This week we speak to actor and now producer Paul Wilkins about surviving the pandemic and his production company Opportune Theatre which will produce Baaa Humbug – Stocking Full Of Showtunes in London this Christmas.
1) What was your first ever show that you did as a kid, and what was it that got you into the theatre world?
My first ever show was Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Loved the show. I played Pharaoh…managed to wangle in a saxophone solo somehow.
2) Things have changed a lot for everyone in the industry. Tell us about your amazing new venture with ‘Opportune’.
At the beginning of 2020, I told myself that this was the year of taking charge and for creating opportunities & Opportune Theatre came about as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. I wanted to find a way to make theatre work with the limited capacity allowed. My determination (or stubbornness) brought me to the root of the problem which I believe was the theatre space. As the government put tight restrictions on indoor performances, I felt that the most likely place for theatre to happen was outdoors. This is where I began to place my efforts and built a plan of action.
I eventually came to a position where I had fully budgeted a week’s run of various highly acclaimed shows (a festival of sorts), sourced an incredible technical team and managed to create a very precise seating plan along with a complete technical set-up for sound and lighting. The highlight of this work was sourcing a 315m2 Stretch Tent that would make the event suitable for all weather types (not to mention it looks incredible.
Opportune Theatre came about as a result of making opportunities at the right time.
3) What are some of the difficulties you faced setting up Opportune, and how have you overcome them?
Honestly, its finances. There was a point that I was willing to use a business loan to kickstart my company, but with the ever-changing times (and with no certainty of when acting work shall come in) I have had to place any large movements for my project on hold whilst we make our way through this tricky time.
4) You’re such an inspiration for people getting creative in this pandemic. Where would you like to see Opportune go in the future?
I would like to see Opportune Theatre set-up in the back garden of a stately home and providing an eclectic mix of theatre, comedy, new writing, musicals and a very diverse mix of productions.
5) You have been part of some incredible productions as an actor. What is your process each night when you get into character for a show?
I have to do the things around the performance in a particular way so that I can play as much as possible on stage. This means staying mindful & accepting any emotions I might have before my performance and laying them all to one side in order to live in the moment on stage as much as possible. I allow for the costume, music and set to influence me before performing and mostly, I allow myself to breathe at the pace my character would. Being focused and prepared is key.
6) Tell us about one of your best/funniest memories on stage?
One of my best memories on stage was performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra on BBC Radio 2 for Friday Night is Music Night. I was 2nd to last in the runnings singing the title song from Sunset Boulevard at The Mermaid Theatre, London. I was kacking it! Not only was I kacking it for the nerves of singing live AND it was being recorded for radio…but the lyricist of Sunset Boulevard, Don Black, just so happened to be comparing the evening. So the song went well and I felt really happy with how I had done…I just wish that my mum and dad could have been then. Low and behold, at the end of the performance, these two people in the audience on Stage Right pulled down their programmes, and my mum and dad had managed to get tickets and to come and watch after all. The whole experience was out of this world and I will never ever forget it.
7) What three things can we always find in your dressing room? I.e Lucky charms…things that help you on stage…blue m&ms..
A placemat I bought in Manila, Philippines for my first lead role as Marius. It brings me the same excitement I felt back then and allows for me to always appreciate the work I am doing.
8) What is your favourite Cast Album to listen to right now?
I’ve been fairly awful at staying up to date with cast albums…I still listen to Hamilton on repeat.
9) If your life were a musical what would it be called, and why?
Wingin’ it – The Musical…. self-explanatory I guess. HA!
10) What advice would you give to all the new graduates – both 2020 and upcoming 2021 grads?
Have faith that our industry will recover and that we will be stronger for it. When it does, try to appreciate our industry at a whole new level. Try to appreciate the effort it takes to put productions on and what total dedication is required. As an Actor & Actress, you are of course an integral piece of the jigsaw…but understanding everyone’s role is much more important and shall help you appreciate what we have in the long run.
Remember: We are Viable.