Reflections: 2.0 Theatre & Performing

What started out as an exercise to reflect on my blogging and writing skills, led to the idea of creating a series of reflective posts…. looking back at 2020 and the good it offered, amidst the horrible, life changing experiences. In a year when theatre and the arts were practically halted to a standstill globally, I was lucky enough to have had some of the most challenging yet extraordinary on stage opportunities to date.

I started the year rehearsing for two very different performances, simultaneously. One of them was what I still deem to be the most challenging role I’ve ever taken on in my life, to date at least: Alice Beineke in The Addams Family: A New Musical. The other was performing in more of a concert-like setup. But a lot of acting was involved in that too, and I was challenged in different ways. The Kettle Club performance came first, and gave me the opportunity to sing and act through a couple of rather jazzy-musical numbers which are very much up my alley. I still can’t decide whether I prefer ‘Anything Goes’ or ‘Le Jazz Hot’. It was quite an honour to be one of the very first Kettle Club performers.

The road to the Addams Family musical was not an easy one. It was a journey of self-growth, both as an artist and actress, and part of my personal journey to learn how to believe in myself and my talents. I was petrified by the thought of not being able to do the role justice and disappointing the people who entrusted me with the role. It challenged me both vocally as I had to sing a rather difficult song; and in terms of characterization. This woman looks to be what I call the ‘perfect 1950’s housewife’ that works to have the perfect normal family, and is constantly seeking her husband’s approval. However she constantly feels neglected by him and unloved. This within itself was a challenge to ‘the housewife rebel’. Lord knows I’m anything but the stereotypical housewife. However, the role also has a pivotal moment. Just before the end of the first act, Alice drinks a magic potion which makes her lose her inhibition, and her ‘crazy’ and wild sides surface, revealing her true colours. Bringing out that change was another challenge, but what I feared most was not managing to show all the different layers and depth of this character whilst also being comical.

Please excuse the quality, this was taken by a mobile phone . Here I am performing ‘Waiting’ from The Addams Family Musical produced by Arthaus in March 2020

It is incredibly hard to put into words the exhilaration I felt, lying on the floor at the end of this number, eyes closed pretending to be passed out and just listening to the applause. It was literally a feeling of pride, a feeling that I don’t experience too often. Knowing how difficult the journey to get to that climax was, and how terrified I was just before going on stage knowing that this number was next, I couldn’t help but feel proud of how far I had come. I literally had to fight my facial muscles from breaking into a huge smile.

Getting over my fear and believing that I could do justice to the role, was not something I managed to do alone. I really don’t think I could have found the confidence I needed without some incredibly supportive friends and the director. This is exactly what theatre people mean when they say they are a family. They literally go out of their way to help and support each other, and together they succeed.

We performed the Addams Family Musical the weekend that the pandemic hit Malta. We had been expecting an announcement of positive cases for a couple of weeks and were incredibly anxious on whether we would manage to perform at all. We were incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to actually do so, as all events were cancelled the following week. We couldn’t be grateful enough to have been given this opportunity.

Considering that my career is also based in the performing arts sector, there was a lot of tension and stress surrounding my full-time job as well. We were devastated when we were told that we would have to cancel all the Dance Company’s performances from March to September, and worked hard to find ways to adapt, keep active and keep feeling relevant. Being in the heart of it all, I can state for a fact that the struggles that artists and the entertainment industry are facing is very real and the fight to keep pushing ahead despite all the challenges, has not been easy at all. We literally count our blessings every single day that we get up and have a job to go to, because we know how many around us do not have that at the moment.

Another challenge my family and I faced for Addams family was the fact that during production week (the final week at the theatre, that leads to the actual performance), my father was in hospital. At that point it wasn’t anything major, but what was meant to be going in for a simple MRI turned into a full week in hospital getting several tests done. With my sister producing the show, my brother heavily involved in the technical setup, my mum making every single costume, and myself on stage, the whole family pretty much lived at the theatre during production week. Balancing that with hospital visits, trying to keep dad occupied and distracted, worrying what the outcomes of his tests might be, all the duties at the theatre, running businesses and pandemic anxiety was no easy feat. But we persevered and got through it, and thankfully the performances over the weekend were magical.

After months of being in lockdown, we started rehearsing for the next production around July, a cabaret this time, Grisly Cabaret. Over summer, things were looking a little brighter locally in terms of the pandemic, but rehearsals did not come without their difficulties. I had yet another challenging role, taking on the character of Ma Barker, this savage woman who acts like a saint before the authorities, but was secretly teaching her children how to be gangsters. Let’s be honest, I don’t think I’m quite ‘rough’ enough to be a gangster, and the gun I had to hold was incredibly heavy, so I felt incredibly clumsy waving it around. 

Well rehearsals started with taking on just Ma Barker’s role at least. By the actual performance I had Ma Baker’s character, a whore to play, and Mata Hari – not a whore but a courtesan.

This production seemed to be the production that would never happen. From cast members needing to drop out and being replaced to last minute performance venue changes…. we had it all. On a personal note, dad passed away three weeks before the performance. I missed a week of rehearsal because of that. My director kept insisting that if I’m not up to performing she completely understood. I’m not one to just drop out of something last minute, but I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was in the right headspace to take this on. I also knew however, that dad would be very disappointed in me if I dropped out of a production, when he used to take so much pride in seeing us on or behind the stage. Our parents always taught us that the show must go on, so I returned to rehearsals the following week with that motto in mind. It turned out that another cast member, a dear friend, had to very unexpectedly drop out… we were now just two weeks away from performance night. It was quite impossible to rewrite the whole script to be rid of the character, so someone had to take on Mata Hari.

In the messy state I was in, distractions were incredibly welcome, so as challenging as it was, I was happy to step in. This presented new challenges though. Mata Hari was known for her exotic dancing that she learned in the West Indies. I hadn’t done any sort of belly dancing in a while, and when my frame was erm…slightly different. It’s not easy dealing with insecurities about your body when you have to take the stage in a belly dance costume, all the while trying to remember lines, a song and dance moves that you learned in a week. But as actors, the minute we take the stage we aren’t ourselves we are our characters, so we leave our insecurities in the changing room.

I thought that this would be the last performance of the year for me, which always brings me down a little. But I had to dive back into my full time work, and deal with a whirlwind of emotions. I still had quite a lot to concentrate on. My heart and soul feel somewhat empty when I don’t have rehearsals to look forward to however. But in November there was an unexpected turn of events, and a couple more singing opportunities came about. The first was my grandmother’s funeral, and whilst that is anything but a joyous moment, it did make me happy to be able to say my goodbyes through music. She loved music and loved watching us perform, so it felt right. I then had a mini Christmas concert at the school where I study music and voice technique, which turned out to be a lot more fun than I had initially anticipated. I’m definitely looking forward to having more opportunities to sing with the band that our teachers formed for us.

The pinnacle came however, when I was asked to end the year and start the new year on stage. I was asked to be a backing vocalist for the New Year’s Eve variety show, and I couldn’t be more grateful for such an opportunity. As I wrote in a previous post New Year’s Eve was going to be more difficult for me than Christmas, because to me it is synonymous with dad’s parties. So to have been given the opportunity to welcome the new year in an evening that dad would have described as magical, and to be focused on music (and hitting the right notes), rather than being saddened by dad’s absence, was by far the best present I could have received this year.

The best part is, that by starting the year on stage, it gave me hope that I’ll be having at least a few more moments on stage this year – you know, a little of that new year’s magic. We’ll have to wait and see whether that wish is realised, but a girl can definitely hope and dream.

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