Hope In The Face of Adversity Advised at The Stage Debut Awards

Hope In The Face of Adversity Advised at The Stage Debut Awards

Spirits were high on Sunday 23 September when bright-eyed young artists and veterans gathered together to celebrate the rising stars of British theatre at The Stage Debut Awards. (Find the full list of winners here)

The celebrations have become even glitzier on their second lap, welcoming creatives from all areas of the industry. Hosted by Cush Jumbo, who's landed in the West End and on screens all over the world, the ceremony took place under the savvy eyes of those whose careers have been soaring for years.

Jumbo was thrilled to present the evening, saying that the nerves that came with having to be her true self on the stage were gloriously trumped by the excitement of being in the room with her peers. From Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Page to Rufus Norris and Phyllida Lloyd, the debutants were spoilt for choice when it came to advice and admiration.

Adrienne Warren, star of Tina: The Musical, candidly shared how the only thing she wished she knew before she made her debut is that her best is okay; "I think when you play a person this iconic who's also still alive, it's terrifying. And you think you can't possibly live up to that, and I realised I just have to work as hard as I could and I had to bring myself into the role. That would eventually be okay. And I wish I'd known that from the beginning."

First winner of the night was Katy Rudd as Best Director for The Almighty Sometimes at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. She stressed the importance of learning and watching other people's creations with passion rather than competition. "Never get complacent and work really hard. It's easy to lose hope in this industry, but there are lots of incredible people who work hard and make it, and that gives you hope."

The leitmotif during the evening was certainly to be strong in the face of the many adversities the business presents. The suggestions given to the younger generation came in the shape of knowing that there are going to be times when their careers come to a plateau.

"Try to find something else, an extra thing to your acting, which could be writing, it could be producing, in order to have some kind of control. As an actor, often the only control you have is to say no to a job. So, if you can find that other extra element to your future that will sustain you," explained director Phyllida Lloyd, who commended Akshay Sharan on his win in the Best Actor in a Play category for his performance in The Reluctant Fundamentalist at the Yard Theatre.

"I'm still trying to take it in," said Sharan. "It's very overwhelming and I did not expect this. I'd like to share it with everyone who created the show and everyone who's here tonight."

When praising Sharan, Lloyd expressed how she longed for young people to know how much strength it takes to work in the business. "This is a faith, it's a church. It's a lifetime commitment to be an athlete of the mind and body. It's not to be taken lightly. You're entering a severe and, yes, a beautiful world, but you're entering something that's going to take a sort of punishing dedication to excel at."

Amara Okereke, the first ever woman of colour to play Cosette in Les Misérables, proudly held up the Best Actress in a Musical award. She shared the shock and sheer joy of being called on stage with shaky hands and a fumbling speech. "I thought 'Surely not, surely not'," she said. "My brain was all over the place!"Hope In The Face of Adversity Advised at The Stage Debut Awards

Nine Night playwright Natasha Gordon marvelled at the power of theatre and how it resonates with people who don't have anything in common with the characters. She shared how struck she was when she attended her first ever play at the National Theatre at 14, and how that experience led her where she is now.

As both an actress and a writer, she discussed her love for the craft from the two different points of view, which intertwine greatly when she produces her work. She added that her experience as an actress helped a lot when it came to being in a rehearsal room as a writer.

In The Event of Moone Disaster playwright Andrew Thompson won in the Best Writer category. He was presented with the award by the prolific James Graham, who revealed that even though as a playwright one might be focused on what's coming next, it's necessary to take a breath and enjoy what's happening. "You never realise nor enjoy the moment in itself and how lucky you are to be presenting your work on a London stage or nationally."

Graham also briefly touched on the acceptance of failure, confessing that only the week prior he'd been rejected twice for projects he deeply cared about. "It never stops; you never feel like you've properly reached something. You always doubt yourself and feel like you're faking it. There are so many opportunities to feel bad about yourself. Just remember that we are so lucky to be doing this to begin with, that we're given a platform."

"I'm feeling really overwhelmed," said Gemma Dobson, clutching her Best Actress in a Play award for Rita, Sue and Bob Too. "I really wasn't expecting it. I can't believe I'm standing here looking at it, I feel like I've stolen it off someone. Oh my God, this is weird!".

Dobson shared how much it meant to her, as an actress coming from a working-class environment who couldn't afford to go to drama school. "It's quite odd to think that someone like me could win something like this. And hopefully this will be an inspiration for a lot of kids who think they can't do it."

Stage and screen star Aidan Turner won the Joe Allen Best West End Debut award for his performance in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The actor wasn't present, as he was shooting the latest season of Poldark, but Michael Grandage (who directed him in the show) accepted on his behalf. He shared some words of wisdom for those who are just starting out, which was in line with what seemed to be the main narrative of the evening.

"The most important advice at the very beginning is not to get too downhearted during the most fallible bits of this job," said Grandage. "And careers take time to kick off. Obviously, if you win a Debut Award, you've got a bigger kick than most do to get you started. There are a lot of people out there making their debuts and there are lots of people wondering whether they should carry on when it's followed by long periods of unemployment.

"My advice is to hold on for as long as you can, hold on in there, because, as proven in our weird industry, you can be in your fifties and in your sixties and be discovered as a film star. It's one of those things about having the right attitude. If you do anything, my advice would be to develop the right attitude to deal with the tough bits as well as the successful bits."

Hope In The Face of Adversity Advised at The Stage Debut AwardsSpeaking of his own debut, he said: "I had two - I started my career as an actor, and that debut was in a production of An Inspector Calls. I remember it very well because my first review was in The Stage and it said 'Michael Grandage's performance was as preposterous as the plastic ivy on the set'. And if you've noticed, I remember every word and I'll never forget it!

"Then I had a debut as a director, which was at Colchester's Mercury and was much happier. I was destined not to stay in the acting game. It was one of those wonderful moments when you know that's what you're going to do."

Best Actor in a Musical Louis Gaunt's excitement rang clear in his voice as he held his award (for his performance in Oklahoma! at Grange Park Opera). "I was blown away," he raved, revealing his surprise in being called out as the winner. "I've just started out, I can't give out advice, but what I know is that you've got nothing to lose when you're starting out - you've only got things to gain. Enjoy it!"

The night was topped with performances by Miriam Teak Lee - who won last year in the Best Actress in a Musical category and who's currently part of the West End cast of Hamilton - and Anais Mitchell, whose musical Hadestown is premiering at the National Theatre in November.

After an already successful and momentous first edition last year, The Stage Debut Awards are shaping up to be steadily positive cheer for the budding next generation.

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From This Author Cindy Marcolina

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