The Musical Theatre Tutor chats to Si's Sights And Sounds about reprising her first proper lead in a musical – Maria from The Sound Of Music
During the Easter Break, Letterkenny's Encore Performing Arts Academy will perform at Strabane's Alley Theatre for the first time with a four-night run of The Sound Of Music. Encore PAA's musical theatre tutor, Magee College graduate Laura Douglas, will be playing the role of Maria Von Trapp for two nights.
We catch up with her in advance of the performances...
Was singing and acting always for you?
I didn't actually consider it until about 5th year in school! I can still remember when the careers advisors came in to discuss possibilities with our year, and telling the woman advising me that maybe, maybe, I wanted to go to drama school. Out came this huge book full of careers and where to train for them, and up went my hopes. Then, not long after she flung it open and began searching, she announced, "Here. Law. Lawyers act in court all the time."
Surely not the reaction you were expecting...?
Yeah, I doubted law was the career for me. So the "A"-Levels I chose were English, ICT, Performing Arts and French. In my final year, I played Aunt Eller in the school production of Oklahoma! – and that's when I realised I had to perform. But with no prior training, I decided to go to university and complete a degree in Drama with Music.
During that time period, I made my own opportunities to sing, act, direct and produce... Delving into other aspects of theatre was just terrific. And in final year I got my first proper lead in a musical – Maria in The Sound Of Music.
The same role you're playing this week!
Indeed! The first time I played Maria, it was with the Ballywillan Drama Group. It was an honour to work with such an established group, and as an aspiring performer, it felt brilliant to get an extended run. Ballywillan currently produce the longest running amateur shows. It all gave me a good idea about what "performing for real" is like!
How does it feel to be involved in The Sound Of Music?
It's just a great family show, and I love working with the groups of children playing the Von Trapps. You grow so close to everyone in this show because it's such an intimate production.
Have you ever drawn inspiration from any famous singers or actors when playing Maria?
I have seen the show performed professionally six times, both on tour and in the West End, and each time, Maria has been so different. When I play her, though I always try to put my own spin on her; it's such an iconic role, but it is nice to be able to play her the way I want. This time, I went into rehearsals already knowing the lines I would speak and sing; I feel my acting has come across as much freer and more spontaneous as a result. I'm also fortunate to be working with Rebecca Thompson, the producer, director and choreographer; being a performer herself, the unique insight she gives is invaluable.
What are you looking forward to most about this production?
Getting up there and performing alongside my little troop of Von Trapps! It is a really beautiful musical, and to me, nothing can beat the feeling of the nuns singing "Climb Every Mountain" in four-part harmony while the Von Trapps are on their way to a new life together. It’s extremely moving.
What kind of experience can the audience hope for?
A "family show", a classic musical for all ages, as The Sound Of Music always has been and always will be just that. But I think Rebecca's own spin on the show will make it even more fresh and exciting.
What does the future hold for Laura Douglas?
During my final year at university, I auditioned at two schools for Masters in Musical Theatre, and got into AMTA in London and AMDA in New York with a $10,000 scholarship. I am currently still auditioning. Watch this space...
Laura Douglas will play Maria in The Sound Of Music at Strabane's Alley Theatre on Wednesday April 3 and Thursday April 4, with the show running until Saturday April 6. To book your tickets, click here.