BWW Interview: Daniel Downing & Karla Bear
While in self isolation in a Sydney hotel, I caught up via Zoom with Australian musical theatre performer Daniel Downing and deliciously divine drag queen Karla Bear. Having just returned home from their base in London, we discussed their careers and what life in quarantine has been like.
Downing's love of musicals began at age six when he saw The Sound of Music. Laughing, he mentions "I went home and cried because I wasn't one of the kids on stage. My mum put me into dance classes the next day."
After graduating from NIDA's music theatre program at age 19, Downing landed a role in the 10th Anniversary tour of Wicked as a 'swing', which saw him cover twelve roles. "I booked Wicked very soon after I graduated... it was an absolute whirlwind... I learnt so many tools. It was a dream show... I did it for four years, so it was such a huge part of my life and development. All of a sudden I was in Singapore and then in South Korea, I did the show in five different countries. It was a huge springboard for my career... I loved every second of it."
His next big gig was as a swing in the original Australian cast of Kinky Boots. When the show's run came to an end, Downing decided to take the plunge to pursue his dream of performing on the West End. "I came over to London the first time when I was 11 and I had wanted to work on the West End ever since then."
To his surprise this goal was achieved very shortly after arriving in London. "Thank God Jerry Mitchell is incredibly loyal with the people who work for him. I had booked Kinky Boots within six weeks of moving to London... I just kinda slipped straight in! I was really really lucky, because to get a show that quickly is kind of unheard of. It was the right time, the right place, knowing the right people."
Downing stayed with the West End cast of Kinky Boots up to its final show. The final show itself is one that Downing will remember for the rest of his life. "I have goosebumps thinking about it now, we had six standing ovations through the show, there were points in the show when the screams from the audience were so loud we couldn't hear the music"
During his extensive time with Kinky Boots, which saw him work over three separate productions, Karla Bear was born! "Kinky Boots really taught me how to be a drag queen, but doing drag in a West End show is very different to doing drag in real life. I entered a competition called Drag Idol UK and then I ended up winning the thing! That really cemented things for me. I never moved to London to be a drag queen but sometimes the world works in mysterious ways."
While the current epidemic is having devastating effects on the global performance industry, Karla Bear still continues to shine, with incredible performances on her Instagram @karlabearoz, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/karlabearoz.
Daniel Downing is also sure to make an appearance back on the stage after this pandemic. In the meantime you can follow him on Instagram @danielpdowning