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Q&A with Actor Norman Bowman

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Norman Bowman will be familiar with many for his West End and touring performances in plays and musicals, alongside a number of TV performances. He has kindly taken some time to share how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted on him, and what he is doing to keep himself and others entertained.

What were you doing when the announcements were made for the theatres to close?

I’d recently finished Kiss Me, Kate in Belfast and was recovering from the comedown that often follows the end of a great job. But work had just started to pick up again and prior to the lockdown I had seven separate jobs lined up, concerts, workshops, readings. Then, one by one, they just started to vanish. It was very surreal to watch things unfold, like a sci-fi film.

What have you been up to since then? Have you been taking part in anything that’s been happening online? 

Have you been taking part in anything that’s been happening online? I recently contributed to the One Day More montage tribute to the NHS, featuring 70 past and present Les Miserables performers and I also took part in an interview/quiz which was a lot of fun but in truth I’m really indulging in the simplicity of life that’s come with this lockdown and the idea of performing from my kitchen is already losing it’s appeal. I may leave that to the bold and the beautiful.

Do you plan on being part of or creating any online content whilst the theatres are closed?

I’ve been very fortunate of late to work with the wonderful singer, teacher and producer Claire Delaney who also owns House of Broadway. Through her initiative and drive she’d set up a Shakespeare Masterclass for me which was ready to roll later in the month but has now become an online class. It’ll be more challenging teaching remotely rather than being in the room but I’m hoping it will still do the job of getting anyone and everyone interested excited about the Bard and his immortal text. I’m of the notion that if I can understand and love it then so can anyone else. Claire will also be doing an Acting Through Song masterclass which I’ve seen clips of and is just great. If anyone is interested they can get information on either/both of these classes by emailing Claire at info@houseoBroadway.co.uk.

What do you think about the theatre industry putting out live streams and pre-recordings of shows?

I think it’s wonderful. Even before all of this I had nothing but praise for the NT live screenings which kickstarted the trend for recording live shows, it makes theatre much more accessible to those who previously couldn’t afford the expense of travel and tickets. When our Manchester production of Macbeth was screened in cinemas my mum was able to watch it live in Dundee! With us all now being armchair audiences the decision to stream those shows is a great one, it not only keeps theatre ‘alive’ but it will perhaps even generate some new fans.

If you’ve seen theatre shows streamed online recently could you recommend one to our readers?

I’ve been taking this opportunity to watch opera which I’ve seen very little of before. The Met Opera New York have been streaming their back catalog for the last few weeks. Some of the performances have been just incredible to listen to. I also just watched a stream of the fab production of Curtains which was mid-tour when everything ground to a halt. Next will be some of the Globe and RSC productions which should keep me busy for a while.

Could you tell us a bit about the other projects that you have in the pipeline?

I had a few workshops lined up which I’m not entirely sure if/when they’ll resume after the lockdown but in 2 weeks time we were due to start rehearsals for Indecent Proposal, a new musical which we’d been working on over the last couple of years and was ready to go to stage. The good news is we’ve secured a slot at the Southwark Playhouse for September, hoping that all will be back to normal again by then. It’s a wonderful team and exciting piece and we were all gutted it had to be shelved but it will have it’s time, I’m sure. I really felt for all those colleagues who had literally just started rehearsals or just opened when the curtains came down on all theatres. But theatre will return and no doubt more popular than ever as people indulge in the ability to go out, socialise and enjoy the arts once again.

What’s your favourite play?

To Watch? I think it has to be Macbeth. To watch any great actor tackle the Scottish king is always thrilling and those words are now so familiar to me that I can go on that dark journey with them. I’ll never 0re of the speech ‘She should have died hereafter…’ Creepy as it may sound, in our Manchester production with Sir Kenneth Branagh in the role, I used to be literally inches away from him on the other side of the set, listening to those beautifully delivered words every night. Perform in? My first professional play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I had a ball as Demetrius. The scope for putting on that piece is so limitless that Regents Park used to do it every other year alongside other programmes. The characters are wonderful, the text is gorgeous and it’s a real crowd pleaser. Can you tell I like Shakespeare?

What’s your favourite musical?

To Watch? I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Grease. It was the soundtrack to my youth and those tunes….well, when that theme tune kicks in my whole body comes alive. You just can’t help but sing along. And set against the backdrop of that glorious American summer with unforgettable characters – it is bliss. Pure escapism. Even though its story is rooted in the late 50’s I think it’s timeless. By the way, West Side Story is a VERY close second. Perform in? That’s a difficult one to answer. I’ve loved most of the shows I’ve been in and they’ve each given me such very different pleasures. But push comes to shove, Guys and Dolls was particularly great as I’d been on tour for years and it got me back into the West End. I understudied Ewan McGregor as Sky and he drew in such great Hollywood stars to watch the show. The company, choreography, costumes were all amazing. After leaving to do other projects, I later returned to take over the role of Sky and played opposite Patrick Swayze’s Nathan Detroit which was just THE most surreal and wonderful of experiences. But, more importantly, in that same contract, I also became a daddy to my beautiful twins.

How did you become a professional actor/singer?

Having been an amateur performer for several years I never allowed myself to believe that I could ever do it as a profession. My consolation was doing a rock music course in Perth as I had been a singer in a covers band at the 0me. I did love the course, had always been a rocker at heart, but in singing classes I was always doing musical theatre songs, encouraged in no small part by my teacher who loved musicals too. She was the one who suggested I try out for the London colleges and, to be honest, it was the only encouragement I needed. So I auditioned for two schools, London Academy of Performing Arts and Guildford School of Arts, got accepted for both but the former offered me a free scholarship. In hindsight I wouldn’t say it was the best MT course but it’s where my love for Shakespeare began, in the hands of an incredible mentor called David Perry. Two years later having completed the course and getting an agent from my showcase, I began auditioning. Three months later I landed my first gig – Les miserables in the West End playing Jean Prouvaire and understudying Marius. And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you were a young actor in the middle of training right now, having had classes, showcases and auditions suspended, what advice would you give them?

Keep honing your craft as best you can. There’s plenty of online content to watch/ read/study to help maintain your skillset alongside keeping mentally and physically fit, practising self-taping, cold reading, audition technique etc. One of my favourite sayings is that you must be ready for when your opportunity comes. Life, and the entertainment industry, will return to normal soon enough and you’ll be ready to go. Be undeterred but also enjoy yourself, these calmer times will become more precious once you’re in the business proper.

We’ve seen that lots of self-employed people have had to take up alternative jobs, how do you feel about that?

Everyone, but especially the self-employed have had their whole world turned on its head. Livelihoods have vanished overnight and I completely understand that need to earn money and perhaps keep mentally and physically active. I recently noticed a very prominent musical director/director working on the tills at Asda. I guess whatever you feel you need to get by. Personally, with young teenagers, I don’t want to increase my chances of contracting Covid-19. It’s been frightening to hear of young ones losing their lives to this awful virus.

What do you think about the help from the UK government to support self employed people? 

Of course it’s great that they’re helping out the self employed, but my feeling is that they ought to. Nobody affected by this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown should be neglected. But the help package does unfortunately fall short and I’m one of those falling between the cracks. It’s dull, tax affairs but needless to say, the government needs to dig deeper and make sure no one is left out. From what I hear Equity and Martin Lewis and all those new crusaders are fighting our corner.