Kara Lane is an Australian singer, actress and dancer who has been living and performing in the UK since 2003. She’s best known for her portrayal of Magenta and Usherette in The Rocky Horror Show (UK tour 2009/2010).
At the time of the interview, Kara was appearing in the West End in Lend me a Tenor the Musical at the Gielgud Theatre which is running until 19th November. This “treasure of a show” marks Kara’s West End debut.
Check out our great interview with Kara and read about how she arrived in the UK with only 30 quid in her pocket, how she performed (and found love) on a cruise ship and why everybody should go and see Lend me a Tenor the Musical. Enjoy!
At what age did you realise that you wanted to be a singer/actress?
I’d always fantasised about being in the MGM movie musicals. My mum and I used to watch them all when I was a kid. But I grew up in a small town in Central Queensland and never even imagined that it was possible to make a career out of singing and dancing unless it was as a teacher. Then one day my dad presented me with an envelope full of leaflets and application forms for a few music theatre colleges that he’d sent away for. I didn’t even know theatre schools existed! I didn’t know where it would lead me but I knew I had to go.
Did anyone in particular inspire you to want to be on the stage?
My mum. She is a singing teacher and I grew up doing amateur musicals with her. Her love for theatre rubbed off on me. However, she was far from a stage mum! At our local Music competitions (Eisteddfods) she would encourage ALL the children involved, it didn’t matter if they were her students, strangers or her own daughter. People often describe her as being a very “fair person”. She nurtured my talents without fostering the sharp elbowed competitiveness – that can develop easily enough in this industry. My dad inspired me in his own way too. He always said “follow your dream. Not all of us have talent like yours, it’s no use wasting it”.
Do you have any role models?
Grace Kelly, Maureen O’Hara, Ann Miller and Dita Von Teese!
You trained at Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music and Brent Street Performing Arts College in Australia. Please tell us about your time there.
The Con was amazing for learning technique! It was very theory based which has helped me continually throughout my career. I’ve forgotten a lot of it now as I just haven’t needed all that information but occasionally I’ll blurt something out about the Aeolian mode or Augmented chords just to sound intelligent. It backfires sometimes…
Brent Street was a turning point for me. Before then I guess I didn’t truly believe I could actually perform for a living. Australia is very different to the UK in that respect. There’s so much theatre over here compared to Australia and as a result there’s generally a lot more support over here. I was laughed at countless times as a child for wanting to follow this path (even by a teacher once) and I think that has stayed with me as a negative sense in some ways but pushed me harder in others. Anyway, it wasn’t till I went to Brent Street and was suddenly taught by people who were actually working in the industry that it became a reality. They taught alongside their performing careers. Brent Street was where I really learnt to dance. It was mainly a dance college so I went from having a few dance classes when I was little to having 6 hours of dance a day. In my audition I couldn’t step kick down the room. By the end of the year I was being hired as a professional dancer.
I understand you spent some time on a cruise ship as a singer, dancer and cabaret artist. What was that like?
It had its ups and downs like any job. I personally didn’t like the formality of living on a ship. Having to dress up in ball gowns every night for dinner can be fun for a while but after a few months I was craving just sitting in my pyjamas on my sofa with a TV dinner. I didn’t get to do that for a whole year! The up side for me was that I met my boyfriend on my first ship, then 3 years later we decided to go on another one together. It was a wonderful way to see the world together and get paid to do so! So in a way I guess it was a bit of a working holiday (except for the relentless rehearsals we had for our 17 different shows)! I think it’s a great job to gain experience or to save money but you need to want to do it because there’s nowhere to escape to if you don’t really want to be there.
What do you like best – singing, acting or dancing?
I go through different stages. Sometimes I like singing better, sometimes dancing. At the moment I like acting. I guess acting is what links all 3 together. I like singing at concerts or just dancing but when you’ve got a story line giving you a reason to do all 3 disciplines then that’s what it’s all about for me.
You’re Australian but have been in the UK since 2003. What made you come here (and stay)?
My dad’s from Yorkshire so I’m half English. I was living in Sydney when I got a call from a choreographer I’d worked for a couple of times. I’d only ever worked as a dancer for her but then she heard me sing one day and wanted to know if I wanted to work on a ship that did mini musicals – they needed someone who could sing, dance and act and they needed them in the UK to start rehearsals in 4 days! That was my ticket over. I arrived with $100aus in my pocket which converted to £30. That got me from Heathrow to the ship terminal where I boarded the ship for a week to watch the previous cast perform the shows before we went back to the UK to start rehearsals. When we got back to London I had no money and nowhere to live during rehearsals so I slept on a mattress on the floor of the company’s office. I had the time of my life! I stayed in the UK after that because of my boyfriend and because my career just seemed to take off over here.
You played Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show as part of the UK touring cast. Please share a memory or two.
I loved that show! It’s a once in a lifetime experience because it’s so different from any other show I know. It really is a whole other world. I loved that our production was directed by Christopher Luscombe who is praised for his direction on countless plays at venues such as Shakespeare’s Globe, Regents Park and of course on West End. He had never seen the show before and approached it as a straight play during rehearsals. This meant that all the characters had real depth to them and we weren’t just playing it to the audience to get a reaction. In previous productions the audience participation had taken over the show and as a result the actors were fighting to just get through it. We still had audience participation but Chris showed us a few techniques to control the shout outs so that the AP complimented the show instead of taking over the show. I also played the Usherette who opens and closes the show with “science fiction, double feature”. That was the most nerve racking experience I think I’ve ever had on stage. Being the first and only person on stage with a screaming and very unpredictable audience was terrifying! Most of the time they went silent as soon as the singing started which was great but occasionally you’d get one or two loud drunks who you’d have to try to ignore.
You are currently part of the Ensemble in Lend me a Tenor at the Gielgud Theatre. What is the show about?
It’s a musical farce. It was originally a play in the ‘80s but I had always assumed it was a musical as it seems to be the perfect set up for one: opera, comedy, 1930s, etc. It’s set in the Cleveland Opera House in 1934. The world famous tenor, Tito Merelli (Michael Matus), has been asked to be the guest star in the company’s production of Otello to save the opera house from closing down. When he is suddenly unable to perform, Max (Damian Humbley), the theatre manager’s meek assistant has to come up with a way to replace the star of the show without anyone finding out it’s not Tito. Lots of crazy things happen from then on. Matthew Kelly plays Henry Saunders (the theatre manager), Joanna Riding is Maria Merelli (Tito’s wife), Cassidy Janson plays Maggie Saunders (Max’s love interest and Henrys daughter), Sophie-Louise Dann plays Diana DiVane (the opera diva) and Gay Soper, Jane Quinn and Michelle Bishop play the 3 Annas (Henry’s 3 ex-wives).
What part(s) do you play/cover?
I cover Diana DiVane and Anna 3. Two great roles! Diana gets the show stopping number in the show and Anna 3 is a ditzy blonde. Both are so much fun to play.
Why should everyone go and see Lend me a Tenor?
This show is hilarious! I’ve had people tell me over and over again that’s it’s one of the funniest shows they’ve seen in a long time and it’s wonderful hearing that said to you with genuine excitement. It’s a wonderful mix of Opera, 1930s style tap numbers, witty comedy and a great story line. This musical is everything music theatre is about for me and reminds me of why I wanted to be in this industry in the first place. It completely takes the mick out of itself but the best bit is that it has real heart. This is certainly a treasure of a show so don’t miss out on seeing it!
What do you usually do on your ‘nights off’ from Lend me a Tenor?
Lately I’ve been trying to see other shows if they show on a Sunday. Other than that I love to clean my house or meet up with friends.
What roles would you love to play and why (in any musical/play)?
I change my mind all the time! I think my all time favourite dream role is Christine in Phantom but I know I’m too old to play that now. My mum and I first saw the show in Sydney when I was about 14. She turned to me after the show and said she would do anything to get me up on stage if that’s what I wanted. It was a moment neither of us have ever forgotten. I think these days I’m just happy when I get to play a role that I can make my own.
What’s the best part of being an actress? And the worst?
The best part is that you can reach out to people. It’s simply story telling. We’re not doctors or the police or fire fighters – we don’t save lives for a living or even help people with their everyday lives like plumbers or a postman – but we can make people happy or take them away from their troubles, even if it’s just for an hour or two. When I was in Scrooge, Shane Richie received a letter from a man who hadn’t spoken to his father for over 30 years. He watched our show and it reached out to him so much that he made contact with his father again and started rebuilding their relationship. That’s connecting with people!
The down side is having to deal with rejection all the time. At college we were told that you’re lucky to get 1 job out of every 10 auditions. A lot of the time it’s much better odds than that but it’s still heartbreaking when you’ve put your heart and soul into an audition process and you don’t end up getting the job.
Is there anyone you would really like to meet?
I was so lucky to finally meet Patricia Quinn (who played Magenta in the film of Rocky Horror) only a couple of weeks ago! She is someone I’ve always wanted to meet and I wasn’t disappointed. She signed “from one Magenta to another. Love always Patricia Quinn”. That made me very happy indeed!
Other than her I can’t think of any one person I’d like to meet. If I could go back in time I would love to host a dinner with all the stars of the golden age of movie musicals. Can you imagine?! Our choreographer for Lend me a Tenor, Randy Skinner, has worked with Ginger Rogers so that’s pretty exciting and may be the closest I get to working with one of these legends.
You like animals. Have you got any pets?
No. I would love a cat but I never know where my job will take me. I couldn’t commit to a pet for that reason. We have 2 neighbourhood cats who often pop in to say hi. I call one of them Tude cause he’s got real attitude (I think he lost his tail in a fight) and the other one Tailor cause he has a tail…
What are your long-term ambitions – on the stage or off it?
I want to be a “leading lady”. Cliché I know but I do. I might be a late starter but I like to think I’ve done the hard slog and deserve to be there. I think I’ve already succeeded in my career when I think about how far I’ve come but I think it’s healthy to always have something to work towards. On the other hand something might happen in the next few years that could change my mind and make me want to leave the industry completely. You just never know!
And anything else you might like to add?
Lend me a Tenor has such a great company. I only joined for the West End stint but about 50% of the cast were down in Plymouth for the pre-West End run last year and one thing they’ve really managed to succeed at is working as a team. Everyone is truly lovely and we all have respect for each other.
Within the first few days of rehearsals Matthew Kelly had nicknamed me “Queensland”, he always has the time for a bit of friendly banter which I think is a credit to his character. The rest of the cast, the producers and the creative team all have that same attitude. Every night after the show for the first couple of weeks the producers would be waiting by the stage door to say what a great job we did and to ask how it went for us. One day before the show they called us for a meeting just to say thank you for working so hard. We couldn’t believe it! We were all sitting there waiting for the “but…” but that’s all they wanted to say. Oh and then they introduced two of our co-producers who had just stepped off the plane from America with a bag full of the most amazing cookies I’ve ever tasted! They had baked them from scratch before leaving the USA and carried them on the plane as hand luggage! It’s unheard of. I wish more companies were like this!
Thank you very much for this great interview, Kara! Have a wonderful time in ‘Lend me a Tenor’ and I hope that you’ll have another chat with us when you finally get to be a leading lady – you certainly deserve it!
Follow Kara on Twitter: @Karalane90
Interview by Sandra Palme (Twitter: @LondonTheatre2)
22nd July 2011