A 'Star' Role - Ashover actress Kate Spencer

Great Expectations at Derby Theatre, 29th September21st October

Great Expectations at Derby Theatre, 29th September21st October - Credit: Archant

Nigel Powlson meets Ashover actress Kate Spencer as she prepares for her role in the autumn production at Derby Theatre

Kate Spencer Photo: Lloyd Davies

Kate Spencer Photo: Lloyd Davies - Credit: Archant

DERBYSHIRE’S Kate Spencer is so in love with Derby Theatre that she’s happy to take any job they throw at her. The 25-year-old from Ashover has just landed the role of Estella in the main house production of Great Expectations but rather than just sitting waiting for her acting break, she has thrown herself into every opportunity the venue has put her way.

That means she has spent time selling tickets at the box office, serving drinks in the café and helping out in the marketing department. For Kate it’s the team spirit at Derby Theatre that makes the place so special and she loves playing any and every part in it.

Kate grew up in the North East Derbyshire village of Ashover and despite having no family background in performing arts, developed a passion for the stage before she had left primary school that has continued to grow. As a child, shows at the Crucible in Sheffield and at the old Derby Playhouse fired her imagination and once she started to train for an acting career it was her dream to be in shows at those two ‘home’ venues.

Having performed recently at the Crucible she will now be ticking off the other theatre at the top of her wish list. She says: ‘I’m so excited – to be in my regional theatre, it’s such a huge thing for me and regional theatre is so important. I have lived in London, Chicago and Cardiff and they all have so much going on but I come from a small corner of Derbyshire and I grew up going to the Crucible and to Derby Playhouse. I went to see shows, musicals and, when I was little, my community would all go on a bus together every Christmas to Derby. And especially as I work there as well, it is so huge for me to be in Great Expectations. And, in a very selfish way, it’s also great because all my friends and family can come and see me.’

Kate with her family

Kate with her family - Credit: Archant

Kate has always had the full support of her family but her DNA was more likely to lead her into an athletic career than to the stage.

She said: ‘My family are very sporty. I did a lot of sports growing up and my sister did as well, and my cousin ran at the World Athletics Championships this summer. I got to the point where I had to choose and it was always going to be acting for me.’

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Kate’s desire to perform was evident from an early age. ‘I did a lot of dancing when I was younger and my mum always said that I wanted to be a backing dancer in music videos,’ Kate says. ‘She took me to Stagecoach and I did another drama class and did all three disciplines – singing, dancing and acting – and it took over from there.

‘From secondary school age it has been a top priority. I have always had really supportive parents and family and they have never made me think about a plan B. Because acting is so difficult you need that support. Having a great network behind you is also really important and being at Derby Theatre I certainly have that.’

Kate studied American Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College in Kent and Columbia College, Chicago. She says: ‘Being in America was an invaluable experience, not only making me more independent but also learning about different cultures. There is a slightly different way of doing things over there but it’s a great place to learn as in acting no-one does anything the same, so working with as many different types of actors and companies as possible means you become more well-rounded as a performer.’

After graduating, Kate’s main aim was to work in regional theatre. ‘I’m so passionate about it because every part of Britain is different and that affects what is put on. Everywhere has a distinct voice.’

But at Derby that passion has meant she has been involved in almost everything that goes on at a regional theatre both on and off stage. She says: ‘As a young actor, you have to be prepared to do other things between roles, so I worked as a casual box office assistant, then did a bit of marketing on Alice in Wonderland and then, because I have coffee machine experience, I did some shifts in the café. It’s so amazing working in different areas. On my course I also looked at producing and the technical side of a production, and I did a bit of directing – I have always been interested in theatre as a whole.’

Kate says that it’s a joy just being in and around the theatre. ‘At some theatres it can feel segregated but in Derby everyone is together and loves the venue so much. It’s a great atmosphere and everyone is really supportive. Everyone has a passion for what they are doing – and the Christmas parties are great!’

Kate as The Boy in The Hunting of the Snark at the Sherman, Cardiff Photo: Sherman Cymru, Mark Douet

Kate as The Boy in The Hunting of the Snark at the Sherman, Cardiff Photo: Sherman Cymru, Mark Douet - Credit: Archant

Great Expectations is the story of an orphan named Pip, whose love for Estella, the beautiful yet manipulative, adopted daughter of the wealthy and reclusive Miss Havisham is an important part of the plot. Playing Estella has become a dream role for Kate who can’t wait for the show to open. She says: ‘Estella is incredible, she is such a strong woman. It’s going to be so interesting to play with her journey and find the balance in her conflicts.’

And Kate can expect to see a sea of friendly faces in the audience when the show opens on 29th September. She says: ‘My mum has so many people coming up I have to keep writing it in my diary or I would get confused. I have a big, big family. It will be a lot of pressure knowing they are out there but also very exciting. It’s always good to be a little nervous. If you are completely fine there are no stakes involved. It’s horrible but it’s so much fun. You think for a moment – “What am I doing? Why am I going out there with all these people staring at me?” You have to put all this emotion into a character that’s not yourself but you change all that into good positive energy.’

Kate lived in Cardiff for a while but having spent a lot of time on tour couldn’t see the point of paying rent at the same time so is back based in Ashover again.

She says: ‘Working for two months on creating a show and taking it from the script to the stage is something I feel strongly about. Regional theatre is where I want to be. I have been at Derby Theatre for the last year going around the community and I know how much it means to so many people. Tours are quite nice, it’s a great excuse for travelling around while working, but I couldn’t be happier than being in Great Expectations at Derby Theatre.’

Kate in This Divided Earth at Rose Bruford College Photo: Michael OReilly

Kate in This Divided Earth at Rose Bruford College Photo: Michael OReilly - Credit: Archant