One black eye, a torn ligament and three stitches later, my time inside of Stex has come to an end. I’m struggling to put into words what the last two and a half years has meant to me but I write a blog now so I’m going to try. It’s had its ups and downs don’t get me wrong, but this is a positive reflection because I have never felt anything that compares to putting my arms up at the end of the show so enthusiastically I almost fall off my wheels. This could be a long one.
Where it all began…
On Sunday 5th February 2017 Starlight Express’s new skate school turned up at Heathrow Airport for the ride of our lives. Thankfully I knew a few other trains in training prior to Stex and after touring the UK with Lacy Jordinson and Anthony Starr for six months in Jackie The Musical, we happily sat in Leon hiding from the rest of the cast. I thank you for being selectively social with me from day 1. We then embarked on our journey of becoming German… and more importantly learning to skate.
Trust the process.
Skate school taught by the legend that is Michal Fraley is probably the most incredible, emotional and physical journey I have ever been on. It’s not just rolling on 8 wheels, Michal has a specific starlight training programme, not for the weak hearted/legged. Thank you Fraley for teaching me to bend my knees. And thank you Andrew Miller, our assistant skate coach, for holding my hand almost every exercise. It was outrageously inspiring to wake up each day with 21 other actor- singer- dancers and try to learn not just a new skill, but another means of transport and a necessity of being in the show. The combination of people ranged from noisy Geordies, determined Dutch, freshly graduated musical theatre performers and everything in between. The relationships that developed privately and in ‘the ballet room’ were that of gold. We formed a bond of unconditional support, quite frankly because our mums, dads and loved ones could never quite understand the true frustrations of skate rash, learning German and coccyx bruises.
Friends for life. ❤️
During skate school and rehearsals cliques were of course formed, and I owe remaining vertical, my romance with alcohol and the most wonderful friendship to ‘The Sweeties’. Two Game of Thrones watching lads Darius James and Corey Mitchell joined Lacy, Anthony and I for copious amounts of wine and süßkartoffel pommes. We remained as down to earth as we could whilst scraping each other up off the floor when necessary. Lacy was loud, a comic, and fearless and along with putting herself through the paces she made sure I didn’t let my cautious side get the better of me. There were days when I just didn’t want to, I didn’t want to fall, I didn’t trust my body, the bruises , shaky legs and fear would overwhelm me. Her mentality of ‘just f***ing do it’ made me do it, I literally had no other option. We did it, we counselled each other at the laundrette with multiple Aperol spritzes from our hotel bar and then we conquered skating. Thank you Lacy and Aperol.
As a swing we had all the paper work, we knew what we had to do; but getting our first show was a waiting game. Slowly but surely we all took to the tracks and survived. I wanted no fireworks, no standing ovation, just survival for myself and everyone around me. I have never felt anything like finishing my first show. I also can’t remember most of it as it was a complete blur. I donned Pearl’s pink wig and made it to the end, my legs shook uncontrollably but I was adamant to uphold my calm swing persona. Swinging the show is something pretty special. We’re put on in strange sad circumstances when a fellow cast mate has been injured, but the rush to save the day is like no other. It can also be pretty comical when my Act 2 Pearl is a foot shorter than Act 1’s. The proof of the shows overall difficulty became apparent one weekend when we were so low on male cast members due to injury’s and such things that there was one role with no one to fill it. In my swing hysteria and unconditional want to save the show from being asymmetrical I volunteered as tribute. With 20 minutes to learn the part of Volta, the sassiest male member of the electric train, I donned the cod piece. And I didn’t kill anyone. Added bonus that I fit into the gloriously petite costume some of the male swings could only dream of. #SwingLife
Mein deutsch is nicht so gut.
We were tirelessly taught our German scores for the show, and if you want Starlight in German I can recite (preferably sing) every word. Conversing in real life German situations however proves slightly more difficult. Due to the cast being 95% British, my lack of German schooling and laziness I’ve picked up very little. Most of us will leave knowing the basics and how to order pommes and vin. Despite not thoroughly learning the language I have enjoyed my German living. In our little city called Bochum in North Rhine-Westphalia of Germany value for money is great and we were all able to set up lives for ourselves. If you’re ever in town, head straight to Starlight Express of course and then hit up the mining museum! Germany’s public transport, paperwork and bratwurst seem to be your downfalls but thank you for your beer. You’ll truly be missed.
On the 13th May 2018, the last show of Starlight 17/18 and the last ‘old version’ of the show took place. And who knows? Maybe due to my three month long torn ligament or my love of snacks I was cast to play the last ever Buffy that night. A wonderful part, with a hot dog in her wig, and due to our wonderful 1st cast Buffy’ Serina, flying off a few days early to start a new show, the wheels needed filling. It was a true gift to be part of that show, and I will remember it fur immer.
It was a rollercoaster in more ways than one. We maintained real lives, went through endless swing runs, rehearsals, tears, injuries, long distance relationships, holidays, Instagram takeovers and bottles of wine. And we made it through the year. In May 2018 some of us remained for the cast change and some of our dear friends left for London, Starlight cast ‘17/18 you are all wonderful, Zoe I’m back!
Romance at the roller rink.
Whilst we lost some loved ones we also gained a new batch of skate schoolers. There were some serious corkers amongst them. Some that I truly fell in love with, you know who you are. What happened at the roller rink stays at the roller rink. We created a new show, new songs, new choreography, different races, new characters and costumes. The 30th anniversary version of Starlight Express. We didn’t save lives at Starlight Express but we did try to bring a whole lot of joy. The show flourished in my opinion because of its hero’s, to the cast who worked 12hr rehearsals, to some who played 3 parts at once, to members who came back to help during injury periods, to a very special man from Ireland for being a brave inspiration to us all and for the constant support we all gave to each other.
During this cast changeover and serious courting at the roller rink I fell for a fellow train. Starlight Express was his dream show. And I got a dream guy. My support system, whiskey provider and personal chef. He may have made me stay up until 2am discussing Race 4, I lost him daily at stage door going above and beyond for every fan and I definitely picked 263 tea bags out of our sink but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for being a stunning engine.
The 30 year longevity of the show is mostly down to Steven and Debbie, our resident director and choreographer. Thank you for incredulously noting my Pearl arms. It’s been a true honour to work with them, a well oiled machine and two Starlight legends that live and breath It. ‘Just enjoy it.’ – Debbie Hearnden Mayer.
Starlight Express challenges you physically, mentally, creatively and emotionally and if you’re lucky enough to be cast and brave enough to accept the challenge you’re in for some serious growth. I’ve loved the epic score since watching it for the first time in the West End when I was very young. It also happens to be one of my Dads favourite musicals and the CD remained in our family cars/house until I got the job and played it every drive I took. Thank you Arlene Philips and Andrew Lloyd Webber for casting me in this rollercoaster. Thank you to everyone involved at the halle, as I look back on my time here I thank you for whatever relationship, acquaintanceship or exchange we had as I wouldn’t change it. Every part of the journey got me to where I am now, horizontal on my sofa typing away and beaming at the thought of Starlight Express. For the last 2 and a half years I’ve played my dream roles, plus one male role, on a purpose built arena with the most outrageous group of talented cast mates and musicians supported by some of the most genuine crew and creatives I’ll ever know. An honour.
I personally went through something I once thought I wouldn’t get through. And I doubt anything will compare. Starlight has taught me more about myself than it has about the show, and I was a swing so I know it pretty darn well.
I’m heartbroken but the two and a half year love affair was worth it. And to anyone that steps wheel onto the bühne in the casts to come. Will it be easy? No. Will it be worth it? Absof***inglutely. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And yes I stacked it on my last ever show.
As Elton John once said… ‘This train don’t stop here anymore…’
This isn’t goodbye it’s thank you.