Sunday, 4 July 2021

COMING HOME: Samantha Bingley, soon to head out on tour with Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Pocket Size Theatre and Liza Heinrichs (Captured by Liz) have teamed up again and created our new series 'Coming Home'. In this new piece, we look at the reopening of Theatres in London and around the country and celebrate our industry coming back. We got together some performers who will be some of the first to return to theatres and created this piece to bring some positivity to the theatre industry which has been through one of the toughest years in our lifetime. Whilst it is important to acknowledge the hardships we've all gone through, it's important we pull together as a community and celebrate our beloved industry finally coming back! 

Since March 2020 the entertainment industries have been through one of the hardest times we could ever possibly face. From the moment the theatres closed things went from bad to worse with financial help almost nonexistent for most and being told we should retrain in other industries. However, recently it's been a pretty exciting time for theatre! With shows opening up in London and productions starting rehearsals for West End shows and now, excitingly, touring shows! Tomorrow (July 5th 2021) Beauty and the Beast starts rehearsals for its new UK tour. The show finally makes its return back to the stage and is coming to a theatre near you! 

We met Samantha Bingley outside the Dominion Theatre, the original UK home to the show where it opened in 1997 and ran until the end of 1999. Samantha has been cast in the new touring production as the Wardrobe and couldn’t be more excited to hit the road with this show. 

Talking to Samantha about the reopening of theatres she expresses such excitement in the buzz it creates not only inside the buildings but just walking down the streets; “Walking down Shaftesbury Avenue or through Piccadilly, there’s just a buzz of excitement. Seeing people walking out of shows, souvenir programmes in hand, bursting with happiness, I guess that's what I’m looking forward to most. Seeing the magic and conversations that theatre can create.” And she couldn’t be more right: there's such pleasure in seeing those incomings happen in our theatres after such a long time of them being closed. 

As someone who is relatively new to the industry, Samantha really sums up the growth we need to make as a community to make this industry more inclusive and representative. She speaks with such intelligence and grace but also wiseness beyond her years; “The industry has been crying out for change for a very long time and it feels like the Pandemic year was the kickstart that it needed. But emphasis on ‘start’, it’s just the start. Theatre is meant to be a form of escapism that simulates ‘real life’ on stage, audiences are supposed to be able to recognise themselves in these fantastical versions of human experience. However, the reality is that we, as an industry, alienate a large percentage of those audience members when we do not employ or tell the stories of those from marginalised communities. Unless you are a white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, slim person, sometimes it is difficult to see yourself in one of the characters. Representation is everything. It teaches young children who feel ‘different’ that they are just as important and worthy of being seen.” 

Samantha really puts emphasis on the fact we can all be allies for each other because without that we can’t lift one another up and make a real change. “We need to keep the conversations of the past year going, we need to step up and lift up those who do not benefit from our current and oppressing societal structure of ‘whiteness’. But most of all, we need to listen, recognise the bias, acknowledge it and then help to change it. People of colour, the queer community, the trans community, the disabled community; we need to listen to them, their stories will ultimately enrich theatre for the better.” 

Samantha is a primary carer for her Grandmother so, following Government guidance, has been shielding with her family during this time to protect her. “It was challenging at times but keeping her safe was the most important thing to all of us. And I’m very happy to report that she is just that; she is happy and comfortable and a gorgeous little human being.” Whilst shielding she fully embraced the lockdown life and baked, took lots of dog walks and even managed to figure out a way to keep her Nan entertained by singing to her which was a brilliant way of getting in some practice! 

With the return of theatre and the industry building itself back up again, Samantha takes time to reflect on how she has changed; “I think we’ve all gone through some form of personal growth in the past year. I definitely feel more grown-up (for want of a better phrase) and focused on things that are important, like my family and my career. When we don’t have time to pause, it’s amazing the things that we take for granted. A Pandemic has a funny way of focussing the mind.” When we asked her what advice she would give to people she responded “Make sure you enjoy the moment whatever that may be: first class, first audition, first rehearsal, first night; we all get to have so many firsts again and fall back in love with the industry that we lost for 18 months. That’s pretty incredible.” 

Beauty and the Beast opens on the 25th August 2021 at the Bristol Hippodrome and the return of this wonderful Disney classic couldn’t be more welcome right now. Everybody could use a little Disney magic in their life and Samantha and her fellow cast members will be sprinkling that all over the UK! 

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