Wednesday, 6 May 2020

The Corona Diaries: Sharon Sexton & Rob Fowler


These recent times have been some of the hardest challenges we've faced and as a community, it hit us pretty hard. However during these difficult times, here at Pocket Size Theatre, we wanted to spread a little positivity and share some peoples experiences because we are all in this together. Each day we'll be speaking to our friends in the industry to share their experiences with you all so take a read and see how people are getting through these hard times.

Let's stick together, share the love and get through this as a community!

*Some information mentioned in this article may be out of date due to the progress of the current situation. Please keep that in mind when reading* 

Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton were most recently playing the roles of Sam and Donna in the UK touring production of Mamma Mia. They were also due to reprise their roles of Falco and Sloane in Bat Out Of Hell The Musical in the production new UK tour, they previously originated the roles and played them at The Manchester Opera House, The London Coliseum, The Ed Mirvish Theatre Toronto & Dominion Theatre. 

Rob Fowler's other credits include Dan in Next to Normal (Oper Dortmund); Dracyka in Dracula (Frankenfestspiele Röttingen); Alternate Galileo in We Will Rock You (Apollo Theater Stuttgart, Theater des Westens, Berlin), Corny Collins in Hairspray (Musical Dome Köln); Frank'n'Furter in The Rocky Horror Show (Tour); Jamie in The Last Five Years (Kammeroper Wien); Berger in Hair (Musical Sommer Amstetten); Vincent Fontaine/Teen Angel in Grease (Theater St. Gallen); Alternate Tod in Elisabeth (Theater an der Wien); Jesus in the German version of Jesus Christ Superstar (Vereingite Buhnen Bozen); Rum Tum Tugger in Cats (Stuttgart) and Caboose/ Rusty/ Greaseball in Starlight Express (Musical Theater Bochum). 

Sharon Sexton's other credits include The Commitments (The Palace Theatre); Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace); Conchita in Copacabana (UK Tour); Nancy in Oliver!, Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde, Lily St Regis in Annie, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (National Concert Hall Dublin); Kate in Girls Night The Musical(National Tour); Fairy Godmother in Cinderella (The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin) and Yellow Girl in Shout The Musical, Calamity Jane in Calamity Jane, and Jane Eyre The Musical in Dublin and Somewhere Under the Rainbow (UK Tour and Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

On Friday 8th May, Sharon and Rob will be doing a live-streamed concert. Click here to buy tickets

On Monday 16th March 2020, The Society of London Theatre announced the closure of all Theatres in London. This followed suit with regional venues. Where were you when you found out and what was your initial reaction? 

Sharon: So myself and Rob were in Hull New Theatre with Mamma Mia and it was such a surreal few hours. We all saw that shambolic press conference at 5pm where the public were advised not to go to the theatre, but there was no clear instruction. So like most of the West End, we were all messaging and waiting and watching and wondering what would happen with that evening's show. We went into warm-up as normal and we were informed that the show would be going ahead as normal. The lack of government clarity placed so many producers and venues in such an uncertain position, it was so unfair - no one wanted to be the one to make the call, mainly for insurance reasons - So we were instructed to carry on as normal. 

Rob: It was such a strange atmosphere. Many of us felt that it was wrong that we were going ahead, for obvious reasons, our own health and the audiences, but then also no one wanted to be the one to stick their neck out and refuse to do the show! So there was a sense of relief when word trickled in that the unions and theatres and west end venues had banded together and made the call.

Sharon: By that stage our venue was open and our audience was in and we were in the half... so our producers made the call we would go ahead. It was a strange show.

Rob: We all knew it would be our last show for a while, now it turns out, it was our final show as they've been forced to cancel the rest of our contracts. I don't think any of us were certain of that at the time, but that was at the back of our minds. 

Sharon: That and the fact that we've potentially just lost 5 months work, both of us, and we've nowhere to live, and they've shut the borders and Rob's kids are in Europe...and..and...and... oh and now I have to do a scene"... 

Rob: Yes so to be honest, the last truthful honest performance we gave in Mamma Mia was probably the Saturday night before and so for me, that will be the show that I will take away as my last show with Mamma Mia! That uplifting joyous finale, with a raucous audience and so much love and happiness. Sharon actually said a few words at the end of the show on that Monday night off the cuff.

Sharon: which I am not really allowed to do. I don't have much free reign at that point during the finale but I do have a live mic & looking around at our company on stage that night and out into the audience, I remember knowing in my gut that I had probably just said goodbye to Donna and that this would be the last night for a long long time that any of us would enjoy a night at the theatre. I told the audience that - and ordered them to make the most of our last number together! 

Can you tell us anything productive you’ve been doing? 

Sharon: Rob bought me a guitar for my birthday last year. I can now play 6 chords, that's not very good, is it?!

Rob: we have been actually very lucky to be in lovely green peaceful surroundings in a gorgeous town we found by accident - Louth - and so we have been trying to live well and enjoy the peace, and creatively throwing ourselves into our music. We released an archived concert of our cabaret show Vision for You, which was recorded at The Crazy Coqs last summer - and all proceeds from that went to the wonderful charity set up by Paul Taylor Mills - Funds For Freelancers. We raised over £1300 for that and then decided that we could probably do something similar to cover our own rent (we are in an Air BnB !) So we revisited our original music. 

Sharon: It took us a few weeks to get into writing again - it's funny, all you want is time to do it and then when you have nothing but time it's actually really hard to motivate yourself if your head or heart isn't it. I think we felt a lot of pressure to be productive, like a lot of people did. There were live streams popping up here there and everywhere, so instead we decided to take the pressure off and create a pre-recorded concert which we called GROUNDED - every couple of days we recorded and videoed a song. 

Rob: After two weeks of doing this we had a concert - and we edited it together with a commentary - kind of documentary-style and released it. It was a great project for us as it gave us something to do but at our own pace and it made me really proud of our music again. 

Sharon: It's still available and it's £10 to buy via PayPal (all links are on our social media pages ) then we send you the private link so you watch it at your leisure.

Rob: We are dipping our toe into the streaming world for the first time though on Bank Holiday Friday! 

Sharon: Yes we are streaming a live concert from our bedroom "UNDER THE COVERS" where we have put together a cracking set from fan recommendations - it's going to be light-hearted, fun but also a chance for us to all have some kind of live experience together. Tickets are £9 and we are going to get into our pyjamas and grab a glass of wine and sing our socks off!

Whenever you log onto social media there is so much negativity circulating. How have you been trying to keep a positive mental attitude during these times? 

Sharon: I try not to engage with negativity - Everyone is entitled to their opinion and while I know that when there are small-minded people out there, braver people than me will engage with them and argue it out and to be honest with you, I don't have that in me to do it with a stranger on social media. I generally try and pass it by. I much prefer to engage with someone in person and often if I find I meet someone who has severely different opinions to me, in real life, I will engage and listen and try and understand their point of view, but also try and debate it out - you always learn something that way - but on social media land, I generally try to pass it by, unless I can send some kindness in the debate! I am struggling with meditating (awful attention span) but running with music is my headspace and yoga for my breathing! That's my church.

Rob: Excercise is a big part of my life and I really need to push myself and my body - I usually get my headspace and my drive in the gym, but obviously with all that being taken away, I have had to find a new way and I can say honestly that being outside is really a bonus. It is adding another layer to my mental health. Walks with the dog are also great for the soul - finally making time to really appreciate mother nature and have some headspace. 

With the Arts temporarily shut down, how would you advise people to continue to support the Arts industries? 

Rob: Buy records, discover new music, spend time supporting the artists you love and look at the music or artists that inspire them - we watched Glen Hansard as he sang in his kitchen for his 50th birthday a few weeks ago in lockdown and it was joyous! 

Sharon: And you can see how much the community has banded together with streams, readings, concerts and charity events. There is a lot of ego attached to our job and that is just a fact, but when it is used in a healthy way and it is used for good, I always find it so inspiring. Buy your stream tickets, tune into the national theatre's recordings, to the amazing Andrew Lloyd Webber show must go on series - we are loving all of these. 

Rob: The best gift you can give to the artists is investing in the future, if you have the pennies to put aside, book yourself some theatre trips for next year and keep the doors open

Have you discovered anything that you’d like to recommend to our viewers? 

Sharon: OPRAH! "What I know for sure" - this is what I am reading at the moment and the woman is an inspiring genius! I adore her - her journey is amazing and she is so wise - it really calms me and centres me - read it if you want some wisdom!

Rob: I am actually listening to David Jason's autobiography at the moment "My Life" and also it is really inspiring - I am a huge fan of his - so I think to find someone your respect or admire who inspires you and see if they have an autobiography - also - we've been recreating some lovely childhood memories with favourite foods from the past that we have recreated and it is also a real mood changer! 

In these times of Social Distancing and isolation, how have you been trying to connect with Friends and Family? Any fun quizzes or games?! 

Sharon: My parents have learned to facetime and so we are contacting a lot more and voice memos from WhatsApp are lovely frequent postcards between many friends every few days - we have also joined house party!

Rob: I Facetime my children every day and we do games, homework, and yes, house party! Sharon goes upstairs and I stay downstairs so we can be on at the same time without feedback and my daughter loves it. 

Sharon: We've become a dab hand at the drawing game and guac and chips! Hidden talents we didn't know we had. 

We'd like to thank Rob, Sharon and all other performers who have given up their time to contribute to this feature.

For more information please visit GOV.UK and NHS.co.uk

Other useful links for anyone needing further help:

Acting For Others - Charity that provides financial & emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need.
Help Musicians - An independent Charity that helps all forms of Musicians through times of need.
Industry Minds - Mental Health Support for the creative arts.
Theatre Helpline - a free, independent and confidential phone and email service that provides support to people working in the theatre industry.
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