Course leader for Musical Theatre shares her career journey
Course leader for Musical Theatre at the University Cumbria, Victoria Barbe shares her thoughts on how to get the most out of a musical theatre career.
Describe how and/or why you followed your career dreams.
I was somewhat obsessed with black and white movies and musical movies as a child – if it had a song or a stage in it, I would be watching it and leaping about the lounge playing as many of the characters as humanly possible during the film playtime! Whilst at first the mess created by this regular activity frustrated my mother – perhaps a chair piled up with cushions to represent Maria’s balcony, or all furniture moved to the sides of the room so I could dance along with Ginger Rogers - this passion eventually developed into attending dance lessons, piano lessons, singing lessons and amateur dramatics. I had developed ‘the bug’ for performing, and it stayed with me. In 1996, I gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and I have kept going ever since! It has been tough at times, but worth it.
Describe your best experience in your career.
I actually struggle to separate one best experience from another, as there are so many reasons to find something a highlight. It could be that a project takes you near to those you love dearly, or it could be working with someone amazing on the creative team, a beautiful venue or simply having a cast to work with that all get on brilliantly! I’ve also felt many highlights as a singing teacher and lecturer – mainly when things really click for the student, then they just fly – it’s wonderful to see!
Describe some challenging moments you have experienced.
Challenging moments. I think in the earlier stages of my career it was trying to build my teaching network and security of income, whilst also being open to auditions and performance contracts. Often, gaining a performance contract would require me to be away for several months. It was hard to juggle – eventually some jobs would be happy with the professional edge this gave to my teaching, and would have me back each time – other times I lost teaching contracts, as I would always choose to take the performance job. Another challenging thing can be absence from loved ones. I have been with my partner for 15 years, and I’m lucky that he has been incredibly patient with my flighty nature as I’ve needed to be away. Keeping confidence up is also a challenge at times – you need a thick skin depending upon who you are dealing with!
Another thing I found challenging when I was younger was keeping a sense of identity, especially when needing to take any job in between contracts to afford the rent. Stick to your guns – even if you’re not working in the industry, if you’ve trained or worked in the industry as an actor/performer/dancer etc, that’s what you are if that’s what you still want. Keep that sense of who you are and what you want to do! Equally, accept change if that is what you truly desire.
What you wish you could tell your younger/student self.
Two things strike me instantly for this question: 1. To not be so bothered about what other people think. Be confident in YOU, and all you have to offer RIGHT NOW! If you need to develop certain skills, that’s fine – that is your journey, and you should always seek to develop as an artist. 2. Not to burn bridges. Sometimes this can happen because you need to take other contracts, or because your confidence is low and you retract– always communicate and keep in contact. Being open and friendly will only serve to create more work – hiding away from a situation will likely help to burn bridges and give the wrong impression!