Having just turned eighteen and still studying towards her A levels, budding actress Ella Vatvani is taking the leap from drama student to amateur thespian with what she describes as her first ‘adult’ role. She auditioned for the large cast of Daniel Strain-Webber’s production of Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, to be staged at the end of this month in the historical surroundings of GEMA Art Gallery.
Ella was so successful in her bid to making a grand entrance on the local drama scene that she was cast not just in one, but in three parts, quite different from each other, thus challenging her characterisation skills and stage presence. She will be alternatively a mother, a young and preppy boutique’s sales advisor and a no better specified ‘passer-by’.
Ella relishes the challenge, and she is already known in local showbiz for her versatility and her ability to dodge the risk of being typecast for her looks or on the basis of previous roles, because she believes that real actors must be able to shape-shift to most, if not all, roles, by changing their intonation, speech patterns, gesticulation and stance, sometimes with the help of props, costumes and make-up.
In Earthquakes, a dark – reinforcing this adjective with ‘very’ – comedy about the quirks of modern metropolitan lifestyle, Ella plays a fulfilled mother confronted by the doubts and fears of first-timer mums-to-be. Her other character will be a young prim-and-proper professional, proud of having started and being managing her independent business, who struggles to deal with a fussy customer and gets tangled in some fishy family affairs in the process. Her third one is a passer-by in a large ensemble scene, that Ella describes as energetic and overwhelming for both the cast and the audience. Choreographic in its unravelling, and precisely timed, this scene demands clock-work team work from all actors, and Ella says its rehearsals have been intense.
Despite her young age, Ella already has a few top roles under belt, both in ensemble cast and as protagonist or support actor. She has played characters that show off her chameleonic enthusiasm in lending her voice and poise to any part possibly written, from sassy TV production secretary Kate in Julian Felice’s original comedy Popstar (which made waves at last Drama Festival with its shocking finale), to an almost improvised panto villain in shiny pants and doodled-on moustache, when Ella was cast as the nasty-with-a-past Count De Puns in Julian’s Play in a Weekend end-of-the-year session and Bayside Drama Studio swan song.
She believes that real actors must be able to shape-shift.
Ella’s career actually started a dancer at Paulette Finlayson’s ballet school, where she attained top level certificates, continued with vocal training, and it included her starring as the Genie, when she was just eight, in a Stagecoach international production presented in Fuengirola in front of a thousands-strong audience. She recalls herself attired in blue tights, with her face made up accordingly, prancing around on a large stage with a large cast of fellow youngsters.
Notwithstanding her brilliant experience in musical theatre, she is not planning to pursue it in the foreseeable future, in favour of drama, although she recognises that making song and dance of it can indeed be advantageous at auditions – a handful of which she already has applied for, and is hoping to attend in London and elsewhere during her next, and last, academic year.
She is aware that the industry is a strictly selective one, and only a handful of applicants make it from the crowd of thousands of hopefuls, but this notion doesn’t at all dampen her spirits in chasing the dream of becoming a theatre actor, and landing a scholarship at a prestigious school. Last summer, for starters, she took part in a full-immersion summer introductory course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Passionate about drama since a young age, Ella and her like-minded peers are campaigning to perpetuate this tradition and promote theatre with the ‘new generations’, so they have founded, for the first time in mainstream education history, a ‘Lunchtime Drama Club’ entirely devised and run by students. The club is designed to involve junior students in all aspects of showbiz, so that in the future they will be able to pass the baton. The group stages independent productions to be performed at the school fundraisings, or Christmas shows, and members give up their recess and lunch breaks to do what they love.
Ella believes that theatre is a close-knit craft in which everyone is indispensable, and no superstar would be such without the support of extras, stage hands, props scouts, ushers – and especially the ‘lights guy’. In fact, she has experience in most positions on, around, and back stage.
“There is no room for mistakes, no room for hesitation.”
Furthermore, Ella belongs to Julian Felice’s Bayside and Westside students’ Saturday morning drama club, where cutting-edge productions are hatched – and Ella is looking forward to participating in her last Drama Festival as a student in early 2020.
In the meantime, she’s already selected, and is rehearsing for, her final exams piece – the five-minute monologue (or perhaps rant) of a 70s loose woman who recounts her past lovers in the in-your-face and tongue-in-cheek fashion that Ella seems to find congenial to her journey towards finding her distinctive voice.
She says: “There is no room for mistakes because it will be performed only once, without prompter, as if I was live on stage, and there are lots of lines to remember. No room for hesitation, and I must avoid standing still on a single spot, while I deliver my performance in the loud style that is what first attracted me to this excerpt. I picked a monologue, as I felt I wanted to offer a view into the full potential of my owning the stage, not relying on a sideshow.”
Earthquakes is playing 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th and 29th October. Tickets available from buytickets.gi.