Steph Parry: From West End To The Caribbean – An Interview
By Katie Hurrey
Steph Parry has spent the last five years as part of the ensemble in a number of West End productions and is now leading the cast of MAMMA MIA! on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. I caught up with her in her sunny cabin in the Caribbean over an English cuppa, surrounded by her books and a mirror full of positivity quotes….
What was your first West End show?
Billy Elliott. Then I did MAMMA MIA! in town (covering Donna and Tanya) and on the tour, and then I took a long break as Britain’s Got Talent happened!
Were you on the TV show?
I got scouted for Britain’s Got Talent, had my producers’ meeting, then went in front of the judges, had a great audition, and got my four yeses.
Was that part televised?
No. It was all filmed, and then two months later I was going to go and film something on a Saturday and on the Thursday I got a phone call saying “we’re not going to take you any further.” They give about a hundred people four yeses and only fifty get picked for the live shows and I got totally written out.
That must have been frustrating?
I think it was a blessing in disguise because they put words in your mouth: there was part of me that was really worried about how I’d come across. They said “we need to know how desperate you are to do this” and asked “what are you going to do if you don’t get through today?” and I was very much like “well I’ll just go back to auditioning.”
So your story wasn’t sensational enough for TV?!
That’s the problem; my story was that I was an understudy wanting to be a leading lady but I’m so grateful for everything because it’s got me to where I am today. I didn’t want to come across as somebody who was like “ugh, I’m just an understudy in the West End” because there was a time I would have killed for that, and I was still very grateful to be there. If I had hammed it up some more I might have made it on to the show.
So that was between MAMMA MIA! and you going back to the West End for Wicked?
Yes. It was about six months of my life waiting for that and holding off stuff. I had to do it, if I hadn’t I think I would have regretted it. I would have been like, what if, what if….whereas now I know.
So were you still in Wicked when you auditioned for Royal Caribbean’s production of MAMMA MIA!?
Yes, I found out I got this on my last week of Wicked.
What made you attend the audition?
I saw the advert a month before the audition and I had friends who had done it before. I was newly married and I wasn’t ready to go away, so I asked a friend (who had been part of a previous cast) to give me more information about it and he said “it’s great, I think you should go for it, I think they’d love you and you’d love the job.” So it was speaking to him that made me audition. Then I went home and spoke to James (my husband) and said what do you think? He told me to give it a go, see what happens. And he said that all the way through; when I got the audition and when I got the job.
It must be difficult to commit to being away from home for so long. How do you and your husband cope with that?
The wonders of technology, I don’t know what anybody ever did before FaceTime.
When he came on here for a cruise eight weeks ago, it was as if I’d seen him, because I had seen him on the screen and it really makes all the difference. Also, he’s just one of the most supportive people ever and understands that sometimes I might need to go off and do something and that it’s for the greater good, and hopefully it will mean I can take the next step up in my career which is great for us both.
Would you say Donna is a dream role of yours?
Oh yes yes completely! I only played it five times in London (as the cover). Tanya I did, because I was first cover Tanya, so I did Tanya quite a lot, Donna I only did five times and I always wanted it to be more.
How do you identify with Donna? What parts of yourself do you bring to the role?
There’s a fabulous book by David Mamet called True and False. Everybody has different techniques, but the way I try and work is ‘you, as if.’ So it’s just me as if I’ve got a twenty-year-old daughter, I live on a Greek Island, and I had relations with three men twenty years ago and they’ve come back. It’s not me being Donna it’s me as if all these things happened to me and how I react to them.
What do you miss about being in the West End?
I miss separating my work and my personal life. I miss going home to my husband and switching off from work at the end of the night. Here it’s all encompassing: your friends are your colleagues.
What are the perks of this job?
It’s a lot more sociable. So the things that I miss are actually the things that I like. You do get a lot closer here, it is like a family, and that’s definitely a perk of it. Also, you get to see parts of the world you wouldn’t see otherwise. I spend my day off sunning myself in St Kitts – I can get a real tan (for MAMMA MIA!), I don’t have to cover myself in horrible smelly fake tan because that was definitely one of the downsides of the show in town. Here, I’m going to come away with a nice chunk of savings, you cannot save this kind of money in town, you just have to weigh it up really and figure out what’s important to you.
There’s often a stigma attached to doing a cruise ship contract, what would you say to your West End friends about this job?
I had those feelings…but if there’s a door open to you – you know, you can keep banging your head against a door that’s closed or you can actually just walk through an open door and that’s what this opportunity was to me, it was an open door and I just had to walk through it and see what was on the other side. I’m glad I did.
Would you recommend it to friends if they were thinking of auditioning?
Yeah. I think it takes a certain person to do this, I definitely feel like you have to be open-minded and you have to be malleable to possible situations. There are pros and cons to everything…in the West End you do eight shows a week and you’re doing the same thing every day, day in day out, here you do six shows a week (three of each of the two different shows) and then you get to go and swim with dolphins on a Friday if you want to. Yes there is a stigma and some people will say “no, I’m not going to do that” but I think the only person you’ll actually hurt is yourself in the long run because you could be missing out on a fantastic opportunity. It’s about preconceptions I think and being open. Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.
Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.
Within the company here, you are known as the pillar of positivity, and with such a large company living and working together, how do you keep yourself happy in this environment, and how do you try and inspire others to live a similar way?
I always say that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so I think one of the first things you have to do in order to keep positive around other people is, take time for yourself, nurture yourself, and do the things that make you happy so you can give to others. I meditate and read a lot, go to the gym and do the things that give me inspiration. Be present, that’s what we all want to be.
Are your philosophies on acting similar to those on life in general?
Yes, I just think for me to be a better actor I’ve got to be a better human being, know myself more and let go of ego. I always say I’m a work in progress and that’s what we all are until the day we die. The more fun you can have the more fun the audience will have. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
What are your dreams?
Oh, my dreams! I would love to go into serious acting on film and TV, that’s what I’d absolutely love to do. I still love musical theatre and if acting’s involved then I want to do it whether that’s on stage/ through song/ in a film/ on TV. Obviously, I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Meryl Streep and not just in MAMMA MIA! but in life – that would be wonderful!
TheatreArtLife thanks Steph Parry for her time!
Follow Steph Parry on Twitter.
Read this article by Katie Hurrey about the TV version of Dirty Dancing: Please Leave Baby In The Corner