Cast of 'The Feeling'- an interview


'The Feeling' is a brand new British, dark comedy musical being brought to the Other Palace this September. I had the pleasure of talking to Kyra Jessica Willis (writer, producer and playing the character of Jessie), Halie Darling (playing Mel) and George C Francis (director and playing Jamie) all about their roles in the production. After attending a previous production by Kyra, I'm intrigued to see what she brings to the table this time around.

One of the things I find glorious about my interviews is that it feels like a natural conversation which I think really shines through here. I've left lots of the chatty bits so hopefully you feel part of the conversation too. Here's what they had to say.

 

'The Feeling' is coming to the Other Palace at start of September. Could you please tell us a bit about it?

George: 'The Feeling' is a brand new British musical. It is quite current because it deals with a bit of a millennial mindset. There are quite a lot of interesting subjects in the story and there are songs along the way which help to tell this story.

Kyra: It's something where we really want to portray this as a musical with really current things in it but there's also a lot of hard hitting things in it, so there's a very big underlying message in there. We are very conscious that we want people to recognise that there are people that need help, or that they might need help or they might be in a situation that they can't come out of and we want to show them that this goes on.

Halie: Everyone goes through it.

Kyra: Yeah, and we want to show that very much so.

Halie: We hope that by seeing it, you'll go and realise that 'maybe I should help my friend a bit more' or 'maybe I'm going through that and maybe I need to reach out'.

Kyra: Or maybe that you're in a situation where you're in a friendship group because it's set in London, and I think London for a lot of people can be a very very lonely place. I think people move here thinking it's going to be this amazing dream as there's so much to do. They come across people and they latch onto [them] hoping to have that kind of connection or friendship or relationship and I think that part of that is, people then don't want to come out of that group because they're scared of being on their own. I think this will show that actually it's okay to be on your own or it's okay to actually leave someone that's causing a toxic feeling for you.

You say the genre of the musical is 'dark comedy'. What made you, Kyra, choose this, and encourage you [Halie and George] to be drawn towards it?

Kyra: I think when I was writing it I am naturally, in my opinion, quite funny...

Halie: She is funny!

Kyra: ...and I think that there's a lot of innuendo; there's a lot of situations that can be quite funny even though they probably shouldn't be. I'm the first one to laugh, for example, if somebody fell over, my instant response would be to laugh, however, I would also want to help them desperately as well. I think when I was writing it, I wanted to go down a route that was funny for an audience but was also hard hitting and I really wanted it to be something where people could come away and say they'd laughed, they'd cried and they'd learned.

Halie: I wanted to do this project because as soon as I read the script, [I was] laughing as I read it and then getting in the rehearsal room... it's so funny and so nice to be there, to be laughing at everyday situations. But it's also got this massive twist, so you laugh at it but then realise what's happening- it's a really nice juxtaposition.

George: And I also think this is a British musical and I think there's something very British about gallows humour and laughing sometimes in our darkest times because laughing is a coping mechanism, so I think they work very well together.

Who inspires you, both in life in general and when creating this particular piece of theatre?

Kyra: Well some of my favourite musical influences have been stuff like 'Blood Brothers' which is comedy and sad and emotional so that show particularly had been very hard hitting for me. I remember going to see it and coming out being in tears. In terms of people that inspire me, definitely Rob [Fowler] and Sharon [Sexton] from Bat [Out of Hell the Musical], because they are just a force of nature and they have just taken the bull by the horns, they've gone for it and they've just really developed everything they want to do- just winning at life generally!

In my personal life, to be honest right now,- I'm going to use an example for now, not the past- everyone that I'm working with right now is an inspiration because watching the story come from something that was just little words on a page from somebody that's never really written a show before, to then working with an incredible group of people that are there every rehearsal smashing it out, making sure those characters are their own... they've brought this story to life so much it's just inspiring to watch them every rehearsal.

With 'The Feeling' being the first piece you've written, how did you find the writing process?

Kyra: Very difficult. I'm definitely not a writer: my mum is, my mum is actually an author. This was something that was quite challenging for me because even in the script in the first rehearsal, when we were reading through there were bits that were in there that said like 'LOL' because as I've been writing it I've been like 'oh this is funny, LOL' but I meant 'please laugh' as a stage direction but it just says LOL! So it was quite interesting for me going through it because when I was reading stuff back I was like 'is this funny? Because I find it funny'.

It's very difficult to process your own work because you have to really step back from it and go 'oh, I think this is really funny, will other people find it funny? Is this something I can present to an audience? Is this going to be hard hitting? Is this going to make someone cry?'. George directs, and there were pieces in the show that initially when I read them I thought maybe they weren't that funny and the way that George has directed it and brought the characters forward has provided these extra additional comedy pieces that I couldn't even forsee. It's not like I would say I'm going to suddenly become a scriptwriter forever because I found it quite scary and I'm very self critical so I found myself sitting there going 'I don't know if I like that' or there's lines that I've written that I've gone 'that sounds a little bit... corny! Maybe we'll take that out!'. There's some things where I've gone 'okay this is quite sexual, let's push on that!'.

How did you find working with Kyra as a new writer?

George: Kyra is very open and amenable; it's very much a collaborative process. She's not precious at all about making little alterations here and there and adapting the piece to the way it's developing. I also think it's a really lovely piece. She's a ball of energy and enthusiasm and that is what one wants when working with someone I think.

Do you think any of the elements of your character reflect yourself in real life?

(And further discussion about characters)

Kyra: Certainly for me. I have discussed this with the cast and there are pieces (I won't say which pieces because it'll give stuff away) but when we sat and did the read-through, everybody said to me 'can I ask, which bits are real and which bits you've just decided as part of the show?' and there's a lot of stuff in there that's actually happened in my life or situations that have happened to me and my family or friends. So when they watch that, I'm slightly concerned that they might remember that that is about them. I think there's a lot of elements for all the characters, certainly I think with Halie's character, Mel.

Halie: Mel is kind of like the 'mum' of the group, the glue that holds everyone together. I feel everyone is a little bit of every character and you're like 'that's me' which is really nice to see. Also I think what's quite nice that you're kind of wishing things to happen to certain characters as well. I don't want to give too much away but you'll be really rooting for a character or [thinking] that character needs to back down a bit- you're almost screaming at it as you're watching it.

George: My character is very enthusiastic, very energetic but a little bit awkward and occasionally misunderstood somewhat possibly, as being creepy, so he's quite a multi-faceted guy. It's going to be a joy to bring him to life.

Kyra: We sit in the rehearsal room and we're watching stuff and see certain characters getting excited about something and are sitting there going 'ah I'm so devastated' because actually, although we know what happens to each character, the audience won't, and I think it's going to be really interesting to see the audience's reactions to the situations that we initially bring, to how the situation actually ends. I think that people are going to be surprised, I think there'll be some tears, I think there'll be some major laughter: I think we'll definitely see who's invested in what character. If people are emotional, bring some tissues for the second half!

As you've written , produced and will be starring in your own show, which is your favourite element and why?

Kyra: I liked the writing bit but it was out of my comfort zone. The producing side has been a little bit stressful, like every producer ever has probably said! My favourite piece has got to be the acting because I was musical theatre trained years ago and did do shows years ago (not in London) but this for me has been something where I've really found my creative juice again. I had in my mind what I wanted all the characters to be like- I had an initial idea of mine- and then I feel like George brought out some extra bits and gone 'actually Kyra, you can do this, you can push this and you can really go for it' so for me the acting side has definitely been the best bit.

How are you managing to balance these roles and do you think being part of the creation process will alter the way you perform?

Kyra: I don't think it's going to alter how I play it, just because I think with every good production is the art of delegation. I think the way that we've got different roles- we've got a stage manager, George is directing, another one of our characters, Chris, is also helping to direct- and we've all been professional actors, it has been quite nice that we've all come together as a proper family and really pushed each other to be the best that we can be in our roles. The balancing side for me... yes it can be stressful because I've got Monsteers, this and other roles going on, managing other actors as well- there's a lot going on all the time- but if I'm not busy, I'm really boring so I think the business is probably a good thing for me.

How would you describe 'The Feeling' in 3 words?

Halie: Exciting, toxic-relationships and emotional.

George: Sweet, sour, rollercoaster.

Kyra: Big, bold and ballsy.

You mentioned Monsteers Artistry. Could you explain a little about this and how it came about?

Kyra: Monsteers Artistry is an ethical talent agency. It came about because I'd heard from so many people how their agents do not interact with the actors and how they're there more as a 'cash-cow broker' rather than a group or a family. The name comes from a mixture of Marilyn Monroe and Danielle Steers.

My policy was to make sure that we were charging actors a lot less for commission but not just going out there and going 'okay, this is here, but you don't look right' or 'you're not right for this and you shouldn't have the opportunity for this because this is what the casting call is'. We've chosen to not only become a huge family, but we've also chosen to produce our own work to give every actor the opportunity to shine through, play roles they might never get the chance to play and to put a new spin on it. So we're planning on taking certainly London by storm.

What attracted you to being part of Monsteers Artistry?

Halie: Personally, i got through to Monsteers because of the ethical side of it. I remember when [Kyra] said ethical, and I was like 'we're so like-minded'. Everything we spoke about on the first meeting was so eye-to-eye, ticking off the same things, and ever since I've joined, it's been the most amazing ride. It's been so good: we've done projects, got involved in this and it's just so exciting. I don't know where it's going to go, but I know it's going to go big.

George: I would say that Monsteers is unlike any other agency I've ever been signed with because it is much more hands-on. Kyra speaks to you, consults you about what you want to do, puts you forward for the sorts of things you want; she really listens to her artists and she really does care about each of us. We've also, as artists, been introduced to one another so there's a feeling that you know the agency, what it's about and what everyone else is about and that is, in my experience, utterly unique- it's been phenomenal.

Halie: Also, one thing Kyra does which is amazing for all of us is we have meet-ups quite regularly and do acting and sing. It's such a good thing because we're meeting up and we're keeping ourselves fresh and going, all working together to make each other better. It's just a giant family that are building on each other.

Kyra: I think it's quite important because there's lots of people that are there: some are TV specific, some are theatre specific, some are comedy driven, some are horror actors and all those different experiences- some are major singers, some are not... I think it gives everybody the opportunity to showcase their best but it gives them the chance to inspire others as well.

What drew you to the arts industry in particular?

George: Since I was a small child, I've always needed to make stuff, I've always had that urge. And on the relatively few occasions in my life where I've not had the opportunity to make stuff, it doesn't do me any favours! It's an urge that's always there to create and to be able to bring many different forms of creativity to this is very exciting indeed.

Halie: Ever since I was a young girl, I've always wanted to be an actor. In fact, when I was really little, I either wanted to be an actor or an astronaut... I didn't get very far through the dictionary obviously! I'm very profoundly dyslexic so I knew I could never be an astronaut so I said 'one day, I would be an actor, and I would act being an astronaut'. And my first out of drama school was an astronaut, so I ticked that off. It's something so amazing to walk in someone else's shoes. My job is never the same: I could be a professor one week, then go into being an astronaut, then I could be a prostitute, and then I could be a pirate- I've been everyone and everything. The learning atmosphere of it as well... like being an architect, you'll have to learn all about being an architect so you're always learning. It's so exciting and you'll never have the same day, ever.

George: I very strongly agree with what you've said. I think life is sadly not long enough and we get to live many lives...

Halie: All the world's a stage... someone said that! [William Shakespeare]

Kyra: Absolutely. I think from my side of things, when I was younger, I just craved to do something, to be creative in some way. I always found myself to be a little bit boring and I think having this creative process, gave me the ability to become somebody that was liked, or loved, or hated. It's something that, at the end of the day, you can step away from. If you're playing someone that's really intense, you can, and the end of the night go 'right, I need to go home and chill!'.

I think it's really nice to be able to have the opportunity to explore so many avenues and understand the creative concepts of everybody else. When you're looking at scripts that other people have written, it's really cool to be able to delve into what they've written, what's going on in their mind, and bring that to life for them, for audiences and for other cast members. I mean, I've sat there and watched the cast of our show develop their characters and gone 'wow, that's really cool' that they've taken that creative intuition and just run with it.

If you weren't in the industry, what would you be doing instead?

Halie: I don't think I could [do anything else]. It's how I live. All I've ever done is act, I've never had a non-acting job so I think I'd slowly rot away! I don't think I could do anything other than act, I'm afraid. We run our own company as well but I think I'd have to act, I'd just have to.

George: Yes, I think... no I know I would go insane very quickly! So it's best to keep creating.

Kyra: I'm not really sure what I would do to be honest, although I like the idea of being a nomad artist, just being really chilled out, though I'm so busy all the time, I'm not really sure it'd work out for me! I think I'd be bored very very quickly but I like the idea of having that simple life of disappearing off somewhere.

Halie: I agree with you there. I've always thought of a 9 to 5 job, having your weekends to yourself and evenings to yourself but I think I'd get bored, I don't think I could do it.

Kyra: Most of us work 7 days a week and I think it's one of those things that's like 'what other job does that?!'

Halie: But you still enjoy it, you still want to work

Kyra: I still smile!

George: Absolutely.

Halie: You don't want to not work, it's like 'what next? What can we do now? Let's write something'.

Kyra: And even when we just meet up for tea or coffee, we're sat there going 'oh my god. We could do this!' and we've just cast an entire show just sat round a table having some halloumi and tea.

Do you remember your first experience of theatre? If so, what was that like?

Kyra: As I said, I remember going to see 'Blood Brothers' and being overwhelmed. Having decided that I also wanted to be on that stage with them, I'd pretty much cast myself in all the roles, whether they were male, female or whatever- I was going to play them all.

It's not like film where you can go and watch the same thing over and over again because theatre is live and anything can happen... technical faults, lines missed or people adding something in as a little bit extra every now and again. It's an experience where you go on an emotional rollercoaster, but you only experience it with all the people sat around you on that specific evening.

George: I remember my first theatrical experience as if it were yesterday. I can still hear some of the lines in my head, even though I was a child. It was a very strange children's musical that I saw, but it seemed many years later, my first leading role was in another production of that same children's musical. The actor who had played my part, I then, a couple of years after, got to work with in a short film which turned out to be the last thing he did before he passed away. So I really like that I saw that as a child and it fed my interest, and hopefully now maybe some young person will see it and think 'hang on, I think I might fancy doing that', passing it on.

Halie: My very first non-professional role was a toilet...! My first professional role was [when I was] 9 so I've been acting ever since I can remember. I've always loved it and was very lucky as a young child that my parents weren't the pushy type so said 'if you want to do it, do it but focus on your education first' and I'm really glad they made me do that. I went through my university and then drama school, came out and [thought] 'right, let's go'. When I was at drama school, I was doing stuff at the Everyman [Theatre] in Liverpool at the same time so I was constantly surrounding myself with theatre because I just wanted to do more and more and more.

I was very lucky as a very small child, all the way up that I've been taken to the theatre to see children's shows and I think that's encouraged us all to bring theatre to new people. I think 'The Feeling' is very good thing to take people who wouldn't want to go to the theatre to, new audiences, but also good for people who love theatre and the drama of it.

George: There'll be something for everyone in this show.

Halie: Definitely, yeah.

And lastly, what advice would you give your younger self entering the industry?

Kyra: I would tell myself to shut up a little bit more because I tend to waffle! I think if I could give myself advice for when I was younger, I would've said to myself 'do everything that you've already done because it's got you to this point'. And for me, this point has been the happiest I think I've ever been, just because I feel like stuff is starting to come together. We've not all made it massive, we're not all stood outside signing autographs for people and stuff like that, but I think for me, this is one of the happiest points I've been because I am now surrounded by some of the most incredible people, some of the most creative people and people that I would've killed to have had as friends 10 years ago. Even looking from an agent perspective, I genuinely feel like I've got my own little chosen family and it's really quite sweet.

George: I would actually tell myself to just go with my gut a bit more. Self-doubt doesn't help at all. The thing is, I do think making theatre in a sense should be egoless- devoid of ego- because it isn't about you, it's about the piece and if you're constantly fretting and self-doubting, that's still your massive ego, except your massive ego is telling you that you're [bad]. So I would say just go with your gut, listen to yourself and carry on because you are going to do it.

Kyra: You're doing it right now.

George: Yeah exactly. It's going to be harder in ways you couldn't have guessed. I knew acting was a hard industry to get into, I knew the money wasn't going to be great etc.... what I wasn't quite prepared for was getting a little bit older and watching friends have kids and two cars and [saying] 'you're mad, still doing this thing!'. But of course, I think they're mad! So listen to yourself.

Halie: I would say don't give in. Never give up. Keep going. Keep pushing. Keep writing those letters. Keep taking the chance: I remember taking the chance at messaging Kyra because I was like 'I don't know if I should, I don't know if she'll like me' but you still have to write that email. You've just got to keep the hope alive. Keep pushing yourself and learning new things. I was very much a geek, very nerdy at school (imagine Hermione Granger- that was me) so I was kind of bullied quite a lot but I've had my bullies message me going 'look at where you are now' which has been so humbling for me personally.

I agree with [George though]- in the acting world, actors lives aren't that long, especially in London where it's something like 4-6 years after drama school that people give up so you need to keep going. It's been 8 years since I've been out of drama school...

George: 11 years for me...

Halie: ...And you do see people starting to have families now and you [say to yourself] 'should I be doing that?'. The race is long but in the end it's with yourself so just keep going.

Kyra and Halie: Just keep swimming!

 

What a perfect note to end the interview on! Huge thank you to Kyra, George and Halie for coming and having a lovely chat with me about your musical- I can't wait to see it flourish. 'The Feeling' is playing at the Other Palace on the 2nd and 7th September- grab yourself a ticket here: https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/the-feeling/

{Some grammar is amended for clarity}