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The Industry
Laura Dawkes in 'Frozen the Musical' as 'Anna' looking happy in her room in her new dress while the two attendants watch

Image credit: Johan Persson/© Disney / Still From Frozen the Musical

Performer Laura Dawkes on playing ‘Anna’ in Disney’s ‘Frozen the Musical’, and going straight from drama school to the West End.

Laura Dawkes has had an exceptional start to her career. Within weeks of graduating from Emil Dale Academy, she was cast in the lead role of ‘Anna’ in Disney’s Frozen the Musical on the West End. The role saw her nominated for the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Professional Debut Performance, and her performance has delighted audiences, both young and old.

We spoke to Laura about how she landed this coveted role – along with her drama school experience and how she maintains her stamina on stage – and what advice she has for young performers hoping to go to drama school. Here’s what she shared:

Hi Laura! What first inspired you to become a musical theatre performer?

I was a latecomer to the theatre world. When I was younger, I did dance classes. Nothing super intense – it was never Strictly – but I started singing in year eight at school. I posted a singing video on Facebook and everyone was like, “Oh my God, I need you to join the drama club!” and I wasn’t sure because I was a PE girl and loved sports. 

I ended up joining the drama club and did the school shows during my time there. I then joined an am-dram company and that was my life. I loved going to an after-school drama club and then on to am-dram. It was a hobby for me to just get out of the house and do things with friends and I loved it.

Then I auditioned for my drama school, and it happened all at once. It was random, but I loved it. Singing was the main thing I did, but I loved everything else that came along with it. 

You recently graduated from Emil Dale Academy. What made you decide this was the drama school for you?

When I was 16, my am-dram class went to a masterclass in Cardiff run by Emil Dale Academy (EDA) as part of their outreach programme. It was labelled as a workshop and I was told to bring a song, but it turned out to be an audition. I was just looking to have some fun with some cool people. I did a dance and then a song, and they kept people back, and that’s when I realised, “Oh my God, is this an audition?” It was hilarious! 

I ended up getting a recall and we worked on some things. Then I was asked to audition for a third round at the college, which was a bit more serious. From there, I got accepted. Well, I actually got put on the reserve list, and I didn’t get accepted until July. I was like, ‘This is it, this is going to be it’. My mum and dad have always supported me and kept saying, “We’ll live off bread and jam if we have to.” 

I went straight there at 16. I did a two-year BTEC course, and then, for my degree, I only auditioned for ArtsEd and EDA, but I didn’t get accepted into ArtsEd, so EDA was it. I wouldn’t know how to choose if I got into both, so I was actually glad I had that rejection to push me on this path, because it all worked out.

Do you feel that your training prepared you for such a tough career choice?

Oh my God, 100%. For me, my BTEC training was my most crucial part of learning everything. While I was there, my whole teaching department was a year group of people that went to ArtsEd, so they put their training into our training and it was the most incredible thing ever. I feel like everyone goes to drama school and has a particular mindset, and if you like that idea of being pushed and gravitate towards it, you can work on yourself. The hours are intense. I was there from 8am until 6pm every day, and we’d have six classes. Aside from lunch and breaks, it was non-stop.

The people that came in and the life lessons we learned made it the best training I could have had. Everything we train for has happened, everything they tell you is so true. I hands down would say even though EDA is a newer school, the training there is just as good as anywhere else. It was so crucial, and I’m so thankful for all my training there. It was great!

You’re currently playing ‘Anna’ in ‘Frozen the Musical’ on the West End. Can you tell us about the audition process for this show and how you prepared for the role?

I graduated and did my London showcase on a Friday, and the next week, I signed with my agent at Gavin Barker Associates. He told me they were struggling to find an ‘Anna’ and did I want to go for it? My only worry was that I was so young and a graduate, but I said yes, thinking I probably won’t get it, but I might get considered for first or second cover. I just wanted them to take a chance on me. So I went to the audition thinking I’ve got nothing to lose and I’m a nobody at this point – no one knows who I am.

First, I had to self-tape. They must’ve seen a lot of people at this point, so they wanted to make sure they were getting the right people in. From the get-go, it was all the material for ‘Anna’ – none of it was my own stuff. There were people in the audition room that I knew were in their second or third round, and I thought maybe they’ve already found someone if this is the case. It’s so hard to not distract yourself in an audition situation like that. But again, I just thought, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose, let’s just go in and do my best’. 

They used to say at college that auditions are scary, but they were so lovely and, at the end of the day, it’s your two minutes to show what you do best. I left thinking, “If I don’t get it, it was still amazing just to be in the room.” I had to wait over a bank holiday weekend and found out on Tuesday that I had a recall – I couldn’t believe it! I did two more rounds, and in the final round there were just four of us, and I was so young compared to the others. The final round was dancing with some of the male cast from the show, and I didn’t think it went great. I found out a week later that I got it, and it was just the best process ever. 

People must think I’m crazy in my approach to auditions, but I just love it. I think it’s so fun and it’s your chance to literally stand there and say, “This is what I do.” I think, because I was fresh out of drama school, I was in that buzzy vibe. I was so prepared to just do whatever. But the timing couldn’t have been more perfect if I tried. I genuinely thought, “How has this happened to me? It’s just crazy!” but so fun. 

You never hear success stories, especially coming out of drama school. It’s so unheard of, and that was my mindset going in. But I worked so hard in college and the teachers that have supported me are always saying that. I feel like it has paid off. It’s the most amazing feeling. 

Laura Dawkes as ‘Anna’ alongside Oliver Ormson as ‘Hans’ in ‘Frozen the Musical’ / Image credit: Johan Persson/© Disney

What does a typical day look like for you when you’re performing?

I feel like I’ve found my way now. The role is very demanding vocally, physically and mentally, and at the beginning, it really took over my life. I took it all in my stride, but it was difficult having to find my routine. 

On a typical double show day, I’ll take my time coming into work – I don’t like to rush things. I’ll arrive about half an hour earlier and grab something to eat and drink, warm up, get ready and do the show. It can be quite exhausting, so I make sure to chill in between shows, which is crucial. It is like a job for me now and I love turning up to work. It’s more about the people and the energy of the building that get you ready for a great show.

With my part especially, Anna has a lot of stage time, and no two shows are the same. There’s a lot of places for me to find new things and I think, “Oh I love that, I’ll do that again,” or “I’m not so sure about that bit, “and it’s a lot of self-discovery each day. That’s probably the best part about my job. 

As you’ve mentioned, you have one of the main roles and a lot of stage time, which can be very exhausting. How do you maintain your stamina on stage?

My days off are crucial. I’m so lucky to get two because one is for rest. The other is my time to get my life together. The show is a huge part of my life, so I have to look after myself. I love my sleep and I need it for this part. 

At the beginning, stamina was hard. It’s a long track, so I had to learn a lot of it in rehearsals and on the job as it wasn’t something I could prepare for. I like to be social as well, so I keep myself on the go whilst I’m in the building because I don’t want to crash, but rest is so important and staying hydrated. But I’m super chill. I’m just so grateful for my body –I don’t know how [it] allows me to get through an eight show week! 

I’ve not taken one sick day since I’ve been on the contract. There were times at the beginning of the contact where I was so ill because my body was getting used to it. I had a stomach bug, but I powered through. I knew my body needed to learn this new routine and to build up stamina, which was really challenging for me, but I did it. 

I think it’s the mindset that got me through at the beginning. It was hard, but I’m so glad that I pushed myself through. You’ve got to get on with it, and it is a testament to my training because that was how I was trained.

What tips do you have for getting along with your castmates?

I’m such a social person anyway. I spend a lot of time with the principles because I spend a lot of time with them on stage, and naturally you gravitate towards certain people because of your track. My track really clashes with the ensemble, so I never really see them, but I think it’s important to make an effort, especially at the warm-up when you’re all in a space together. I didn’t want principles and the ensemble to be completely separate – I hate that. Everyone is friends with each other. 

I make an effort to get to know people and ask questions because we’re not going to be with them for ages. There are some people that will be friends for life. For me, with the ‘Elsa’s’, I had a lot of changes because I was with Jenna [Lee-James] and now with Sam [Barks]. Sam has a baby now so her priorities are with her baby, but we still have time together. 

It’s my first job as well, so it’s easy for me to do that because I just want to come across in the best way possible. But just be friendly and ask questions and make conversation.

You were recently nominated for a WhatsOnStage Award. How does it feel to be recognised at such an early stage in your career?

One of my friends who was in Harry Potter was posting about it because it was a public vote. My boyfriend said I would probably be up for that award, and that he’d voted for me. So when I found out I was actually nominated, I couldn’t believe it. At this point, Frozen is a hugely established show, but I’m so new to it, so to be nominated is crazy because it was another step for me. 

It feels like a nice payoff, especially at that point, because I’d been doing it for so long, it was nice to have a little boost. Even when you’re doing the show and you know you’ve got that in your pocket, it’s mind-blowing thinking these people could have voted for me in the audience.

Which performers inspire you?

My love was always singing, so I love Jennifer Hudson – she was my top inspiration. I love Tori Kelly. To be honest, I don’t have a person that I’m like, “I want to be like you.” I just love watching craft and theatre and things, and just being inspired by people. 

Just going to see a show, it was always that for me. It was always anything in that world that I loved, it was always watching something and finding inspiration in that. 

Where do you see yourself career-wise in the next five years?

People say to me, “Would you stay at Frozen for another year if it was going to stay?” I don’t think I would because I would like to see what else happens. I think I’m a very trust-the-process type of person – everything happens for a reason, it’ll come to you if it needs to. I’m just excited to see what’s next because I don’t know what’s next, but I’m excited to let things fall into place. Whatever happens happens.

And finally, what would be your dream role?

I have loads! I feel like everyone’s end goal is ‘Elphaba’ in Wicked. That’s something I strive towards, but I wouldn’t want to do that right now. Really random, my favourite musical is Jekyll and Hyde and I Love Lucy, so anything in that vibe I’d love, but I also love new work too. I’ve done workshops creating roles that you feel are yours. I’d love to do that too – I’m open to anything! 

Laura’s top tips for Young Performers who want to go to drama school:

  1. It’s all about how you want to apply yourself to a certain training. I was never really a dancer and I pushed myself so much and listened to so much.
  2. Be a sponge. Take in as much as you can.
  3. Just be a nice person. I know it’s cliche, but I genuinely think being like that and being social in the way that I was in college really took me further than the training would have just by itself.
  4. Listen to people who have such amazing stories to tell – you can get good advice from those stories
  5. Don’t take it too seriously, we’re not saving lives. You do it because you love it, so don’t forget that. It’s an amazing thing you get to do and when you do, go full pelt!

Thanks to Laura for taking the time to talk to us!

Take a look at our website for more casting stories and advice about getting into musical theatre.