Angela Mckeown- Performing is in her blood
It’s a dream for a lot of little girls- to be up on stage singing, dancing and acting to a sold-out crowd. For many young girls, this is nothing more than a dream. But for those select few, like Angela McKeown, it becomes a reality. Creative Collections spoke to Angela about her theatre life.
It was at the young age of 7 that Angela realised her love for the theatre. She found herself making up plays with her stuffed toys and writing songs which she would perform to her audience (family). “I had to make sure that the ‘audience’ had their backs turned. I think I was 12 before I could put on little shows in the living room while people watched me,” she says. If the acting thing didn’t work out though, she was sure she would end up a cop or in the army. Thankfully, it did.
Growing up, Angela would watch her uncle play in the New Orleans Jazz Band. She has fond memories of watching them play at the Blackbutt Hotel on a Sunday. “I guess performing has always been in my blood. My grandmother was a wedding singer who also ran a bakehouse with my grandfather in Mayfield. She would be proud I’m living my dream!”
Finding the passion is one thing but making something of it is completely different. It was in 1987, at the age of 16, that Angela was offered her first paid modelling gig by Anne Fennelly. “I was the poster girl for the 1988 Bicentenary competition to win a trip to Queensland. It is was in conjunction with BHP so I had to wear a hard hat, school shirt and tie and I had the daggiest grin on my face!” By the time she reached her early 20s, Angela had turned to commercials. She was deemed the ‘it’ girl and was hired regularly for local commercials.
Trying her hand at everything
As life goes for a lot of creatives, there have been some up and down moments when it comes to work. She worked as a back-up and lead singer with local bands over the years, but still she found herself needing a ‘real’ job. “I had a family along the way, and then a divorce. Life happens between shows. My daughter and I were involved with the production of Suburban Mayhem when she was 9-months old. She was the main ‘Bailey’ baby used on set along with Erika and I became part of the crew and the furniture, helping behind the scenes and organising the ‘talent’”.
Angela has been in episodes of All Saints, Jane Campions movie Holy Smokes, and she had a small role in Rachael Wards’ production of Martha’s New Coat. It may have been a rocky journey at times, but Angela has clearly cemented herself as a talented performer.
Seven years ago, Angela went solo as a jazz/blues singer. She performed regularly at the now defunct French wine bar La Passe Temps along with Bar Petite and the Reef Bay. During this time, she was also playing weddings, parties and other private functions.
Within the last 5 years, Angela has worked with Newcastle University as a paid actor in a variety of roles throughout different departments. “I work with the medical department, behavioural studies department and forensics. Even though I mostly have an audience of 2, these roles are my most critical in keeping it real”. By this she means that at time she may be performing a scenario where the character has been given some bad news or has mental health issues. The student is being assessed on how well they handle each ‘patient’.
Working in the theatre
Angela has been in many memorable theatre shows over her years working in the industry. One of her more recent shows Waiting for Godot is one she holds very close to her heart. “I played the role of Lucky. There is something very special about doing a show that is ironic in the theatre world and a study for HSC Drama and English students,” Angela says. She explains that with characters like Lucky, you take extra care with portraying the role. “I love Lucky’s monologue and immersed myself into his way of ‘thinking’ that I forgot I was acting for an audience. That’s what you want as a performer- not thinking, just being in the moment!”
Angela’s next project is performing the role of Tanya in the iconic musical Mamma Mia! at the Civic Theatre with ‘The Very Popular Theatre Company’. This will also be her first performance for a large musical production in a decade. But it is a role that she almost didn’t audition for. “I wasn’t going to audition because I haven’t been singing for 4 years. I was immersed in the world of straight drama and original theatre pieces but Mamma Mia! was on my bucket list and I was nudged by a friend to have a go,” she says.
A fortnight prior to the audition, she got to back basics with singing with plenty of vocal warm-ups. She received a call back for either the role of Donna or Tanya, something she said was frightening “Singing is so vulnerable! Now we’re nearly there I’m so pleased I challenged myself to do a musical again”. Angela praises the ensemble, and everyone involved in the production, saying that they are dedicated, motivated and talented.
Learning lines is something Angela has felt complacent with in the past. “Working with the famous playwright Carl Caulfield has taught me discipline. I’ve performed in a number of his shows with his company Stray Dogs". Carl taught Angela how to stay true to the script, to not paraphrase and that if you’re doing an accent to do your homework in order to sound authentic. “My best work has been over the last decade. I finally see the whole picture and I understand more about the importance of researching your character. The quicker you learn your lines, the sooner you can connect with your character”.
Angela had to learn the lines to a play in just five days for Stooged Theatre’s production of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’. She played two characters in the show, including one who spoke with a Russian accent. Though it was a challenge, Angela didn’t back down, taking an hour each morning and afternoon to learn the lines. “I learn one page at a time and repeat it until I have it in my head before I move onto the next page,” Angela says.
A ritual she uses during the process is listening to instrumental music that fits the specific character. “It helps to record the other characters lines and leave a silence where you would speak so you can practice when no one is around to help run lines”. If she has a large chunk of dialogue to speak, she will learn it section by section, continually going over it until it flows. It is important for Angela to feel the flow of the characters dialogue. It makes it easier to learn the entire script as well as pick up on the writer’s rhythm for each character.
Though there are many wonderful things about performing, Angela stresses that there are lots of sacrifices that need to be made in one’s personal life in order to be successful. She’s had to turn down several dinner invitations because she has been needed at a rehearsal or a performance. It can be tiring during a performance season, making it hard to want to socialise. Thankfully, though, Angela has a supportive partner and family who have heard her recite lines around the house and sing the same song repeatedly.
Off-stage one of Angela’s passions is tutoring young wannabee performers, something that she just fell into. Already working as a support worker in childcare, an opportunity came about for her to take on classes at Hunter Drama for 3-5 year-olds. “I call myself a performance teacher. It’s not just acting I teach but confidence in everyday life, how to speak in public and how to sell a song. I make it very clear that I’m not a singing coach, that’s a whole other specialty!”
Angela says that the main drive behind teaching performance is that she remembers how it felt to be a nervous performance and when she was her own worst enemy. She wants people of all ages and demographics to have a go. “I want them to trust themselves as a person, to nurture themselves, their abilities, to recognise their gift whatever it is, don’t copy other performers. Bring your own take on a character, have fun, challenge yourself and, most importantly, stay connected with that inner child”.
Follow Angie's Performance Teaching page here