Conversations with… Bethany Gregory (Subject: Chasing Dreams/Life as an Actress)

When we watch television or go to the theatre, we rarely ever think of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. We sit and we watch for a few hours, immersed in a make believe world, never once stopping to think of the time spent designing sets and costumes, the weeks of long, arduous rehearsals, the years of taking classes to perfect the multitude of crafts needed to put on a show or create a film. We see the end product summit, not the mountain climbed to get there.

For me, I’ve always had a little insight into this world through my sister. One of her closest friends, Bethany Gregory, has worked in musical theatre since before I even knew her. Over the years, I’ve heard of the countless hours Bethany spends in dance classes, in rehearsals and performing. At the age where most people were trying to figure out who they were and what they wanted in life, Bethany was crafting her skills, spending her weekends and weeknights performing and giving everything she had to make sure she was the best she could be. Her commitment to her passion and her belief has always been there, with the lesson of working hard for what she wants being something she credits her parents for.

At 22, Bethany has just graduated The Hammond with a degree in Musical Theatre and is about to set foot into the world of musical theatre and performance. This interview might come at the time of her graduating, but this isn’t the start of her journey. That began years ago. To get to where she is now has taken unshakable determination and self belief, the kind you imagine could change the world if everyone else had just a bit of it.

Bethany is about to start the next chapter of her career, a chapter that she has most definitely earned. If ever there was an interview with someone who could inspire someone else to go for their dreams, this is it. This is the definition of courage, of your passion being your calling, of believing in yourself enough to make your dreams come true.

Where did your passion for drama come from?

I started dancing at around the age of 4. I was uncoordinated as a toddler so the doctor told my mum to send me to ballet to try and fix it. I was on the brink of having dyspraxia when I started classes in ballet, tap and modern dance and they fixed my clumsiness straight away!

I did my first dance show age 5 and caught the bug of performing live. The buzz and adrenaline is a feeling like no other. When I started secondary school, I was part of the most incredible drama department who were so in love with theatre that it was infectious. The community was like a family. I started doing all the school shows from year 7 and my love for performing grew stronger every year. I went to stagecoach, a weekend theatre group, from age 15-18. Those few hours every Saturday were the happiest of my week. I wanted to be that happy every day for the rest of my life! That’s how I decided that theatre was the career for me.

For most people, the thought of going on stage is simply terrifying! But there must be something about it that you love. How would you describe the feeling you get when you perform?

Before a show, my stomach turns flips. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest and without fail I’ll need a nervous wee, but when I’m stood in the wings, in full costume and the overture starts to play, I get goosebumps all over my body and the adrenaline starts to rush through me. It’s a feeling of terrified excitement. The electricity of having a crowd of people hanging on to your every word is so special and seeing the effect my performance can have on people is something I’m so lucky to have experienced. Being able to make an audience think, being able to provoke a reaction and take someone on an emotional journey makes me feel so lucky to do what I do. Having the ability to make at least one person happy through theatre is a feeling I can’t describe.

It sounds like the most incredible feeling and I can see why you have chased it, but I know that getting to this position of graduating drama school has not been a straightforward route for you. In your own words, can you describe your journey of getting to The Hammond?

I started auditioning for drama school in my final year of sixth form. I was very academic at school and when I met with my head of year to discuss my post sixth form plans he struggled to hide how mortified he was that I didn’t want to go to a Russell group university to do an ‘academic’ degree.

While everyone else was submitting their UCAS forms, I was applying to drama schools. I had NO idea what I was letting myself in for. I went into my auditions having no clue about the industry, how to do a good audition and just how many thousands I would be competing against for roughly 15-40 places per school. I was ridiculously out of my depth. I didn’t get in anywhere my first year of trying, so I reluctantly took a year out of education. I worked 3 jobs, 6 days a week – Monday to Friday as a receptionist at my old school and as a performing arts teacher at 2 stagecoach schools on a weekend.

During that year I reapplied to drama schools (being far more clued up this time) and went out auditioning again. This time, I got recalled at multiple schools. But again, by the skin of my teeth, I just missed out on a place, so my parents advised me to go do a ‘normal’ degree. I ended up accepting a backup place to study English Literature and Theatre Studies at Chester University. In my mind I clearly wasn’t good enough to make it so I was going to be a teacher and just grin and bear it.

The summer before I left for university, I joined the most insane theatre group- Futurist Theatre Productions, and performed as Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera and a principal in A Night at the Musicals. It was hands down the best summer of my life. The company is incredible. They developed my skills and confidence tenfold, and I still perform with them now.

That September I moved to Chester and started my course. 2 weeks in, I realised how wrong this all was for me. I was miserable, and after the summer of performing I’d just had, not being at drama school following my dream was devastating and I went to a really dark place. I rang my parents, had a full breakdown, came home from university and we started looking into options to fix things.

I was going to drop out and do the audition circuit all over again, but that’s when my dad found The Hammond, which is based in Chester. I was under the impression they only ran a diploma course (for which no student finance is available and fees are almost £20,000 a year) but it turned out they’d just started running a degree course. For The Hammond to have a degree, it has to be validated by the closest university, which was Chester, so I called Hammond on the off chance they’d audition me late and let me join the course a few weeks in. A wonderful lady called Helen answered, asked for my CV and a personal statement and she would see what she could do. The head of the course, Kev, called me in to audition on Halloween. I did the whole audition on my own, sang 2 songs, did 2 monologues and did a dance class in front of a panel. I was made to leave the room as they discussed, called me back in and said ‘we love you. Will you start tomorrow?’ My jaw hit the floor and I said absolutely. They took me to get my uniform straight away, and I went back to my dad in the car and started screaming!

The icing on an already perfect cake is because the degree is validated by Chester uni, all I had to do was fill in a course transfer form. None of my fees changed and I could stay in my halls with my friends! I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

I started at The Hammond on the BA musical theatre course on 1st November- my classmates were stunned when I showed up to say the least – but they quickly became my family. And so began the best three years of my life!

It really is an incredible story of believing in yourself and going for what you want – you should be so proud of yourself for getting to where you are! What has been the most important lesson/lessons you have learnt during your time training at The Hammond?

Blowing out someone else’s candle will not make yours burn any brighter.

This industry is brutal, and sometimes you will find other performers will trample on you for their own benefit. At Hammond I have been insanely lucky to have not experienced this. Hammond teach us to be kind to one another, to celebrate each other’s successes and pick each other up when we fall. Mental health can be fragile in the theatre world and we all need each other to pull us through the hard times. Tearing other people down is not only cruel, but will get you nowhere in the industry. Professionals want to work with nice people.

With the competitive nature of musical theatre and your tough journey to university, were there ever times that you doubted yourself and how did you overcome those doubts?

Not getting into drama school 2 years in a row was the most disheartening thing in the world. Being told you’re not good enough regularly is a hard pill to swallow, and your confidence gets shattered often. In class, teachers scrutinise your every move – and while they do this because they want me to be my best- it’s frustrating that I’m not perfect yet. Drama school is full of frustration and lots of tears. You spend all day surrounded by insanely talented people and it’s impossible to not compare yourself to your peers. I say to myself every day ‘I wish I had her figure’, ‘I wish I had her voice’ or ‘I wish I could pirouette like her’. You really discredit what you can do.

The way I’ve tried to overcome this is to remind myself daily that there isn’t another performer out there like me. I am entirely unique and have a completely individual skill set. The industry is full of opinion. I won’t always be everybody’s cup of tea – and that’s okay. There will be people who will see me and I will be exactly what they are looking for! It’s never personal. I’ve worked so hard for so long, and as long as I’m being the best version of me possible, I can’t ask anything more of myself. Every day is a mental health battle. The industry is brutal, but every day is a learning curve I only want to take the positives from.

I have found sometimes that when I say I am a writer, some people laugh it off as not a ‘proper’ job. With performance also being a creative, not 9-5 job, have you ever received any negativity from people about your chosen path and how have you dealt with it?

Often, when I tell people (usually the older generations) what I do, they look at me as if I’m thick! Little do they know at school I was a straight A and A* student and took A level biology and physics! I find myself defending my degree and career, as some people consider it a ‘dossers’ degree. I’ve been told often I won’t ever get a ‘real’ job with my degree, that I’ve got a degree to work in McDonald’s be or a waitress my whole life and it’s a waste of time. I’ve been told ‘oh your degree is easy! I’d love to sing and dance all day.’

I used to bite back and defend myself, but eventually learned what a waste of time and energy it was. I spend 8-12 hours every day in college, sweating buckets, every muscle screaming. I come home exhausted every day. I know how hard I work. Musical theatre takes over my life.

I know how to make money in my field. I’ve been teaching musical theatre for a long time and already earn fantastic money from it. Knowing my worth and the value of my degree is enough for me to brush negative comments aside now! I’ve studied in this field for a long time and I know how my industry works. The opinions of narrow minded people are just water off a duck’s back now. I just smile, and tell them how much I love what I do and how happy it makes me.

I love that attitude! You have every right to respond like that – you have worked incredibly hard to get to where you are now and have already overcome knock backs. What things do you think are important for someone to do when they are going for a dream?

Stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will’. Dreams don’t fall out of the sky, they take years of hard work, passion and commitment. If you’re willing to work hard, anything is possible! You will suffer knock backs, but don’t let bumps in the road stop your journey! Be resilient. If you want something badly enough, stop at nothing to achieve it.

If you had to give advice to someone who is hoping for a career in performance but is doubting them self, what would you say?

Dreams coming true doesn’t happen in a instant! So don’t get frustrated – your time will come. Work hard, continue bettering yourself, and learn from every rejection because there will be a lot of them. Everything in this industry is based on someone’s opinion. Everyone’s opinion is different, and while you might not be one person’s cup of tea, you will ABSOLUTELY be someone else’s! It sometimes isn’t even down to your talent. The director may want a girl, 5’3 with blonde hair and brown eyes for a role to fit in the cast, but as a 5’7 green eyed brunette, the part will absolutely not go to me and that’s not because I’m not good – It’s just because I don’t fit exactly what they had in mind. It’s never personal, so don’t take it that way. Try take the positive from every experience, grow, better yourself and keep going! Talk to your friends and family when you feel low, and remind yourself every day why you love performing. You got this!

You have just graduated, but your performance history is already incredible. What has been your biggest career highlight so far?

On 30th May 2019, a week after my west end agent showcase in London, I signed with my dream agent, Keddie Scott Associates. After a fabulous meeting, I was offered a contract. I was totally gobsmacked. I often look at myself and think there’s no way I’m good enough to be doing this, but now being on the books of my top choice agency has lifted my spirits and I can’t wait to start working hard with my fabulous agent backing me all the way! I’m insanely lucky.

That’s incredible – congratulations! I certainly can’t wait to see where you go from here, but where do you hope to see yourself in five years time?

This industry is so fickle I couldn’t possibly say! In an ideal world I would love to have a little flat of my own in London and be earning enough money performing to live happily and comfortably. If I could make any dream come true, in 5 years I would love to be playing Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera in the west end… a girl can dream eh?

If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?

Live every moment of your life to be happy and healthy. If your health or happiness is faltering, fix it. You are in control of your own life!

To keep up with Bethany’s journey on Instagram, click here

To keep up with Bethany’s journey on Twitter, click here

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