Mark Puddle, founder of the West End Stage summer school in London, has produced numerous plays for the West End, from True West, starring Game of Throne's Kit Harrington, to the Shakespeare in Love UK Tour, starring ex-Emmerdale actor Bill Ward.
If anyone knows anything about building up a career in theatre, it's him. Voice catches up with Mark to talk all things West End Stage, his latest projects and what it takes to break into the West End today.
Read the full interview below.
Hi Mark! Tell us about West End Stage.
West End Stage began in 2006 in a bid to become the UK’s leading theatre summer school. Our aim is to ignite a global passion for theatre, uniting young people from all over the world and giving them the very best performing arts experience. West End Stage encourages all students to have fun, have confidence in their ability and be themselves.
What do you offer to young people?
West End Stage provides a unique experience to students that is exciting, challenging, and filled with West End surprises. Firstly, our students are taught by West End stars. Secondly, our students receive further masterclasses from industry professionals. Thirdly, we take the students to see a West End show. Finally, and most importantly, the students get to perform on a West End stage in their very own showcase. Sprinkle in a few surprise visits and performances from some very special guests, and that is what makes West End Stage so unique!
Which activities are most popular, do you find?
The top two moments that our students love are at the beginning and end of each week. The first is the very first day; the atmosphere is electric, as excited, theatre-loving students all gather together for the first time. The second is the performance days at Her Majesty’s Theatre. From seeing the students arrive on the first day full of nervous excitement, to watching them walk onto such a prestigious stage with so much confidence, energy and support for each other, you can see how much they have learnt and grown during their week.
Could you give an example of a recent project you have run?
In 2018 we released our very own recording of A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman in order to raise money and awareness for the NSPCC’s Childline service. The song was recorded at our summer school and featured the voices of over 1000 West End Stage students, not just from the UK but from Europe, America and even as far as China, Kenya and Egypt! West End Stage is what it is because of our passionate, energetic and kind-hearted students.
Their support for one another and their boundless excitement helps to create a positive and buzzing atmosphere on the course. This single was released to raise money for a brilliant charity that supports the same age group of students that come to West End Stage. It was therefore important that we heard their voices communicating a message of solidarity and support on this track.
Amazing. Have you seen any change in the industry over the last few years?
There are definitely more people in the industry than ever before – there are more opportunities but there is more competition too. However, there is now a wealth of training opportunities available and many different approaches to explore.
What advice would you give to those just starting out?
Be prepared to put the work in and learn the craft. There’s a massive difference between trying to be famous and wanting a career. Find the right path for you, know your strengths and be open to constructive criticism.
What about alumni? Tell us about one of your success stories.
One that springs to mind is past student Paul Wilkins, who went on to train at ArtsEd and then played Marius in West End’s Les Misérables. He is currently performing in the UK tour of Hair, and last year he came back to teach at West End Stage. It’s great to see students that have come full circle and are now able to pass their expertise on to current West End Stage students.
Is there anything you want to promote to young people at the moment?
We have a handful of places remaining for this year’s Summer Theatre School. The dates are 5th-11th Aug, 12th-18th Aug and 19th -25th Aug, although we will be back next year for the first 3 weeks in August!
Where can people find out more about the work you do?
Our website is full of videos, photos and more information.
Please visit www.westendstage.com