On this week’s episode, we shall be chatting to Becky Barrett Management client, Bonnie Page. Hailing from Australia, Bonnie is currently performing in Jersey Boys in the West End and has gained a wealth of experience. Join us as we chat about all things Jersey Boys and life as a swing and dance captain.
Amy: Hi, Bonnie. How are you?
Bonnie: I’m good. How are you?
Amy: Good, thank you. Welcome to This Business Called Show podcast.
Bonnie: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Amy: That’s all right. So, we’re just going to get started straight away. So, Bonnie, you’re currently performing in Jersey Boys in the West End as swing and dance captain?
Bonnie: I am, yes.
Amy: Can you just talk us through a little bit about your audition process and how you managed to land the job?
Bonnie: Yeah, of course. This is my fourth contract with Jersey Boys, so I’ll go back to the beginning of my Jersey Boys audition process. I had just signed with Becky actually, only a few days prior, so my audition came through very last minute. I think I received it at about 4pm on the Monday afternoon for a Tuesday time slot. So, it was a bit stressful going through my rep trying to find something that I thought was Jersey Boys appropriate for singing. And so, I did that audition process for the week and booked Jersey Boys working on Norwegian Cruise Lines. And back then, I was playing the role of Lorraine. I wasn’t swing or dance captain, so I did that contract. And then when I went back the second time, I thought it would be great to go back. And I knew I wasn’t finished with the show and wanted to do definitely wanted to do it again. But I thought if I was going back, I’d like to add something else to my resume and learn some new skills.
So, I applied for the role of dance captain, which I got, and it was amazing. Really great experience. And I think that kind of set me up nicely for then when the West End was auditioning. Obviously, it was helpful having worked with the show before, but also being danced captain when I auditioned the next time around. So Covid hit and I went back to Australia from the ship. The contract was cut early, so I was a little concerned about auditioning for the West End production of Jersey Boys from Australia. I didn’t think I’d have a chance because it was all on zoom and self-tapes but it goes to show that a zoom and a self-tape does work sometimes.
Everything was on zoom self-tape. The first round I did was self-tape, was contacted by Jill’s office to submit that. And then I had a zoom session with the musical director and then a zoom session with the director and then one final self-tape, and it was also submitted to the US creatives. And a few days later I had a contract offer, which was very exciting and amazing.
It’s funny, I moved to London in 2017 to try and make the West End from Australia and I didn’t book anything while I was here. I booked it while I was back in Australia.
Amy: What a great story. I love it. That’s the reason. I bet you were so stressed as well, every time, like, connection.
Bonnie: Absolutely, it was very stressful. And my boyfriend was in Jersey Boys as well, so I had him reading the lines for me over FaceTime with the camera next to the camera trying to film it, and occasionally the connection would cut out and be like, oh, no, that was a really good take for him. You have to do it again because FaceTime cut out, so I have to go again.
Amy: Oh, my goodness. What a way to get into a show.
Amy: Love it. You mentioned that you are originally from Australia. How are you coping being away from home? How did you find that transition, like, coming into London, working in the West End? How did you cope with it all?
Bonnie: To be honest, I moved out of home to go train when I was 18, so I’ve been out of home for quite some time. I’ve been used to living overseas. My first job was in Singapore, and then I worked for another cruise line and lived in Germany for a while, so I’m quite accustomed to being away, so I cope quite well. But London was a bit of a different ball game, I guess, because it was the first time, I left home without having a job and I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have an agent; I didn’t have any friends. I just had to wing it. So, I got a place and then I had one friend here that was actually here from Uni who I studied with. So, they ended up helping me get a job in front of house at the Lyric Theatre and I just then had to feel my way around and make friends and try and get an agent and figure out what the musical theatre world was like here in London.
It’s very different from back home, so it was a big learning curve, but it paid off eventually. I kept at it.
Amy: Winging it seems to be working out fairly well for you. You just mentioned there that there was a bit of a difference between London and Australia with regards to musical theatre. Can you talk a little more about that and what your comparisons are?
Bonnie: Yeah, sure. Obviously, Australia is a very large country, but we don’t have the same… Melbourne’s a very small version of London. I guess it’s quite similar, but we don’t have the same turnover of shows because there’s just not the market for it. So, a lot of productions are touring productions, but a touring production in Australia could last for a year or two, but usually you’re in a base for 3,4,5,6 months sometimes, and that’s considered a tour. So, we don’t have that many big productions a year. So, if you miss an audition or you’re not appropriate for that particular show or whatever the reason being, there’s only a couple of big ones a year, so if you miss out, you kind of have to wait a whole other year for anything substantial to come along. You know, there’s a lot of fringe sort of shows and stuff like that, but not to the calibre that there is on the West End. I mean, the production scales are amazing, and the talent is incredible, but because there aren’t so many productions, it’s so competitive because there’s not that many jobs.
Amy: Yeah, of course it’s hard enough to get a job, like you said in London, but never mind in Australia, when you have to wait another year or even just know that you are suitable for to come.
Bonnie: That’s it. Absolutely. Because there might be a couple of great shows that are there, but vocally, you might not be it or you might not be able to dance that particular style or whatever, and then you have to wait again another few months or a year for the next show.
Amy: That puts a lot of pressure on that audition as well, because it does feel like, this is it. This has to be the one.
I remember I auditioned for 42nd Street, I think it was in Melbourne, and I thought I did quite well. It was a dance tap call first and I thought I did quite well, but I could have done better. So, I actually flew, one of my friends came with me and we flew to Sydney to try again a couple of weeks later because I thought, well, I know what to expect now. And I practiced and practiced and practiced and went up and tried again and got nowhere again. It’s funny. Now I don’t know if I do that because I know it’s really not on just on your ability. There’s, so many things that come into play, so I don’t know whether I’d be flying around the country trying. But you do feel the pressure, like, have to get this audition because, you know, don’t know when the next one will be.
Amy: And did you say, do you have agents out in Australia or is it your kind, sole responsibility to find even those additions yourself.
Bonnie: Yeah. No, it is. In that case, it’s very, very similar. If you train, if you’re lucky enough to train, you at the end will put on a showcase, much like here, where agents will be invited and you can contact them, they will reach out to you, and you can get an agent. And then, I guess if you don’t train or you don’t do a showcase, then you pretty much just go about it the same way you would here. We do have agencies. Yes. So, in that case, it’s much the same.
Amy: Brilliant. So just bringing it back to London and your current job in the West End, as we mentioned Jersey Boys, just chatting a bit more about being a dance captain on the show. What kind of extra responsibilities do you have as a dance captain and how do you manage those expectations?
Bonnie: Sure, it is quite a big job. I don’t know if I realised what a big task being a dance captain was until I took it on myself, actually. But I love it. I love it. It’s so rewarding. Essentially, there are so many different parts to the job, but mostly it’s to maintain the integrity of the show. Obviously, the creatives put the show up, but they’re not there all the time and a lot of them live in America and all over the world. So, it is my job when they’re not there, to make sure that the show is upheld to the higher standard, and we keep what we had set in the very beginning. Also, a lot of things happen over time with people being sick or injured. So, if there’s any cuts of the show or we need to make any adjustments, it’s my call as to how we go about it and just make sure it happens. But at the same time, while keeping that same high standard of shows, so it can be tricky sometimes when we don’t know what we’re going to be thrown for that day. A few weeks ago, we had eight boys off actually.
Amy: Oh, my goodness.
Bonnie: Yeah, it was a lot. So, to try and juggle and make a show happen with eight boys off an extreme challenge. So, it definitely keeps me on my toes. You really need to know every track inside out, back to front, where they enter the stage, what number they’re standing on, what their choreography is, what their traffic is with every other person on that stage for the entire show. So, it’s quite the memory. I have to be very diligent with keeping detailed logs of all my notes and when we’re setting the show up, everyone’s traffic and transitions and choreography, just so that I can refer back to it if I ever need to, because there’s so much to remember.
We also do a lot of show events and performances. We performed at Magic at the Musicals last year, so we had to put that up. And we performed recently on This Morning. So, it’s my job to make sure the boys are taught choreography are nice and clean and then go with them to the events, space them and make sure everything is all good. So, it’s nice to get to experience some of those. Some I get to perform in, some I just do as a dance captain. So, it’s nice to experience it from both sides. Yeah.
Amy: Brilliant. What a great skill to have. And you must have, as you mentioned, your own system of how you remember. I think I would need about a thousand coloured pens to keep track of everyone.
Bonnie: It really is. My iPad is my life.
Amy: I’m going old school with, like, pen and paper. You’re like iPad?
Bonnie: Yeah, iPad. I have to, I have to for that many tracks.
Amy: Amazing. Brilliant. So, as dance captain, I imagine that the cast feel really comfortable coming and chatting to you. If they’ve got like an issue or a question with regards to the show. But where does that leave you? Who do you go to when you have a problem?
Bonnie: Yeah, of course. I mean, it is a tricky position to be in sometimes because I have to be a cast member, some sort of authority figure, I guess, for people. They come to me with lots of problems. When I have any issues, it depends on what the problem is. If it’s to do with anything on stage or anything that’s happening in the wings, I go to my stage manager. So, we’ve got a great SM team, very approachable, and a lot of the times we can resolve things that way between ourselves. If there’s anything with other cast members, any issues with cast members, or if I need to escalate any further, then I’d go to our company manager. I guess the go between with the tech crew, the cast front of House, the producers, everyone. So, they’re a really good person to go to with any problems.
Amy: And of course, you’ve always got your agent as well.
Amy: To help you kind of sort out any problems that you may have.
Amy: Over covid times as well. I mean, you chose a great time to become a dance captain. You mentioned all of the different tracks and people being off, you know I was like, that’s a covid nightmare.
Bonnie: It’s never a dull day. Absolutely
Amy: You’ll all be demanding pay rises, anyone who is a dance captain.
Bonnie: Yes, absolutely.
Amy: Specialty on its own. So, when you were on the ship, you played Lorraine, we’ve clarified on the West End that you’re a dance captain, but are you also a wing, a swing on the wing.
Bonnie: Yes, I am. Yeah. I love being a swing. Honestly, I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I do. I initially was disappointed. I wanted to play Lorraine because I feel so close to that track being in my original track. But now when we were transitioning from this first West End production cast to the most recent cast change, we were asked if we wanted to stay or if we wanted to leave and if we wanted to be considered for another role. And I didn’t even consider moving tracks at all.
I feel I get so much variety from being a swing and I love the pressure and being kept on my toes.
And I feel it’s so rewarding to be able to just jump on at the drop of a hat and pull the show off and it’s just really satisfying feeling and it’s really nice to be able to mix it up.
I cover three female roles in the show and first cover for all three, but at the same time, I’ve also gone on for some male tracks on occasion if I had to. So, I wouldn’t get those opportunities if I was playing an on-stage track. So, it’s nice to have the variety and mix it up. It keeps me on my toes.
Amy: Yeah, it keeps the show nice and fresh.
Amy: Just for our listeners, can you explain the difference between an on stage and an off-stage swing?
Bonnie: Yeah, absolutely. So, we have at Jersey Boys, we have one female swing, which is myself, and we have five off stage male swings. So, they cover every role in the show. Most of them cover about six roles. So, it’s their job to just be ready at any moment to jump on stage and cover any track. If they’re not on covering a track, they are sitting in the dressing room or they are watching the show, however, they need to manage their time. But if you’re an onstage swing, you have generally a smaller ensemble track, so it can be, we have two in our show. They can be cuttable tracks, basically, so that if they need to move to a different role, they can, and the role can kind of be absorbed by other tracks in the show. So essentially, they don’t normally cover as many tracks as the offstage swings, but they are fulfilling like an ensemble track on stage that they can move to another role if need be. But typically, you would be using the offstage swings first because it’s easier to just if someone goes off to just put one person on rather than adjusting all the tracks on stage. So typically, the off-stage swing will be on first, but it obviously varies from production to production.
Amy: Yeah, of course.
Amy: So, I need to ask, with the amount of different tracks that you need to learn, have you ever gone on stage and just completely forgotten where you’re supposed to be?
Bonnie: No, I haven’t. I feel like if you’re prepared and you know your tracks once you’re on stage, it’s fine. You know, the hardest thing is actually the backstage traffic you come off, because that’s something you can’t really practice so much, and you don’t get to see that as often. Like. I do show watches multiple times a week. But I don’t watch backstage multiple times a week. So occasionally I’ll come off, we were doing a two girl cut show not long ago and I went to just do a normal change and then had a panic because I forgot that we were in a cut show and I had to quickly excuse myself and run past a million people to get to the other side of the stage and do a quick change that I forgot about. So, I’ve never forgotten anything on stage, but occasionally backstage I do have to remind myself which track I am.
Amy: That’s the beauty of being in the audience. A show can be running perfectly smoothly. Everyone’s so impressed and then backstage the amount of chaos going on.
Bonnie: Yeah, absolutely.
Amy: Costumes, wigs, traffic.
Bonnie: Absolutely. I mean, with cast change we just had obviously the onstage stuff, we practiced plenty, but because of the short time we have to turn over the shows, the current new cast don’t have that long to do costume changes, rehearsals or dress runs. So, the day we opened, we did our first dress run that morning so that was the first time they had ever done the backstage traffic with the quick changes, and everything was the morning that they opened. You can imagine what carnage was happening backstage, but you wouldn’t have known from the audience.
Amy: It’s just that internal panic, isn’t it? Performers we’re so good at covering everything with a smile on our face already thinking you’re like, where am I going?
Bonnie: Next thing? I mean, we’re very lucky, we’ve got great wardrobe team, so they’re the one constant. If you’re lost and you’re new and you have no idea where you’re going, they will point you in the right direction and they will tell you what to change first. You do have guidance you’re not left alone.
I used to when I first started the contract, every time before I go on, for each track I just do a quick walk on stage through my blocking, but mostly for the backstage traffic. So, I’d go out the wing that I needed to go, go where that change was so I knew that’s where that was and I re-enter and do whatever I needed to do, just so I could differentiate between the three tracks and not get them confused. I don’t do that anymore. I have a bit of a cheat sheet that was backstage that would tell me where each change was as well. We don’t need that either.
It’s very much in my brain. I could do it in my sleep.
Amy: Glad to hear that. So, you just talked about before the show, going on stage and just doing that mental preparation, but as dance captain are you responsible for leading any warmup for the company? What does kinda happen before the show?
Bonnie: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we have a 6 o’clock call for a 7.30pm show and we do a physical warm up and then a vocal warm up. So, it is my responsibility as dance captain to take the warmup, after are vocally and physically warm, we then do anything that needs to be done on stage, like any cleaning, any issues with traffic or choreography, anything musically. So, it’s my job for the day, each day before warmup, I’ll write a bit of a list of what I need to achieve, depending on how much time we’ve got. But we also have to share with other departments as well. Sometimes the stage managers will want us to practise something or look at something. We’ve got very tight wing spaces in the theatre, so a lot of our moving set pieces that come on and off, it has to be done the exact same way every time or it can be quite dangerous, particularly when we go to black in the show. So, you can’t see that half a car set is going to be running into the wing, so we need to often run those things just to make sure we keep on top of it. So, yeah, I make a list before each warmup and then after warm up, we do company notes and we look at or clean anything that needs to be cleaned. We also have cover rehearsals happening at the moment, teaching our first covers, the Seasons tracks in the show, and so we will also run choreography numbers or what not after warm up, just to kind of keep them fresh and keep them learning. It calms down throughout the contract. It’s very busy at the start, but once they’re settled, we don’t have to do it as often, but to make sure we keep on top of things.
Amy: And like you said, because you just had that cast change over as well, you’ll be feeling like it’s all picked up again, really busy, and then you can kind of ease back into like a nice gentle pace of everything.
Amy: So, when does this contract finish for you, Bonnie?
Bonnie: This next contract I’ve just started finishes, I think end of July next year, so we’ve just changed over a few weeks ago, so I’ve just got another year or so. I’m very lucky to be part of the company again. I love my job.
Amy: Yeah, it’s such a great show to be a part of. Do you think you’re going to stay in London, go back to Australia? Do you know what?
Bonnie: No, I will definitely stay here. I put in the hard yards to be here, so I’m not going anywhere. It might be nice to try another show. I love Jersey Boy so much, but it will be a very difficult call to decide whether to stay or leave at the end of this one.
Amy: Yeah, of course. It’s just like you said, you’ve been doing it for so long and it’s just such a great show to be a part of.
Bonnie: It is, and I find it so rewarding. And if you work hard, the company, they’re very loyal to their cast and crew and I enjoy it. They’re like my family here, so to leave will be very difficult. I did make sure, though, each contract I tried to achieve something else because I don’t want to just stay in the same track or the same role and just do contract after contract. I would lose interest. So, it’s been nice that I’ve been able to add, given the opportunity to progress into something else each time. So, the first time I was Lorraine, then Lorraine dance captain, then swing dance captain. And now this time I’m also swing dance captain, but I had the opportunity to teach the show to the new cast this time, which was a great opportunity. I’ve never taught a West End show before, so to have that and be trusted with that was really incredible.
Amy: That’s amazing. Congratulations. It just sounds like you’re constantly pushing yourself onwards, which is amazing. That’s a real testament to you.
Bonnie: Thank you.
Amy: Well done.
Bonnie: Thank you.
Amy: Just to finish off, so sometimes I give my guests a little quick-fire round, but with you today, I would just love it if you could give us some advice to just any of our listeners who are wanting to pursue a career in this industry. What is your little snippet of wisdom that we can pass on?
Bonnie: Big question.
I would say be proactive and don’t wait for the work to come to you because it’s easy to be disheartened by the rejection and sit and wait for the phone to ring from your agent with an audition. But you don’t have to sit and wait for it. You can go out and seek it yourself and push yourself. Go to class. I know we’re always told when we’re training, you have to keep going to class afterwards, but you really have to go to yeah, it’s not even just class, but just keep on top of your skills. Like, when I moved to London, the Phoenix Artist Club, they did an open mic night each week. Well, they still do, actually. And that was my happy place. I got to meet some great people, but it was also a good opportunity for me to make sure I was staying on top of my vocals and actually singing with a pianist, so that when I got in the audition room, it wasn’t so daunting or scary. So, finding things like that, it’s not even necessarily training, but ways that you can use your skills so that you stay on top of it, so that when the audition comes around, that you are ready. And don’t rely on your agent to just call you. You can also call your agent and make pushes. It’s all about the relationships you form and pushing for yourself.
Don’t be disheartened by the no’s and don’t be afraid to take risks.
Amy: Love that. Well done. I’m sitting here laughing, I bet you everyone’s jumping onto Spotlight now, hitting that nudge button.
Bonnie: Yeah. You know what? I’ve never used a nudge button. I feel like I feel rude pushing the nudge button. I’d rather pick up the phone call and look at the phone and have a call.
Amy: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Bonnie. It’s been great chatting with you today.
Bonnie: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Amy: Good luck with the rest of your year in Jersey Boys.
Bonnie: Thank you so much.
Amy: Thank you. Take care. We’ll speak to you soon.
Bonnie: Speak to you soon. Bye.