Esme Sears - Derby’s Cinderella star
- Credit: Archant
Derbyshire Life meets the local actress starring as Cinderella at Derby Theatre this Christmas
AFTER being too shy to pass her Derby Playhouse Youth Theatre audition at the age of 11, Esme Sears concentrated her school life on preparing for a more stable career as a dentist – but the pull of the stage was too strong and she’s now come full circle by landing the lead role in a festive production of Cinderella in her home city.
Esme’s rise to star billing at Derby Theatre has not been along the traditional route, bypassing the city’s renowned amateur dramatic scene and youth theatre and with dance and singing classes playing second fiddle to studies that would allow her to follow other family members into a medical career.
But Esme has always loved to perform even if she lacked the confidence as a child to push herself forward. So, at a relatively late age, she put the focus back on her creative side, went to drama school and is now reaping the rewards.
She has come a long way since being too in awe of performing to pass that audition for youth theatre.
‘I think at the age of eleven I was a terribly shy performer and I just didn’t get in. I didn’t get in because deep down I wasn’t quite ready so I don’t blame them. I used to love performing in my bedroom but as soon as I got to any audition I would freak out.
‘I did school choir, orchestra, school plays and I had a really lovely singing teacher from the age of 11 and she helped me build my confidence and suggested that I auditioned for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain when I was 17.
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‘At that age I started to open up through singing and with the choir did a world tour and went to places like Singapore and Australia. I had the opportunity to perform at the Royal Albert Hall for Classic FM’s birthday and at York Minster and did so many great things between the ages of 17 and 22. That made me think that I wanted to make a profession out of this, whether it be more the singing side or the acting route. I just wanted to perform.’
Esme is also a talented dancer having studied ballet from the age of three.
‘When I was in my early twenties I went back to it and did all my grades. I was little bit older than the other students but I really enjoyed it because dance was one of the first things I started doing performance wise.
‘For the physical elements of theatre ballet has really helped with posture, breath control and movement on stage. I’m really glad my parents introduced me to that and suggested singing lessons.’
Esme was born and brought up in the city, attending Derby High School to the age of 18 before heading off to university to do a science degree.
‘I went down the academic, very sensible science career path,’ she says. ‘But as I had been singing, dancing and playing instruments since I was four, I was torn between what to do and when. I knew I wanted to do something in the medical professions but at university I wanted to keep up my music and acting skills. I knew that if I wanted to work in the stage business I needed to get my confidence up and get my skills to a really high level. So I kept working on my singing, my dance and trying to get acting experience until I felt ready.
‘I thought that maybe over the years the love for it would disappear. That would have been the easiest thing – but it didn’t happen.’
Esme trained as a dentist but always with one eye on being able to earn money and put herself through drama school which she admits was ‘very expensive’.
She got in touch with Derby Theatre’s artistic director Sarah Brigham while still at drama school and was given lots of encouragement and, after graduating, an audition.
She was seen in A Christmas Carol last year at Derby Theatre playing Scrooge’s lost love Belle and now she’s landed the title role in Cinderella – the theatre’s biggest production of the year.
It’s not a panto, but a modern retelling of the fairtytale and this Cinderella not only needed someone who could sing, dance and act but who could add a feisty edge to the beloved character.
Esme used to watch shows at the Derby Playhouse dreaming that she might one day be the star of a professional production on that very stage and this Christmas her wish has come true.
She says: ‘I used to see pantos like Jack and the Beanstalk when I was a child. Then in my early teens I saw 1984 and that was amazing. It was very shocking and disturbing to watch but I was at an age when it made a great impression on me about what could be created theatrically.
‘And every show I watched, I thought “that could be me one day”.
‘I used to perform every year at the Playhouse with my dance school and that’s why it means so much to me to come home and perform here now. Doing A Christmas Carol last year was really emotional for me because this was about the dream that started with me doing my little dances when I was five.
‘Working with Sarah last year was fantastic. She’s a lovely director and in an industry of closed doors she opened a door for me and does for other talented new actors. Like all of Derby’s productions these days that show was very ensemble-based and you had to have a strong connection with the other actors in order to tell the story. I had just come out of drama school that summer and I couldn’t have wished for a better experience. It was my first big professional job.’
When it came to casting Cinderella, Esme was very much on Sarah’s radar.
‘When you have worked positively with a director before they might keep you in mind for future auditions. I’m grateful that she’s kept me in her thoughts.’
The chance to play a princess is also a bit of a fairytale for Esme.
‘I grew up watching a lot of Disney,’ she says. ‘I love actresses like Audrey Hepburn who have that elegance and princess-like nature. It has been a dream but I like it even better that our Cinderella’s a bit edgier than the normal princesses, because that’s more like me.
‘I think I’m very much about being honest, going for my own dreams and not waiting for someone to push me forward. In life you have to really fight for things. I also like roles that show women with strength; not necessarily aggressive but just standing up for what they believe in. The script has elements of that and that really appeals to me.’
‘I haven’t seen the set yet but after being in last year’s Christmas production I know it will be fantastic. Sarah has a great vision for the show. So I think it will be special.
‘Theatre-goers can expect something that’s a little different. It’s not panto and the script is more contemporary. It will have traditional elements but modern things about it as well.
‘There’s a lot of singing and dancing, many of the actors play instruments. I play violin so I will probably do that at some point in the show. All round, it’s ideal for me.
‘I’m a little nervous but very excited.’
What might help relax Esme is having plenty of support in the auditorium.
‘I had a lot of support last year from friends and family,’ she says. ‘My parents came quite a few times. I feel very lucky. It means a lot when people pay to come and see you.’
Esme’s parents, Icilda and Paul, have always been right behind their daughter’s ambitions.
‘I have to thank my family for all their financial and emotional support over the years, especially going through drama school,’ she says. ‘They are happy that I’m doing something I’m passionate about. They knew I would go down this route.
‘I still do locum work as a dentist but I have had quite a few acting jobs since drama school so at present I’m having the best of both worlds.
‘I hope the acting really takes off but it is such a tough industry that you just don’t know when your next job is coming.
‘At the moment, I’m just following my dream and that’s making me really happy.’