Back in my flat in February 2005 I contemplated my life. Let’s see: I was 32 years old, turning 33 in April and ready for a change a change a change. I decided that a new agent was in order. I absolutely loved my old agent. He was fruity, fun and got me tons of work but the trouble was I wanted to push forward into television and ‘straight’ theatre as opposed to ‘musical theatre’. I wanted to be in a really classic production at The Royal Court or The National. I reckoned the way in was to try for a bigger agency and I duly wrote off to thirty different agents. I spent hours printing out and reprinting my reviews to send to these agents. Then I put stamps on the envelopes, having selected the agents to target in Contacts the actors hand book, and I waited.
To my surprise and confusion envelopes started to be returned to me and it dawned on me that I had unwittingly not paid enough postage. One by one they thumped back on my doorstep. No-one paid the postage. No-one offered me representation. What a waste of time.
Around this time I had an audition for Sir Trevor Nunn for his workshop of Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’. I was quite excited having never worked for him before. I learned my part thoroughly and dressed up for the occasion. It was only for two weeks work but was a great opportunity as if the rights were granted to Sir Trevor then a full scale production would ensue in the coming year. I sang my best and awarded a recall. Finally I learned that I had been offered one of the smaller parts ‘strawberry woman’ as I wasn’t quite right for the part I originally sang for. Trevor later told me I had been ‘too young and pretty’ for the part. Too fat, too thin, too pretty, too old, too young, too…….what a job. Being regularly advised you are not someone else’s idea of a character that some other person has made up.
Working for Sir Trev was a blast. He has an interesting persona, always wearing denim with holes in it and putting his arm around you firmly and conspiratorially. This is known as having been ‘treved’. The workshop was a triumph. I felt really excited to be part of a company of brilliant black performers again. Heading up the company was Nicola Hughes who I worked with in Blues in the Night at The Birmingham rep. She was playing Bess. We met again in the green room and she said to me in dulcet tones: ‘Ah, look at little Emma Jay all grown up.’ As I remember it I was two years older than her. I think I probably still am……….
We performed our version of the grand opera Porgy and Bess in the Cambridge Theatre to the famed Gershwin society. It was a renowned success and they agreed for Sir Trevor to produce a version for the West End stage. However, when it finally came around I was otherwise engaged.
During Spring/Summer 2005 I had a brain wave. I was out at a friend’s Birthday party at So Sushi when a girl I knew through a friend told me of a new agent she had signed with. I recognised the name of the agent and realised that they represented my friend David who had performed with me in Ragtime. It dawned on me that they would have seen me as Sarah at the Piccadilly Theatre and that if I emailed them they might give me an interview. Back at the work the next day slightly hung over I searched the net for an email address for Barry Burnett of Burnett Grainger. And I found one. I duly emailed Barry, a distinguished and brilliant central London agent and nearly fell off my chair when he replied! He knew who I was! He was pleased to have an interview with me! I was ecstatic.
Barry Burnett and Lyndsay Grainger were in based in a stylish office in Burlington Street WC1. The interview went very well and I waited with baited breath to see if they would take me on to their books. I would be joining the ranks alongside Barbara Windsor and Dame this and Dame that. The following day I had an email. They would be pleased to take me on. Then followed the difficult and upsetting task of telling Adrian that I had moved on. I felt sick as I purchased a huge bunch of sunflowers and travelled somberly to his mansion flat in West Hampstead. It made me feel really sad and I hoped I had made the right decision. Only time would tell.
A few days later I felt a renewed sense of vigour and worked away as a jolly lettings agent anticipating fantastic auditions. Apart from doing another workshop in The Bridewell Theatre called Burlesque not much happened work wise that summer. However, there were always the internet guys to keep me entertained.
Yes, folks. The internet. I had sunk that low. Musical Theatre and other sources had delivered me to a place called no-where so I decided to take matters into my own hands after a friend had success finding her boyfriend (now married with daughter) on Match.com. With great trepidation and excitement I registered my profile. Internet dating was fledgling at this point and many people were under the impression that it was for the sad and desperate.
I was actually sad and desperate.
As it happened I did not gain success this way though many friends of mine did, now with husbands and babies to show for it.
There was a man who informed me on one of our dates that I had ‘a grey hair’ and who insisted on making me pay for petrol and having separate mattresses so one person couldn’t cross over to the other side of the bed. There was the man who on our one (and only) date looked at me quizzically and said ‘I’m not used to my dates speaking English’. Nice.
And best of all there was the banker who rang me as I was on my way and asked me to pick up some condoms. What a gent! Chivalry is so not dead.
At the end of the summer I auditioned successfully for Aladdin at Greenwich Theatre to play Princess So-Shy. I was really looking forward to the job. It was local to my parent’s house and was next to Greenwich Park. It would be a glorious Christmas. The fact that I would have to commute from Walthamstow was a minor setback. I was so pleased to get the job as it was the first with my brand new agent.