Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
My name is Julian Eardley and this Christmas I will be playing Dame Dolly Dumpling in Theatre Royal Winchester’s production of Dick Whittington.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
Being a Pantomime Dame is great fun but every day of work involves a lot of organisation, sweat and glamour. For every performance I need to be in the theatre an hour and a half before showtime to start getting ready. As a Dame, of course there are various layers of costume to be got into - undergarments, body stockings, dresses, make-up, wigs.
The shows always involve lots of costume changes; all my dresses for each performance have to be arranged in order so that the quick changes all work like clockwork. My biggest ally is the Company Dresser who will help me in and out of the various costumes and works very hard to keep every dress looking amazing.
Then the fun bit of the day comes: performing the show. As soon as the performance is over, everything has to be reset ready for the next show. Most days we will perform the show twice but we also have some 3 show days during the season as well.
What’s great about your job?
On stage being the Dame in a panto is a wonderful experience. The character's connection with the audience is always very direct, as well as being warm and friendly. The Dames I play are usually slightly crackers, a bit bossy, less glamorous than they think they are but always full of heart and lots of fun. All of that is a fantastic concoction to play on stage during the festive season.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
The challenging part of the job is usually how hot you get under the various layers of costume and the problems arising from becoming a bit sweaty as the performance progresses. It makes changing costumes a bit harder and plays havoc with your make-up. So every show involves a lot of retouching of lipstick and powder!
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Performing in Theatre Royal Winchester’s panto is my yearly acting highlight as the job is such fun to do and the audience response is always wonderful. Dick Whittington will be my 10th panto at the theatre. Each of my 9 previous visits have been memorable events in my career to date so I am hopeful that this year will continue the trend.
How did you get into an arts job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I have always worked in the theatre since I graduated from university with a degree in Drama. As well as being an actor I have worked as a Theatre Usher, Stage Manager, Theatre Administrator and a Front of House Manager. Outside of the arts I have also worked for a number of years as a Corporate Relocation Manager (office speak for someone who organises and supervises Office Moves!).
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
In recent years the biggest challenge has been to do with my age and the fact that I can't quite do the same amount of work as I did in my twenties. It is frustrating but I am learning to pace my work life a bit more. I find that I need to prepare for jobs a little more than I used to and also allow myself time to rest once a busy period has passed.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
The theatre is constantly changing and adapting to current trends and influences. At the moment I think there are more new musical productions being mounted in the UK than I remember in the past. Straight plays seem harder to find. There is also a lot more demand for spectacle in the theatre, so as a consequence productions have become more and more ellaborate.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
“It’s not going to happen how you would like or expect, so don't worry about it. Just enjoy yourself.”
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
If you really want a life working in the theatre, then go for it. There are drawbacks (unusual working hours and varied pay) but there are amazing experiences to be found on a daily basis. Dealing with a changing and varied working life is half the battle - the rest is the fun!