved my college years. [00:10:25] I was there for four years. Did the performers course.

[00:10:29] Claire: And [00:10:30] exclusively classical music?

[00:10:31] Ellen: It was exclusively classical, but I was [00:10:35] actually in my spare time. Before I went to [00:10:40] college I did sing with a group and we toured round the clubs. So I was singing ballads [00:10:45] with this, with this group.

[00:10:47] Ellen: Um, there was two men, [00:10:50] three men I think it was, and me. And I would sing things like, I'm trying to think what I would [00:10:55] sing. Um, um, I think you would call them legit ballads.

[00:10:59] Background: Yeah,

[00:10:59] Ellen: [00:11:00] sure. So I did do that as well. And when I was at the, [00:11:05] my circumstances at the time, I had got engaged at the age of 18. [00:11:10] I was engaged and uh, so my circumstances at [00:11:15] the time dictated sort of that I stayed in Scotland [00:11:20] and when I graduated from college a lot of the teachers were [00:11:25] suggesting, my own teacher as well, were suggesting go to London.

[00:11:29] Ellen: But because of my [00:11:30] circumstances, um, I decided to stay in [00:11:35] Scotland. But actually I was offered. In those days, um, Um, [00:11:40] to get an equity card, you had to do, I can't remember how [00:11:45] many weeks, was it 18 weeks or something like that before you got an equity card? Um, but [00:11:50] I was, myself and one other chap from the academy in Glasgow were offered [00:11:55] an equity card, um.

[00:11:57] Ellen: Straight off? Straight off. Uh, [00:12:00] so, so I went into Scottish Opera, the, um, and, um, [00:12:05] I went into Scottish Opera Chorus, it was a And when I was I'm fast [00:12:10] forwarding here. When I was twenty eight, twenty nine, [00:12:15] I got a chance to A director I'd worked with in Scottish [00:12:20] Opera phoned me up and said, Would you like to come down to Wales to do a part in the musical [00:12:25] Annie?

[00:12:26] Ellen: And, uh, I thought, oh, why not? So, I [00:12:30] packed my bag, I went to Wales, and I did Annie. And when I was there, [00:12:35] um, I did, I did a Boylan sister, nothing, and Mrs. Pugh, I think was what I [00:12:40] did. And while I was there, I met, uh, uh, an actress called Jean Reeve, [00:12:45] who was quite well known at the time, lovely woman. And Jean was doing, this was in [00:12:50] Swansea, Swansea Grand.

[00:12:52] Ellen: And, uh, Jean [00:12:55] said to me, Roger Redfarn is doing a Sound of Music in Plymouth. [00:13:00] Why don't you audition for it? And I thought, oh, well, maybe I [00:13:05] should. So I picked up the phone and I said, Could you put me through to Roger [00:13:10] Redfarn, please? How did you do? I didn't know [00:13:15] this was not the etiquette. Hello, Roger. I've been speaking to somebody, you know, [00:13:20] Jean Reeve, and she thinks I should have an audition.

[00:13:24] Ellen: And he [00:13:25] went, Oh, right, okay, well, it was good, you know, it's kind of laughing when I [00:13:30] think about it. And he said, Well, can you come to London? And I said, Yes. [00:13:35] When? So I went and auditioned for him in London and he was, he was so friendly [00:13:40] and he, and he said to me, Oh, everything's [00:13:45] gone. He said, but no, I'll find something for you.

[00:13:47] Ellen: So he offered me a job on [00:13:50] the spot. And, uh, from there I played Sister Margaret and, and two tours of the [00:13:55] sound. No, I played Sister Margaret in the second tour because it had gone in the first two, but [00:14:00] I toured with that. And it was, uh, the first two was with Jacinta Mulcahy. [00:14:05] Who you know, she, she's done very well.

[00:14:07] Ellen: Just in fact, she was Madame Giri when I was in [00:14:10] Phantom. Um, and from there, so I did two tours there and then [00:14:15] I realized you need to have an agent for musical, a musical theatre agent. So [00:14:20] I got, yeah, I got,

[00:14:23] Oren: I mean, that's great. [00:14:25] It's making your own opportunities.

[00:14:28] Ellen: If I had known though, [00:14:30] I wouldn't have done

[00:14:30] Oren: it.

[00:14:31] Ellen: I thought it was a done thing. Um, [00:14:35] And then I got an agent, um, who was actually a friend of mine, Tano, and he was [00:14:40] portfolio management. He had a lot of people in the West End on his books at that time. After the second tour of The Sound of [00:14:45] Music, I went back to Scotland and I thought, Oh, I don't know what I'll do now.

[00:14:49] Ellen: [00:14:50] I should probably do a shorthand typing course. So I went to Motherwell Technical College and I enrolled for [00:14:55] a shorthand typing course. And, uh

[00:14:59] Claire: Was that as in, [00:15:00] something to give you interim work? Yes. Or did you think singing was done? No, no, [00:15:05] it

[00:15:05] Ellen: was to

[00:15:05] Claire: give me interim

[00:15:05] Ellen: work. Right. It was, you know, I, um So I enrolled for that [00:15:10] and I got home that night and there was a message from Tano.

[00:15:12] Ellen: Of course we didn't have mobile phones then. I [00:15:15] wonder how he, I wonder how he messaged me, I can't remember. But he said, can you get down [00:15:20] to London for Friday, I think it was Friday, because um, [00:15:25] they would like to hear you for chess. Somebody's leaving and they want a [00:15:30] replacement. So this was after the first six months, this was it.

[00:15:32] Ellen: And I tried to get an addition for Chase. [00:15:35] Probably didn't have my agent at that time. I can't remember, um, so long ago. , [00:15:40] I'm very old. Um, and so I thought, [00:15:45] oh. Well, yeah, I'll go down. So I made the shorthand typing course. I don't even think I did [00:15:50] a day eight. I've ruined the story now, haven't I? I've told you.

[00:15:54] Ellen: Anyway, [00:15:55] um, I, uh, I came down. I remember I went the wrong way. [00:16:00] It was in Soho in the theatre. Ah, what's the name of the theatre? Anyway, it was in the heart of [00:16:05] Soho and, uh, I went the wrong way and I was, I'm like, oh. [00:16:10] I had been in London before with Scottish Opera, um, and I had seen a couple of shows but anyway, [00:16:15] eventually I found my way in and I got in bang on time for the audition and I, I remember I sang opera.[00:16:20]

[00:16:20] Ellen: I sang Liu's Aria from Turandot. I think I sang the [00:16:25] Havanaire from Carmen, two very contrasting. And then I got the train back home, [00:16:30] and when I got back home, my agent phoned me and said, they want you to start next week. And I was [00:16:35] like, next week?!

[00:16:36] Oren: The turnaround of this is You, you go [00:16:40] back up to Scotland and roll in a course, couple of days later, come down to London, do the [00:16:45] audition, go back up to Scotland, and then have to start the following week.

[00:16:49] Ellen: Have to [00:16:50] start the following week with a amazing, with a suitcase and, [00:16:55] uh, nowhere where to stay. So I had to stay with my agent. So that's [00:17:00] why I live in Hendon because I landed in Hendon. [00:17:05] Um, you know, so I stayed with my agent and I think I started work. The following week, [00:17:10] yeah. Yeah, the following week. Oh, I loved that musical.

[00:17:14] Ellen: I [00:17:15] absolutely loved it. It was quite difficult logging in because we were dressed, I don't know if you saw the [00:17:20] musical, the original? No, you're too young. You're far too young. So you gonna take that? [00:17:25] Yeah. . Are you taking that bit? Taking that, yeah. , I remember we were dressed [00:17:30] in these Leo Tars, you know, as the pawns on the chessboard and everybody [00:17:35] else, because I was just being put in, was in their normal clothes.

[00:17:37] Ellen: And I'm standing there in this really a hard [00:17:40] thing, hadn't met anybody really. feel my stomach was out. Oh God, [00:17:45] I'm thinking what a sight I am. But, but anyway, um, yeah, [00:17:50] I loved that show. That was, I think musically it was one of the best shows I've ever [00:17:55] done. Did you

[00:17:55] Claire: feel a big difference? Because it was a big move going from opera then into [00:18:00] a life that was completely musical theatre.

[00:18:02] Ellen: Well, not because of the music. [00:18:05] I had done, when I was with Scottish Opera, I had done Fiddler on the Roof. [00:18:10] And I'd understudied Hoddle. So I'd done that. And the other [00:18:15] musicals I did were, were quite classical really, weren't they? Um, [00:18:20] Sound of Music. At Chess there were two choirs. There [00:18:25] was the Rock Choir. in the classical choir.

[00:18:28] Ellen: So it was, you know, it [00:18:30] was great stuff really to sing, you know, and, and it needed really, I think, [00:18:35] the operatic voice. And, uh, [00:18:40] yeah, so I did that for a year and then I found I was expecting my son. [00:18:45] And of course that changed everything. And in those [00:18:50] days, You didn't get maternity leave, they didn't keep your job open for you.

[00:18:54] Ellen: That [00:18:55] was you, you were

[00:18:55] Background: out.

[00:18:56] Ellen: You know. Um, and that was life changing [00:19:00] of course for my boy. Uh, he's 35 now. So, [00:19:05] um, Was that scary? Yeah, yeah, it was, it was, it was [00:19:10] scary. Yeah, because you, but you know, we singers, whenever a job [00:19:15] finishes, we think we're never going to work again. And I think that's a common thread.

[00:19:18] Ellen: Yeah, for sure. I [00:19:20] think you just think, oh no, that's me. That's the end of it. You know, and um, [00:19:25] because there's so many good people around, and especially in those days there were some fantastic, I [00:19:30] remember when I came to Chess and I stood in the wings to watch, I stood in the wings [00:19:35] every night to watch things, even in the opera world, I'd love to watch people like Janet Baker [00:19:40] and, you know, people like that came to Scotland, Keeley, people like that, Kate O'Connell, [00:19:45] they all came, and Charles Craig, fantastic singers, and I used to, as a young, young girl, [00:19:50] Singers stand in the wings and watch them because you learn what to do and what not to do as well You know, [00:19:55] so when I came down here and I'm Chess, I watched the show a few [00:20:00] times, but also watched it from the wings.

[00:20:02] Ellen: I used to stand in the wings and watch [00:20:05] It was mainly, you know, the pop choir, the stage school kids. [00:20:10] They were absolutely fantastic and I, I, to see that level of [00:20:15] performance was quite new to me here because these people who were, who were taking part in Chess at that [00:20:20] time, they didn't come directly from college into the West End.

[00:20:24] Ellen: A lot of people [00:20:25] these days come directly. They had to, pay their dues as it were and they [00:20:30] toured with, you know, the touring companies around Britain or whatever. You know, people [00:20:35] could work in and learn their craft and eventually when you got to the West End [00:20:40] it was a huge thing. I didn't realize that but it was a huge thing for, and they gave [00:20:45] 120 percent every night.

[00:20:47] Ellen: It was quite incredible watching them, [00:20:50] you know, and Eileen Page, gosh she was amazing. I thought she was, I mean, had a level. [00:20:55] Every single night it was so high. [00:21:00] And, and, and I learned a lot from that. And I learned that the amount of energy you need [00:21:05] to perform in these musicals, you know, that was 'cause [00:21:10] I had never gone to a musical theater training college.

[00:21:13] Ellen: Mm-Hmm. , it was a, you know, it was [00:21:15] classical music. I had done classical singing. Um, so I learned, I've just watched and learned [00:21:20] and learned and, you know, yeah.

[00:21:22] Oren: So you, so you are, you're observing, uh, other [00:21:25] performers in the wings and, and you're watching their. their aptitude and their [00:21:30] skill and, and, and how you go from seeing all of that to [00:21:35] taking it and applying it to your own performance?

[00:21:38] Ellen: Well, I just realized that there was a [00:21:40] certain level of energy that you had to use and you couldn't just coast [00:21:45] it, you know, you could, you might not be, Florence, [00:21:50] or the Russian sort of, you know, or whatever, or Svetlana. [00:21:55] But these companies were quite small. And also, you know, you had to [00:22:00] pull your weight.

[00:22:01] Ellen: And vocally pull your weight. And also you had an audience out there, [00:22:05] who were paying a lot of money to see you, you know, so you owed it to them. Um, [00:22:10] so I would say that's what it taught me as well. Not to overdo it. But to hit [00:22:15] that level, that you don't really go below, or if you do, if you're having a wee bit of an off day, you don't go [00:22:20] too far below.

[00:22:21] Ellen: Do you understand what I mean by that? Yeah,

[00:22:24] Oren: absolutely. Does it feel more [00:22:25] like a duty then, to deliver for the audience?

[00:22:28] Ellen: No.

[00:22:29] Oren: No. [00:22:30] Was it still just enjoyable?

[00:22:32] Ellen: Well, if I did it, my [00:22:35] personality, if I did it half heartedly, I would get nothing from it. What would be the point of being there? [00:22:40] You know, what would be the point?

[00:22:42] Ellen: Um, so [00:22:45] no, I never thought that. I enjoyed it all the more. The more you gave, the more you enjoyed it, the more the audience [00:22:50] enjoyed it. Yeah, so, and um, Yeah, no, that was [00:22:55] a, that was a real learning curve. I did, I did really enjoy chess. Don't know if I ever knew what the [00:23:00] story was about, but I enjoyed, I enjoyed being in it.

[00:23:04] Ellen: [00:23:05] I enjoyed being in it. Um, so then, of course, I had my [00:23:10] son, Matthew. And, um, and [00:23:15] my agent said, uh, Roger Redfarnes asked you to come down and audition for, uh, [00:23:20] what was it now? I can't remember. Was it a drowsy chaperone? Cannae [00:23:25] remember. Um, but anyway, I remember going and auditioning and he didn't [00:23:30] do it in the end.

[00:23:31] Ellen: But he did do Fiddler on the Roof, which I'd done with Scottish Opera. So when my son [00:23:35] was, he was ten weeks old.

[00:23:37] Claire: Ten weeks?

[00:23:38] Ellen: Ten weeks old, [00:23:40] I packed up a car. with buggies and, uh, [00:23:45] microwave and pram and my mother and father and we [00:23:50] all tottered off with the baby down to Plymouth. Wow. [00:23:55] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And uh, my agent was great, I know, because he said to me, [00:24:00] take it as a present, I don't want commission, take it as a present.

[00:24:03] Ellen: So that was, he was a lovely, [00:24:05] he is a lovely man, he's a good friend. Um, so I did that for a [00:24:10] little while and then After that he said to me, we've got you an [00:24:15] audition for Les Misérables. And, uh, so I came back [00:24:20] up and that would be the January and I auditioned for Les Misérables. [00:24:25] People laugh at me, they go, Loom's rib, because I don't say lame [00:24:30] ass, I say Loom's rib.

[00:24:31] Claire: I know you are very, very respectful. [00:24:35]

[00:24:35] Ellen: And of course at that time it was in the Palace Theatre, I remember the name of the theatre! At [00:24:40] that time it was in the Palace Theatre and it was half an hour longer. than it [00:24:45] is now. Um, and it was, it was hard [00:24:50] work. We had a five month old baby or six months old, whatever he was.

[00:24:53] Ellen: It was, it was hard. How did you manage [00:24:55] that? Plus covering and everything. Um, I just did. [00:25:00] You just, you know, you just did. And I, and I loved my wee boy, you [00:25:05] know. And, and, and, you know, I would, I would find the best [00:25:10] childminders. And I remember there was one, she was, it was an old lady and I used to drive him, [00:25:15] drive from Hendon to Southgate because she was, because she was so [00:25:20] caring with him.

[00:25:21] Ellen: So, you know, I would take him over there, drop, drop him off, [00:25:25] then drive into the West End to a rehearsal. for Les Mis and [00:25:30] uh, yeah, and I was in that for a year, I think. I stayed in it for a year, but it was very, very hard [00:25:35] work. It was nearly back to back shows, but I did enjoy it. And um, after a [00:25:40] year I left, I left Les Miserables and I'm just giving you [00:25:45] a kind of resume of like, oh my, I'm not really It's fascinating.

[00:25:47] Ellen: It's absolutely fascinating. It's a really interesting journey [00:25:50] actually. Because

[00:25:50] Oren: realistically you've been all around the country doing so many different things. And

[00:25:54] Ellen: [00:25:55] abroad. Yeah. Actually, yeah, yeah, Germany and with, with, I forget these things you see. [00:26:00] Uh, we went to Stuttgart, Frankfurt, uh, Venice [00:26:05] at the, the, uh, What was the name of this?

[00:26:07] Ellen: Finicci, before it burned down, performed there. [00:26:10] So, you know, all over. Not America. Didn't ever go to America. But, [00:26:15] and of course there was another musical I did at the Dominion Theatre, the Beggar's Opera. I did [00:26:20] that with the Opera Company. So we were kind of going into musical theatre a wee bit. So then [00:26:25] after Les Mis, I said it.

[00:26:28] Ellen: Les Mis. [00:26:30]

[00:26:31] Claire: Oh no, I feel like we've broken Ellen. I'm cool.

[00:26:33] Ellen: I'm cool now. [00:26:35] After Les Mis, um, It was John Owen Edwards, the [00:26:40] conductor. I was down in Bournemouth on holiday and John Owen Edwards phoned me up and said, Ellen, [00:26:45] are you free to do a show in Chichester? [00:26:50] Because John had been the conductor of Chess.

[00:26:52] Ellen: Wonderful man, wonderful [00:26:55] musician, conductor, lovely guy. And, and, uh, And I said, yeah, [00:27:00] okay. So, uh, I didn't audition. He just, he said, well, [00:27:05] you know, he gave me the dates for the first night. And that was a great experience. It really [00:27:10] was. What was the show? The show was a show called Born Again. [00:27:15] Based on the UNESCO play.

[00:27:17] Ellen: Rhinoceros. Um, I [00:27:20] don't know if you, the London Marathon, have you ever seen the, the rhinoceros, the guys running, [00:27:25] or females running in the rhinoceros costumes? They were our costumes in that show. [00:27:30] Yeah, yeah, we were dressed as, yeah. The music was by Jason Carr, [00:27:35] uh, and other wonderful young men, [00:27:40] and, uh, Mandy Patinkin.

[00:27:42] Ellen: Was there, was there a star? That's why I [00:27:45] want to go and see Mandy. Yes. Well he's here in concert. Yeah. So [00:27:50] Mandy, that was in the 80s. When was that? That must have [00:27:55] been 1890 maybe, 19, 1990 and of [00:28:00] course packed up the boy again and my aunt came down this time to look after him. [00:28:05] I don't, I didn't make any money from the, from the job, it was one of my favourite jobs you know.[00:28:10]

[00:28:10] Ellen: I just loved it, it was fantastic you know and to watch, I used to, again [00:28:15] I'm a great watcher and that, and for young students I would say that's really important for young [00:28:20] performers as well as students. Well, students too, but for performers, [00:28:25] watch, sit in the wings, take everything in, you know, listen to what the [00:28:30] director is saying to, uh, I used to do it when I was in Phantom as well with [00:28:35] Hal Prince.

[00:28:36] Ellen: When people would go out for a coffee or whatever, I used to listen to his [00:28:40] notes to the Phantom or to Christine, because you're learning all the time, you know. And [00:28:45] that's what it's about. You don't go to music college and then, Oh, I've got a job, that's it. [00:28:50] You know, it's progression, progression, isn't it?

[00:28:53] Ellen: Anyway, so I did that job at [00:28:55] Chichester. Great job. Um, Peter Hall, that's how Peter Hall [00:29:00] directed it, and it was John of course. Um, and an [00:29:05] old actor called, uh, it was George Clunies, a relative of George Clunies. [00:29:10] He, he played Toulouse Lautrec in the film, in the film. [00:29:15] Moulin Rouge, don't know if you've ever heard it.

[00:29:18] Ellen: So that, so he was a film star, [00:29:20] so that was fantastic and well I could watch him as well. Um, and then after that, [00:29:25] what happened? Ugh. My mother took ill. My [00:29:30] mother, my mother's got Alzheimer's and that was a big blow. I'm an only [00:29:35] child. That was a big blow. And um, I was able to come back to Scotland [00:29:40] and, and organise care for her so that my father, I mean, [00:29:45] my parents were older when I was born.

[00:29:47] Ellen: So, My father would be about 78, 79, [00:29:50] 80 then. And my mother got Alzheimer's when she was [00:29:55] 72. She was, she'd passed away by 77. But we [00:30:00] kept her at home and I was able to put things in place. It's funny how life happens, isn't it? You [00:30:05] think, oh, I'll never work. There's always that thing, I'll never work again, ever.

[00:30:09] Ellen: And sometimes [00:30:10] when we have breaks, it's almost like [00:30:15] meant to be for want of a better expression.

[00:30:18] Background: Yeah, yeah.

[00:30:19] Ellen: Um, [00:30:20] it's because I was able then to help my family, my father and uh, and while I was up [00:30:25] there I was asked to audition for, um, Nine, the musical [00:30:30] Nine, and I come back and I was, Down to the final two for Saragina, [00:30:35] you know, and then, I can't remember what happened.

[00:30:39] Ellen: David [00:30:40] Poutney, who I'd worked with in Scottish Opera, was directing it. I was going to direct it, and then it [00:30:45] was, it was, it didn't happen. I can't remember the reason that didn't happen. [00:30:50] But that was a disappointment, because I'd love to have done that role.

[00:30:52] Claire: How did Phantom come about

[00:30:54] Ellen: for you? [00:30:55] Well, the first time I auditioned for the same agent, I stayed with the same agent until, in fact, Honor [00:31:00] Blackman and I were his last two clients, because he gave it up.

[00:31:04] Ellen: He used to [00:31:05] produce Honor's one woman shows, and I was the other. [00:31:10] So I was with him. I'm a bit like that. I'm kind of loyal, you know, to people. [00:31:15] When I came to London, I went to a contact lens practitioner here in London, in [00:31:20] Bond Street. And I thought, that's not going to work. It's never worked. But they popped the lenses [00:31:25] in my eyes.

[00:31:26] Ellen: Hey Presto, I've never seen, I've never seen a conductor before. [00:31:30] It's the truth. I was doing it all by ear. [00:31:35] My eyesight was so bad. Love

[00:31:37] Claire: that so much. [00:31:40]

[00:31:40] Ellen: It was embarrassing for you. I remember when I was doing the show on Marriage of [00:31:45] Figaro, and there were two conductors. There was Derek Clark, who became head of Scottish [00:31:50] Opera, but there was Derek, he was a student, and Derek was like 20, and [00:31:55] black hair and specs, and then there was Dr Barrett, who was the principal of the college, and he's like [00:32:00] 64 or 65, and he's bald.[00:32:05]

[00:32:05] Ellen: And I come off the stage after one of the performances and I went, Dr. Barrett's [00:32:10] beat was really clear tonight. And the guy playing the figure went, [00:32:15] Dr. Barrett, he says it was Derek. Wasn't it Dr. Barrett in the pit? It [00:32:20] was Derek. And I went, Hmm. I said, I'm kidding. I'm only kidding. [00:32:25] But, um. So the audience was like, [00:32:30] Oh my goodness.

[00:32:31] Ellen: Look at all these people. You're acting on a

[00:32:34] Oren: [00:32:35] whole nother level here, because you're presumably pretending that you can see. Of course. As [00:32:40] well as performing on top, you're double performing. Yes. And then having to listen more than [00:32:45] anybody else to the music.

[00:32:46] Ellen: And getting the name of the conductor, not even knowing who the conductor [00:32:50] is.

[00:32:50] Ellen: That's amazing. It wasn't like there were two young men the same age, we're talking [00:32:55] about somebody who was old enough to be his grandfather, and Derek. Um, [00:33:00] So that, so that was that for, for that, you know, suddenly then I could see the audience [00:33:05] and I had to get used to that. And I stayed with that contact lens practitioner till recently, [00:33:10] till about a year ago.

[00:33:10] Ellen: So how many years was that? That was about 40, [00:33:15] 40 odd years. So that's fascinating. Yeah, that's, that seems to be the [00:33:20] sort of character I am. Maybe that's why I found it so easy to stay in Phantom. Yeah. Sort all [00:33:25] those years. You know, the first time I was asked to audition, I was . [00:33:30] I was in my thirties, you know, late thirties.

[00:33:32] Ellen: And, uh, I'm in the room at the, [00:33:35] at the side of the stage and I'm saying, why are all these women much younger than me? [00:33:40] And they brought me an audition for Christine, which was ludicrous 'cause I was far too old. [00:33:45] Um. They've made a mistake. They've made a mistake. So obviously I didn't get the job. [00:33:50] And, uh, the next time I went in, it was for [00:33:55] Cavalierie.

[00:33:55] Ellen: And I got the job that time. And that was, as I said to you [00:34:00] earlier, my son was three and a half. Right. three and a half and he's 35 [00:34:05] now. Yeah. See, you know, uh, I mean his dad would look after him in the evening, [00:34:10] which was fortunate, but I wanted to be there for him as well. [00:34:15] So Phantom was a fantastic job for that.

[00:34:18] Ellen: It was a long running show. [00:34:20] It suited my voice because it was classical really. And I thought I'd only be there a year [00:34:25] and, uh, but I loved it. Such a great show [00:34:30] to be in, you know, it's, uh, It really was, and then [00:34:35] it was the first contract, I think it was for six months. And, uh, [00:34:40] And of course, you were watched all the time.

[00:34:44] Ellen: Cause it [00:34:45] was in the early days really, I can't remember how long it was running, by then maybe about [00:34:50] four or five years. But you were always, Geoff Ferris who was the resident director, [00:34:55] he'd be out watching you and, you know, you couldn't get

[00:34:59] Claire: [00:35:00] away with being like. So it's back to your, the stuff you were learning on chess about [00:35:05] just always being there, always giving it.

[00:35:06] Claire: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

[00:35:08] Ellen: And. [00:35:10] It always surprised me when people would say they were saving it for other things, [00:35:15] you know, not singing it out, or, I never, I never really got that. [00:35:20] It, it, you know, um. But you

[00:35:23] Claire: never felt the need to? [00:35:25] Your voice went with you? It did, yeah. How do you keep [00:35:30] it

[00:35:30] Background: fresh?

[00:35:31] Claire: Do you mean vocally, or?

[00:35:33] Claire: Well,

[00:35:34] Ellen: all

[00:35:34] Claire: parts. [00:35:35] How do you keep it fresh? How do you keep yourself going? You [00:35:40] can do it, you know,

[00:35:40] Ellen: you can. Yeah, people say, oh God, you must get bored. [00:35:45] You get bored if you want to be bored. If you think, I'm going to be bored. You know, [00:35:50] this is boring, I'm doing it again. You'll be bored. So, and the funny thing was when I was [00:35:55] a young singer in opera, I remember a friend of mine saying, I'm going down to do Evita [00:36:00] in the West End.

[00:36:01] Ellen: Um, she was in opera. She said, and I'll be doing eight [00:36:05] shows a week. And I said. Eight shows of the same show. [00:36:10] I said, no, I couldn't do it. I said, I just couldn't do it. How many performances did I do at [00:36:15] Phantom? Did I do 12, 000? Something like that. Wow. It was something [00:36:20] incredible. And I never thought I would be able to do that.

[00:36:23] Ellen: I don't think I'd be able to do [00:36:25] a short run. But I got my mindset into [00:36:30] a short run. Yeah. It's all in here, isn't it, really? [00:36:35] As I say, I wanted to, I had priorities. I wanted to look after my son. [00:36:40] Um, It was a decent wage. Uh, I was doing [00:36:45] something I loved. I was grateful for it. You know, there were many people who would love to [00:36:50] have been in my position.

[00:36:52] Ellen: And, um, I didn't [00:36:55] know it would go on for all those years. I just took it a day at a time, a contract at a time. [00:37:00] And, um, I wanted to keep the job. And if I wanted to keep [00:37:05] the job, I had to work. I wasn't going to shortchange them, but they wouldn't [00:37:10] have renewed my contract as they didn't. I'm not saying that people who didn't get their contracts renewed didn't [00:37:15] work.

[00:37:15] Ellen: I'm not saying that. There are always many reasons. And in the Waste End, I [00:37:20] think everybody doesn't get their contracts renewed at some point. Um, [00:37:25] but, uh, so I had just got myself in this mindset [00:37:30] that, eh, Yeah, I was, I was going to work [00:37:35] really hard and make myself indispensable. I don't think everybody's [00:37:40] indispensable by the way.

[00:37:41] Ellen: But, do you know what I mean? I was making myself [00:37:45] say, oh, we like what she's doing, we want to keep her. And I, and I think I was [00:37:50] quite a good company member. That's important as well. You know, that you, [00:37:55] any problems you have or, And we all have problems in life, let's be honest, and maybe [00:38:00] problems is too strong a word.

[00:38:01] Ellen: But life's life. It was, it was, life as I said [00:38:05] could be challenging of course, but I tried not to bring it into the work with me. [00:38:10] Uh, That's just the sort of person I am.

[00:38:13] Claire: Do you think that [00:38:15] was therapeutic for you? To be able to leave that at the door? Well, I think in those days you didn't

[00:38:19] Ellen: [00:38:20] talk about

[00:38:24] Ellen: I mean, [00:38:25] this interview is not easy for me because I don't really like talking about myself. I don't, I don't [00:38:30] really I'd rather listen to your stories. Um, honestly. [00:38:35] So, was it therapeutic for me? I probably was [00:38:40] because I'm quite a, um, private person and if I'd probably gone [00:38:45] in and telling everybody, oh, this and this and this, I might have worried about it.

[00:38:49] Ellen: What if they [00:38:50] gossip or what? So do you know what I mean? I think I'm quite good at keeping a [00:38:55] confidence. If, if you told me something, I'm, I'm not likely to go, [00:39:00] I don't, I don't do that, you know? Um, so, so [00:39:05] that was how I handled it and I made it. Life was life and work was [00:39:10] work and we just tried to have fun in the dressing room and things like that and not [00:39:15] clash too much because there's a lot of different women's personalities and, you know I was going to ask [00:39:20] you

[00:39:20] Claire: actually as quite a thoughtful person you were, you know, wanting to keep your own [00:39:25] counsel that simply the geography of that theatre, it's, you're in [00:39:30] very

[00:39:30] Ellen: close quarters to everybody and at one point we were all in it [00:39:35] I mean, the whole of the ladies chorus was in the um, a wee [00:39:40] dressing room on the second floor.

[00:39:43] Ellen: And there was no [00:39:45] space for the swing. In those days there was only one swing at Phantom. I think there's two ladies swings now. She [00:39:50] didn't even have her own place. She sat at the sink. So we were all shoved in this tiny [00:39:55] wee room. I think eventually the three boys, But the whole of, [00:40:00] so there must have been about six of us, was it two, four, six, seven was it?

[00:40:04] Ellen: One, two, three, four, [00:40:05] five, six, seven, seven of us in a tiny space, um, and [00:40:10] as I was saying. How do you manage that? Psychologically? Difficult. Yeah. Difficult. I try and ignore [00:40:15] any. It could be, it could, it could be quite [00:40:20] challenging as you said, but, you know, sometimes it's [00:40:25] best to keep. Keep your mouth shut and not say too much.[00:40:30]

[00:40:30] Ellen: Do you know what I mean? Just let it go. Because I think as you get older, see, you must [00:40:35] remember I was, how old was I 39? 38? 39? [00:40:40] Nearly 40. You're a wee bit wiser, I think.

[00:40:44] Background: [00:40:45] Yeah.

[00:40:45] Ellen: Than, oh, I don't know if I'm, if I'm talking nonsense here, [00:40:50] but, Probably, I could be confrontational, I [00:40:55] can't remember to be honest with you, but I, um, I don't [00:41:00] think you need to give an opinion on everything, and you don't need to be right about everything, you know, [00:41:05] it's that thing, it's just sometimes, least said, you know, just keep the [00:41:10] atmosphere pleasant.

[00:41:11] Ellen: That's, it would, yeah, [00:41:15] so long ago, I can't, I think I got on well with most people there, you [00:41:20] know. And of course there was somebody there who was there longer than me, Philip Griffiths is in the Guinness Book of Records, he's, [00:41:25] he's, was there for, well he was right up until the pandemic as well. [00:41:30] That's when I left, at the pandemic, because they closed it, Cameron Macintosh closed the show and [00:41:35] everybody had to go, front of house, backstage, I mean that was a bit of [00:41:40] a I just accepted it.

[00:41:43] Ellen: I did. I mean, I think some people [00:41:45] were quite better about it. I wasn't, I must [00:41:50] be honest, I wasn't because, um, I'd been there all [00:41:55] those years. I hadn't planned to leave, but I'm a believer in, [00:42:00] um, Well, I have a faith in a power, a higher [00:42:05] power, and I feel that sometimes I don't know what's best for me, [00:42:10] and if, if I just go with the flow, if I do my bit as best I can, [00:42:15] it doesn't work out the way I had hoped, and I just go with the flow.[00:42:20]

[00:42:20] Ellen: It usually is for the best, and I was very, I'm sounding like a right preacher here, aren't I? [00:42:25] No, you're sounding very philosophical. And, and, um, I [00:42:30] just felt grateful for all the years that [00:42:35] I had been there, to be honest with you. And it was somebody else's turn, actually. And the [00:42:40] funny thing was, it was a friend of mine who got, the wardrobe mistress confidant, but [00:42:45] I wasn't doing the confidant then.

[00:42:47] Ellen: So I was really pleased. It was Janet Mooney, [00:42:50] who I'd been in Les Mis with, a great girl. And, uh, [00:42:55] so, you know, it was great that she was able to do it. I'm grateful that I didn't take it [00:43:00] too badly. I really didn't. I'm being honest here. I really didn't, you [00:43:05] know, and I was fortunate I got another agent. I got an agent, um, because I [00:43:10] didn't, when Tano retired, um, I didn't have an agent for a lot of the year [00:43:15] because when I was in Phantom for the first nine years I had Tano, then I left for a [00:43:20] year and I went to Scotland and did Mrs Mullin in Carousel.

[00:43:23] Ellen: My father had died and [00:43:25] I needed a break so I had, uh, I went to Scotland, did that, and [00:43:30] I got a phone call from Phantom asking me to come back. So that's why I stayed for the other [00:43:35] 17 years or whatever, I think it was 17. So it's actually 26 years in total, so it's [00:43:40] 27. Um, but it's still pretty amazing, isn't it?

[00:43:44] Ellen: And [00:43:45] you probably don't believe me that I didn't allow myself to get bored. I must have got bored [00:43:50] sometimes. But I don't really remember being Because, do you know what's funny? [00:43:55] You can find something different. Every night. It, uh, [00:44:00] if what I used to do is I would really, really make an effort not to [00:44:05] preempt what they were going to say, not to react before the dialogue was spoken [00:44:10] or whatever.

[00:44:11] Ellen: Um, and I, uh, I. So [00:44:15] that my reactions every night would be dependent on who was, what [00:44:20] line was coming to me. If, do you understand what I mean? And I can remember once even near the [00:44:25] end, doing something in the wing before I went on and saying to the stage manager, Oh, I've never done that [00:44:30] before, that was different.

[00:44:31] Ellen: So I was always kind of trying to make it interesting. For me as well. [00:44:35] You know? I

[00:44:36] Oren: suppose having other members of the cast rotate and [00:44:40] change around probably helps that as well.

[00:44:41] Ellen: And a different audience every night. Yes. And they're paying your [00:44:45] wages. Yeah. Tickets aren't cheap. Sounds great, doesn't

[00:44:48] Oren: it?

[00:44:48] Ellen: Yeah.

[00:44:49] Ellen: And [00:44:50] you're doing some, just keep reminding yourself, I could be doing X, Y, Z. [00:44:55] I'm fortunate. I'm in a fortunate position here. And I can look after my [00:45:00] wee boy. I'm not leaving him. For months on end to go [00:45:05] touring. Well, I didn't tour. I stayed in Fountain. Um, but I'd [00:45:10] done the touring bit for years. So, uh, yeah.

[00:45:14] Claire: Can I [00:45:15] ask how you kept your voice and yourself in, [00:45:20] in good shape. Whilst, you know, I'm really interested in the idea that you, you kind of, [00:45:25] you grew as a person and as a physical being through a contract. [00:45:30] It's not what I meant.[00:45:35]

[00:45:36] Claire: How do you keep, how do you keep that side of, how do [00:45:40] you look after yourself through the changes in your own physiology as you, as you go [00:45:45] through a contract for that long? Um,

[00:45:49] Ellen: well you have to [00:45:50] take care of yourself, you really do. Um, and of course people [00:45:55] didn't go off as much, well they didn't go off, they didn't, they didn't.[00:46:00]

[00:46:00] Ellen: Um, so it was hard when Matthew was, was, [00:46:05] was a baby because I'd be coming in from Les Mis and then getting up, [00:46:10] getting in maybe at half 11 at night and then up in the middle of the night and feeding him and then. [00:46:15] Take him to, uh, well not take him to school, not at that point, I've jumped a bit. [00:46:20] But when he started school, I wasn't feeding him when he was five, in the middle of the night.

[00:46:23] Ellen: Excellent. [00:46:25] But, uh, So you had to just [00:46:30] eat well, eat well, make sure you were hydrated. You really have to keep, [00:46:35] keep well. That's what I would say. And I had my, my singing teacher from the academy. I went [00:46:40] back to him, um, when I came to London, but he passed [00:46:45] away. And how can I say this without being, [00:46:50] I was frightened to go to just anybody.

[00:46:53] Ellen: Yeah.

[00:46:53] Claire: Yeah.

[00:46:53] Ellen: Yeah.

[00:46:54] Claire: I

[00:46:54] Ellen: was [00:46:55] terrible because there's There's a lot of people teaching singing to now, just now. [00:47:00] And it's a very specialized thing, singing [00:47:05] teacher. So for a wee while I didn't have a singing teacher. Uh, but I, [00:47:10] I practiced and, you know, kept my voice. Well, your voice never really cools [00:47:15] down when you're singing every day, you know.

[00:47:17] Ellen: Yeah. Um, but, [00:47:20]

[00:47:21] Claire: Did you have a routine? Were you singing during [00:47:25] the day before you went in?

[00:47:26] Ellen: Just maybe a few exercises. I didn't do an awful lot [00:47:30] during the day. No, I didn't. Um, which I don't know was the [00:47:35] wisest thing really in retrospect. I think for anybody in a long, [00:47:40] I probably didn't exercise the top of my voice enough.

[00:47:44] Ellen: And, [00:47:45] um, There's that saying, if you don't use it, you lose it. [00:47:50] Um, I probably would say today, I would, because I [00:47:55] was trying to keep my voice low, because I was in the mezzo line. When I was singing the higher [00:48:00] lines, it was different, but, um, I would say keep, [00:48:05] keep your singing lessons going all the time. All the time.

[00:48:08] Ellen: Don't, don't not have [00:48:10] singing lessons. Don't say, oh that's me, I'm in a job now. That's the time when you need the lessons to [00:48:15] keep your voice healthy. And I would, I would work throughout the range. [00:48:20] In retrospect, I was trying to keep it low because I wasn't an alto, I [00:48:25] wasn't a mezzo, I was a soprano, but singing in those low notes, you know, [00:48:30] but also I had, I had, um, the voice changes as you age, you [00:48:35] know, and, and, uh, there's menopause, which affects it.

[00:48:39] Ellen: But also I [00:48:40] discovered I had an underactive thyroid, you can maybe hear there's a wee bit of, uh. Yeah. [00:48:45] Which I take Rhapsody Rocks for. And I found now that my range is lower. So I'm [00:48:50] choosing songs, interesting, more interesting, I'm keeping away [00:48:55] from the opera now at the moment. And I'm working with my teacher on, I'm still having lessons.[00:49:00]

[00:49:00] Ellen: And I'm working with my teacher on, well we did a little night music the [00:49:05] other day, you know, Send in the Clowns and, and uh, I've [00:49:10] I did this song from Camarie.

[00:49:12] Claire: So you've adapted what you're working on [00:49:15] to accommodate changes in your voice?

[00:49:17] Ellen: Yes. And I'm hoping [00:49:20] that, well, It's quite hard letting go of the [00:49:25] things you used to say.

[00:49:25] Ellen: It's quite, it's quite hard, you know. But I'm enjoying this [00:49:30] new phase, these new songs. And I'm still singing some legit [00:49:35] stuff as well. But then again, if I want to work, I have to look [00:49:40] at what my casting is. And there's not an awful lot for my age now. [00:49:45] So I have to learn [00:49:50] pieces that are going to suit the roles that I'm suitable for, really.

[00:49:53] Ellen: You know, which is [00:49:55] a big change from I

[00:49:57] Claire: think that, um, what you've mentioned there about, you know, [00:50:00] letting go of repertoire and things like that. I've worked with quite a [00:50:05] few singers who've experienced vocal trauma of some kind or another. And [00:50:10] Re adapting to the, to the voice, you know, many, their voices are completely [00:50:15] restored afterwards and we're back to where we were, but sometimes there is a permanent change and that, [00:50:20] um, I know that can feel like a personality shift, in a way, and I think that's quite [00:50:25] hard to, to take on board, isn't it?

[00:50:27] Claire: Yeah, yeah. To make peace with. [00:50:30] Yeah, it is. It is.

[00:50:32] Ellen: And I'm still trying to make peace with it. [00:50:35] Yeah, yeah, it is. Because I still, you know, like to sing [00:50:40] Puccini and things like that. But, uh, now I'm concentrating more [00:50:45] on the character stuff, really, I would say. Yeah. Because these are the roles that I'll [00:50:50] go up for.

[00:50:50] Ellen: And do you find

[00:50:52] Claire: enjoyment in those? Oh,

[00:50:53] Ellen: yeah. Oh [00:50:55] definitely, yeah, I'd love to do some, some character stuff. Yeah, I'd [00:51:00] like to do some television as well actually. This new agent, I said you've got a new agent, [00:51:05] Kenny Scott. Um, he's based in Scotland so, [00:51:10] we'll see where, where it leads. So as I say, I [00:51:15] still have my singing lessons.

[00:51:16] Ellen: But for young singers I would say, don't think that you're ready, that it's [00:51:20] finished when you get a job. It's only the beginning. And keep working.

[00:51:24] Claire: Ellen, thank you [00:51:25] for sharing your story. What do you do at the five minute call? [00:51:30] Do you have a routine?

[00:51:32] Ellen: I better make something up.

[00:51:34] Oren: No, no, [00:51:35] no. We've had a whole range of things.

[00:51:36] Oren: We've had many. A whole range of things, from just going for a wee, to [00:51:40] meditating, to I

[00:51:42] Ellen: don't do anything like that. [00:51:45] I've ran in, oh no, before the five minute call. No, [00:51:50] the five minutes before the five minute call, I would, [00:51:55] there was one guy, one, um Wiggy and makeup [00:52:00] guy . When I was doing the confid on this is a cheeky devil.

[00:52:03] Ellen: He would say, this was me doing [00:52:05] my makeup , put it all out and just go, boom. [00:52:10] cheek. Perfect. My makeup was . Uh, now, [00:52:15] well, because I was so used to the show, I knew exact, it wasn't exactly [00:52:20] glamorous, but so the five before the five, I would just be probably getting ready. That's not [00:52:25] so good, is it? I wasn't even meditating.

[00:52:27] Ellen: I was going, oh my god, is [00:52:30] that the

[00:52:30] Background: time?

[00:52:30] Ellen: Oh, do you know what I mean? You had it down to a fine hour. Yeah, I had it down to, and yet when I [00:52:35] first joined, I was sitting there half an hour before the half. I would be sitting there with all my [00:52:40] notes.

[00:52:40] Oren: So, so one of the other things that we've started on this podcast is [00:52:45] we ask all of our guests to write a question in here for our next [00:52:50] guest.

[00:52:50] Oren: So there is a, and we don't see it. So this is completely sight [00:52:55] unseen. This is, I'm going to read this for the very first time and then you're going to write your own question for the next person. [00:53:00] So let's see if I can read the writing [00:53:05] because this was an issue. Okay, interesting. I think we've sort of touched [00:53:10] on a lot of this today anyway, but the question is, what show or job [00:53:15] has taught you the most, or that you have grown the most in, [00:53:20] and what was it about that job that made you grow?

[00:53:23] Ellen: I think it has to be Phantom. [00:53:25] Could be chess with a standard in the wings, watching [00:53:30] the stage school kids, the energy levels. But I think [00:53:35] as a person and as a performer, it was Phantom. [00:53:40] Um, because I had to, as I say, mature a lot [00:53:45] to do all those shows and give it a certain level of performance every night.[00:53:50]

[00:53:50] Ellen: So that was huge. Um, [00:53:55] and watching all those different casts, all those different Phantoms, [00:54:00] all those different Carlottas, you know, and working with people like Hal Prince. [00:54:05] Wow. Gillian Lynn. Maria. I'd watched her Marie in Scottish [00:54:10] Opera. That was very sad when she died. Very, very sad, when you'll be honest.

[00:54:14] Ellen: [00:54:15] Um, so from, and her perfectionism was, you learn so much, [00:54:20] I learned so much because the team was fantastic. That [00:54:25] original team of Phantom was like match made in heaven, wasn't it? When [00:54:30] you think of it. It was perfection, really. Uh, so probably I [00:54:35] have to say Phantom, but every job I learned, I learned something from.

[00:54:39] Ellen: [00:54:40] You know? Every single job. Yeah.

[00:54:44] Claire: I [00:54:45] wanted to ask you, maybe this is a bonus question. Um, I wasn't, I had [00:54:50] written it down and then I thought, no, that's too naughty to ask, but now you just mentioned changing

[00:54:54] Oren: casts. [00:54:55]

[00:54:55] Claire: Did you have a favourite Phantom? Oh.

[00:54:59] Oren: That's [00:55:00] cheeky, isn't it?

[00:55:02] Ellen: No, I don't think I did. [00:55:05] I don't, I don't actually think I did have a favourite Phantom.

[00:55:08] Ellen: I wouldn't tell you anyway, [00:55:10] would I? That's fair. In case they're listening. Did you

[00:55:14] Claire: [00:55:15] enjoy seeing it being reinvented?

[00:55:16] Ellen: Oh yeah, you mean? From person to person. Oh yeah, yeah. [00:55:20] In fact it was funny because Scott Davis who, who went from swing [00:55:25] to playing the Phantom I think he's played more Phantom performances than anyone else.[00:55:30]

[00:55:30] Ellen: And I can remember not that long before the pandemic sitting [00:55:35] down, sitting in the stalls watching them. Now I've been in the show at this [00:55:40] point for 26 years and the tears were rolling down my cheeks at [00:55:45] the final layer. And I just thought, wow, wow, you can [00:55:50] still move me. Um, but there were many and, and a lot, you know, [00:55:55] the really good ones brought something of themselves to the role.

[00:55:58] Ellen: You know, Peter [00:56:00] Carey and, God, there were so many. I, you know, I didn't see [00:56:05] Dave Willits, but I did see, I worked with Dave in one of his first shows, that was Annie, [00:56:10] when he played Rooster. He had been, I can't remember what he did, was it an engineer or [00:56:15] something? And, wow! And Valjean in [00:56:20] Phantom. You know, I could spot that talent from, I believe his Phantom was [00:56:25] fantastic.

[00:56:25] Ellen: But there were so many, and as I say, they all brought something. different but it was [00:56:30] vulnerability or anger sometimes or [00:56:35] sexiness or they all had some that was a naughty question [00:56:40] maybe I do have

[00:56:40] Claire: my favorite but I'm not saying and thank [00:56:45] you so much it's been such a pleasure it's

[00:56:49] Oren: been [00:56:50] wonderful genuinely

[00:56:51] Claire: thank you so much for watching our episode today if you enjoyed it please [00:56:55] subscribe so that you won't miss an episode in the future

[00:56:58] Oren: If you currently are or have been affected [00:57:00] by any of the topics discussed in this episode, please see the show notes below for some helpful [00:57:05] resources.


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