BWW Interview: Nancy Zamit Talks GROAN UPS at the Vaudeville Theatre
She spoke to BroadwayWorld about Groan Ups, the first of three new shows from the company playing at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Who inspired you most growing up?
I guess it was all the comedic women I watched: French and Saunders, Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, plus everyone involved in Green Wing. I remember the first time I saw Smack the Pony, thinking that I couldn't believe people did this for a job.
I didn't realise that being an actress didn't always mean having to be a typical leading lady. As I watched more theatre, I realised the parts I wanted to play weren't the "pretty wife" ones. Instead, I wanted to play the mad old aunt!
Do you remember your first trip to the theatre?
I grew up in a very creative family who took me to the theatre when I very young, so I don't remember the first trip exactly. What I do remember, from the first musical I saw, was that everyone looked so shiny and beautiful. I didn't think that was something I could be.
Then, when we were in tech for The Play That Goes Wrong in the West End, I saw my friends on stage and realised that the way they were lit and made-up gave them that same shine! It was a very memorable feeling.
How did you get involved with Mischief Theatre?
I trained with the National Youth Theatre and then did a foundation course at LAMDA which included an improvisation class run by Adam Meggido, who's been one of our directors for Magic Goes Wrong and other projects. We did a lot of improv, which I enjoyed a lot.
The guys who started Mischief were in a different year from me at LAMDA and were looking for more girls. They found that a lot of the girls they were asking weren't interested in doing comedy.
Adam told them something along the lines of, "There's this girl called Nancy in my improv class. She's good, she's keen", and they were interested. So, I went to join them for an improv workshop, and it went from there.
I was applying to drama schools at the time and didn't get in anywhere. I was also directing music videos and thought that was what I was going to do with my life. I very much had in my head that the first iteration of The Play That Goes Wrong in that pub theatre was going to be my last play before I gave up on acting.
Just as well you didn't! Mischief Theatre now have three shows running in the West End; you've had a stint on Broadway, various tours, Christmas TV specials, and now a BBC TV series and this residency at the Vaudeville. How has the roller coaster ride of Mischief Theatre been?
It's insanity. It's beyond our wildest dreams. When we were 20, early on, we used to make a yearly plan with some goals for Mischief Theatre. In those days, filling 350 seats at the Edinburgh Fringe was a big deal for us.
I remember Jonathan [Sayer] pondering how great it would be if we could survive only on what we made from Mischief Theatre and we laughed! It was a crazy dream, and we're so aware of how lucky we've been to get where we are now and just how rare it is that we get to do this as a job.
We find each other so funny to work with. We never want it to stop. We seem to have tapped into a time when people want to go to the theatre for a laugh. They don't want to think about Brexit, they just want to be entertained, and we're so thankful that we can do that for people as our job.
I've also just had a baby, which has added to the madness and messed up a lot of well-laid plans. I'm very lucky to have a very understanding husband. He's also an actor and a writer and director, so we both know our industry very well.
We usually take turns and swap around so that we're never both working at the same time, which has worked really well for us. I also have a hugely supportive network and knowing the Mischief guys for so long has really helped. They don't mind at all if I have to bring my baby to rehearsal!
Did anything ever "go wrong" in The Play/Peter Pan that you weren't expecting while you were in the cast for those show?
The nature of those shows is that it is very slick and planned. That's because it has to be to keep people safe, but that doesn't stop things from happening.
In Peter Pan, I broke my foot in an early version, which wasn't ideal. Dave [Hearn]'s dislocated his shoulder a couple of times, but these things happen - because, for example, I just have weak ankles.
In every show, things happen that you just have to deal with. After all these years, everyone's had some sort of injury, but in reality, those shows are probably safer and more rehearsed than many other things on in the West End, primarily because of how often we drill the stunts.
We've been so aware in crafting these shows that we have to hit the sweet spot where the stunts are shocking but believable, in a way that it's still funny. It's a delicate balance.
What can we expect at Groan Ups?
Groan Ups is a bit different from our usual stuff. It's an actual play. It has feeling. It's character-driven - something really quite different from anything we've done before.
It looks at what it means to grow up; what's important or not important to people; how relationships change; lots of things. But it's by us, so there is farce and humour, but it's wordy and emotional.
It has a couple of really important storylines which we think should be heard on the West End stage. We're aware that our platform at the moment is in commercial theatre, so we're bringing a show that we think should be on the commercial stage at the moment.
But ultimately, we're just bringing some of what we think we do best. It's been fun looking back on our own lives as a company because we've known each other for ten years. We've seen each other go through that growing process in real life. It's been nice to reminisce together.
It's not based entirely on our own experiences growing up though. Personally, I think my character is horrible! That said, the roles we play really fit the dynamic of the group, and it's lots of fun.
Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I didn't know, really. I wanted to be a dancer at first. Then I realised I could speak on stage as well and found that more interesting.
My family is full of creatives. My dad is a musician, my mum a sculptor, so I grew up in a home that very much discouraged me from getting a "real job". They actually had a go at me when I said I wanted to give up acting! While there is a lack of stability in many creative jobs, sometimes you just have to do those things you know you have to do.
How has working on Mischief projects for TV compared with theatre projects?
It's been a different process for every project really, regardless of whether it was for TV or theatre. There's always a different process, a different team and a different set of skills. I think the guys have done well to adapt to that.
When creating something for TV, all of the energy built up by our group on stage has to be broken down because we're usually filming things out of sequence. We have to know precisely where particular moments land and how to maintain that in the filming process.
It's useful we know each other well as a collaborative group. It helps to know the writers and what they want from us. It's been a fascinating process and lovely learning curve.
We've been fortunate enough to have done those Christmas specials, and now we've graduated in a way to be given a series. I think that was the right way round to do it and I hope people enjoy what we've put together. I can't wait to see the final thing myself!
Any advice for aspiring performers?
Always know what you're good at and don't try to be like anyone else. Sure, it's good to have role models who you think are amazing and look up to, but don't try to be them. Know the worth of what you can bring to a room. I know that I have a place in the Mischief Theatre rehearsal room and that the dynamic changes when I'm not there, just as if anyone else in our company weren't there.
Why should people come to see Groan Ups?
It's nothing like any of our other shows, so it doesn't matter if you've seen our other shows or not. It'll be an interesting watch for those who have been to The Play, or Peter Pan Goes Wrong or Bank Robbery though because it's different, but it stands fantastically on its own.
I think it's quite different from anything that's currently on in the West End. There are some naughty references in there about growing up. It's a great blend of exciting ideas. Plus, you know it will be hilarious because it's Mischief Theatre!
Groan Ups at the Vaudeville Theatre until 1 December