Humans of Clevedon – Louise Courtney

Another rising star from the ‘Covid generation’! How I hate this term and although young people’s risk of becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus is relatively low compared to other age groups, the long term impact on their social, economic and mental health could be colossal. Barely on the career ladder, not yet home owners and isolated from friends, many are understandably feeling anxious about the future.

Not so 25 year old Louise, recently graduated from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and one of those hugely talented young people whose drive determination and passion have helped her reframe lockdown into something positive. That doesn’t mean to say that she doesn’t have those moments of anxiety and doubt, she definitely does, but she’s a glass half full sort of person who displays great psychological resilience, an abundance of gratitude and a real desire for social interaction, albeit digital! Add to that a good measure of creativity, imagination and resourcefulness and voilà, you have Louise!

I’ve known Louise for some time but hadn’t kept up to date with what she was doing until I came across her YouTube Channel / Instagram account called ‘Lights Out with Louise’, which is an absolute delight; I’m not the only one who thinks so, she currently has 3000 followers. Created during lockdown, her  account is aimed at children under seven and entails Louise reading a bedtime story chosen from a carefully selected, inclusive range. She has the most melodious voice with a huge range of intonation and emotion and I could just imagine children hanging on to her every word. Have a listen to this one which was one of her favourites as a child and one that was very popular when she worked as a children’s librarian in between acting jobs.

It is if you like, a platform that she could use as a sort of portfolio, and a way she could gain some exposure as a Children’s TV Presenter which is an area of huge interest to her as is being part of comedic television sitcoms and theatre shows. She says herself that she had no real expertise in this area but  she had some of the kit from her ‘self-tapes’, (tapes that are sent to casting directors during Covid) and asked her mum to send her some of her children’s books from home. Added to this of course, she had what she’d what learnt at university  and her experience as  a librarian… this project was an amalgamation of the two!

Until she moved away for Drama College at the age of 19, Louise had always lived in Clevedon and is so proud to call Clevedon her hometown; she made me smile when she said her housemates were a bit shocked at all the Clevedon tea towels, mugs and prints that adorned their first house! Clevedon will always be home for Louise who sees it as a very warm, loving place and is so happy to return during these lockdown periods to spend time with her family and reconnect with friends. She is so grateful to be able to take her daily walks on the seafront whilst enjoying the beautiful views.

As a teenager, Louise was always a familiar face in Clevedon, as she had a number of lovely part time jobs; Gems on Hill Road was her first taste of work as a 16 year old; the ever-busy 5 The Beach, where I distinctly remember her serving me the most fabulous cream tea on a beautiful, sunny day, and volunteering at The Theatre Shop in The Triangle… a bonus to get to watch the shows for free!

Louise now lives in south-west London and loves travelling into central London to meet up with friends after work, to go to the theatre with cheap on-the-day tickets and to go to dance and yoga classes. She tries to return to Clevedon every few months to visit her wonderful family and friends. On these occasions, she makes sure she always visits 5 The Beach for one of their delicious baguettes and loves to book a table at Scoozi which is one of her favourite Clevedon restaurants.

When the first lockdown hit, Louise was working at a London secondary school and because she was agency staff, she was let go immediately. She came back to Clevedon with a single suitcase and a few bags of pasta because she’d heard about the stockpiling! It’s an image that made me smile! She thought she’d be home with her parents for a few weeks until lockdown eased! Little did she know! She acknowledges that it’s been such a tricky time for everyone, but she has loved having the time at home with her family and  reconnecting with school friends over a whole range of zoom activities such as quizzes and bingo nights. 

Louise started primary education at Yeo Moor Junior School where she first performed in Year 5 with the role of Wendy in Peter Pan. She was well prepared for this by Becky and Phil Kingsley of Kingsley Speech and Drama, a group she joined at the tender age of five. If you’d like to know more about them, here’s the link https://www.kingsleydrama.com Louise  has very clear memories of racing home from school with her childhood best friend Sophie Wood, eating a pizza at lightning speed and then going to her group  and acting out crazy improvised situations, putting on mini-plays and  expending  all her energy under the creative supervision of Becky and Phil.

Around this time Louise also started dance lessons at The No 1 Dance Factory with the ‘incredible Clair Somers’. What started as a Friday evening activity soon grew to five lessons a week with her closest friends joining her. Much pizza was again consumed but of course she could dance it off!

When Louise moved up to Clevedon School, she couldn’t believe there was a whole block dedicated to Drama, and a Studio – uniquely for dance! She has very fond memories of her Drama and Dance lessons, describing them as ‘the highlight of her week’. She laughed when she said that she spent as much time with Ms. Wadsley, the then Head of Drama, as she did with her friends. She remembers Ms. Morgan with equal fondness; both were a huge support throughout her school career. When I asked Louise to identify what had been the most useful aspect of this support, she thought that it was the fact that they both pushed her out of her comfort zone time and time again.

Shortly after Ms. Morgan joined as the new Dance teacher, she put on a fabulous production of ‘The Wiz’, where Louise played the Tin Man and loved being able to act, dance and sing every evening through lengthy rehearsals and then a whole glorious week of performances. She was in her element!

Photo credit: Michael Thie

Seussical the Musical was her first time playing the villain which she described as ‘fun and sassy’, and her role in Return to the Forbidden Planet was a great means of relaxing after a day of cramming for her A Levels.

Photo credit: Michael Thie

As you might have gathered, Louise was steeped in the world of performing arts during her teenage years. Added to everything she was doing at school and the Dance Factory, from the age of eleven, she spent every Sunday at The Actors Workshop  in Flax Bourton run by Clara Marullo who she holds in the highest esteem; it was from Clara that she learnt all the skills she needed to embark on the taxing audition process for Drama School. Louise  was keen to pay tribute to Clara in this post as she feels that her work with Clara enabled her to get into Drama School and launch her career as an actress.

Louise felt that Clara was so meticulous in teaching her all the skills that she would need across the board, and as a result, her confidence soared over the seven years she was taught by her. It was with Clara that she discovered her passion for singing and her weekly singing lessons were the best part of the week. By this point, every single evening was full with either dance, singing or acting classes, so much so that she often missed out on parties or gatherings because she was rehearsing, and the times she did go… she found herself worse for wear at rehearsal the following day so her appearances were rare. Here’s the link if you’d like to know more about The Actors Workshop  http://www.theactorsworkshop.co.uk

I described Louise at the start as having great drive, determination and passion and being very psychologically resilient, it was her description of the very tough application process for drama school that inspired those words.  She explained that there are around 20 accredited drama schools in the UK and each one takes an average of 30 people each year, with over 4,000 applicants for those few places. Knowing these odds, she knew it might take her a few years before she was able to secure a place.

In year 13 when all her friends were filling out their UCAS forms, Louise travelled around the country to seven different drama schools for a series of auditions. Most asked for two contrasting monologues, some also asked for a song, a piece on a musical instrument and the dreaded devised piece. She got a few recalls but sadly didn’t gain a place anywhere. By now, her friends were all making new friends and having amazing experiences at university whilst Louise was buckling down waitressing, cleaning, teaching, working in shops, in order to save the money to pay for auditions.  She yearned for these new experiences. That year she applied to ten different schools, again mostly in London, she also decided to try her hand at a school she hadn’t previously applied to: The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA.)

LIPA was founded by Mark Featherstone-Witty RNOM OBE and Sir Paul McCartney in 1995/6. It is housed in McCartney’s old school, which underwent a multi-million pound renovation to transform it into a state-of-the-art performing arts higher education institution. The Education Guardian has previously ranked LIPA No. 1 in the UK for several of its degree courses, and it is regularly ranked as one of the top ten specialist institutions. LIPA has been awarded gold by the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework which rates higher education providers by teaching quality.

Louise described her audition at LIPA as the most fun from start to finish. Her friend (and future housemate) Chloe had their audition on the same day, so they drove up together, Taylor Swift blaring out in the car, as they practiced their pieces to each other. Unlike many other schools who see potential students for a  maximum three minutes – LIPA set up a full day of auditions including workshops in all disciplines and a solo audition. Even during these workshops, Louise just knew this was the place she wanted to be. She felt so comfortable and confident, and wasn’t ‘totally terrified’ as she had been at many of her other auditions! She just felt intuitively, that despite the odds, she would be going to LIPA.

Following a recall a few weeks later, Louise knew she’d hear within a few days whether she had been successful. She’d seen on twitter that morning that someone had had an acceptance letter, so that day which was interminably long, she sat on the stairs, willing the postman to deliver the news that she had long been waiting for. Hours later, she decided to go and make some lunch but as she stepped into the kitchen, she heard a thud, ran to the front door and it was there! An envelope from LIPA! She celebrated the best way she knew how – a pizza from Scoozi! As Scoozi is mentioned on numerous occasions, I thought you might like to check out this fabulous restaurant https://www.scooziclevedon.co.uk

LIPA was everything Louise expected and more! She describes it as ‘the best time of her life.’ She made lifelong friends and spent three years acting for ten hours a day. It was as exhausting as it was exciting! She loved every minute of it!

During her time at LIPA, Louise was part of many wonderful productions, the one that stands out the most for her was the musical, Made in Dagenham which came towards the end of her second year and was one of her happiest times.

‘With a cast bursting with all my best friends, we spent four weeks in the most gorgeous rehearsal room, with the sunlight streaming in and creating something so special together.’

For those who have not seen it, Made in Dagenham is a dramatisation of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination. Louise played Clare, the funny, ditsy side-kick to the lead female strikers, a role that requires strong comedic skills. She absolutely reveled in her role! Being surrounded by such talented people, Louise explained that it was very easy to doubt her own ability at LIPA, but playing this part she really felt as if she had found her niche and loved making the audience laugh each night with her character’s relationship with Beryl (helpfully played by her real life best friend Ebony Jonelle), as they helped Rita, played by another close friend Helena, achieve ‘equal pay for equal work!’

‘A feminist musical in the height of summer, it didn’t get much more perfect for me than that!’

Louise was also lucky enough to play Lady Macbeth; and be part of productions such as Spring Awakening, Girls Like That, Night of the Burning Pestle and Bad Girls: The Musical.

Her part in Tits Up a really special show, organized and produced by her friend, the very inspirational  Isabella Rubin was something she loved doing.

Isabella was very keen to do something  to raise money for Prevent Breast Cancer UK, a cause very close to the hearts of all the women pictured, at a time when lab based research had to stop, breast screening appointments cancelled and charity incomes had halted due to the battle against Covid19. Check the video out here; it’s not too late to donate if you would like to . https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tits_up_appeal

This is just a taster of Louisa’s life at LIPA  but it would definitely be fair to say she pushed herself to her limits, taking part in every extra-curricular activity possible after a ten hour school day! She described LIPA as having the the most magical atmosphere, and dearly  wished that those three years of theatre trips, dinners, parties, shows and laughter could have lasted forever.

Agent representation came after her third year showcase which took the group to the Arts Theatre in London. She then moved to London with fellow actors from her course in September 2018, having just completed her first acting job, as a dancer in an advert for the Cricket World Cup. She was so excited about what the industry had to offer and the adventure that awaited but it was an excitement tinged with reality as she knew there would be long gaps between acting jobs. She was determined to find a job that was fulfilling, creative and enjoyable as this would be how she was spending most of her time!

Shortly afterwards, she started as a Children’s Librarian at a London primary school, and really honed a love for children’s literature and education. She spent whole afternoons reading classic stories to classes of children and helped shyer children gain access to the material through things she had learnt during her training at drama school. She  also set up a free musical theatre club after school, which she enjoyed just as much as the children! She loved having an excuse to dance around a hall again, and seeing the joy it brought to the children filled her with joy! They performed at a local carnival, the first time the school had ever had a chance to do something of this nature. It was a watershed moment for Louise  who realised that she would like to work with children through other avenues in her career.

The auditions that Louise attended at this time seemed to be mostly comedic roles for commercials, television, and children’s theatre. During one day at the library in 2019, she had an email from her agent to say that she had an audition the following day for an UberEats commercial. At the time, she  was being seen for a lot of commercials so didn’t think much of it but when she arrived – it turned out to be UberEats sponsoring Love Island, and was a little comedic skit that she had lots of fun auditioning for.

She hadn’t had an acting gig for about eight months by this point, so was absolutely over the moon to hear from her agent that she’d got the part and spent the next three days in and out of rehearsal, wardrobe and filming with the lovely, late Caroline Flack.

Louise explained that actors are usually quite out of the loop once the filming is complete, so she started watching Love Island that year for the first time, hoping that her face might pop up in a prime-time ad. About five weeks in to the ten week series, she was popping the bins out on a Sunday evening and came back inside to about forty text messages: the advert had aired! It was so exciting and she really felt the months of grafting away at school to be on the television each evening was well worth it.  She couldn’t wait for the next opportunity!

But opportunities have been sadly lacking since that sad but inevitable day, when the creative industries across the UK closed on  March 16th, 2020, following the government’s advice for people to avoid gathering in public buildings.

I wondered how Louise was currently managing financially and she explained that when she went back to London after the first lockdown, she started working in a lovely gift shop called the Indigo Tree from where she is now furloughed, something she is very grateful for. She is also grateful to her boss at the Indigo Tree, who is a Children’s TV editor, for giving her the idea for the wonderful idea for Lights out with Louise.

The corona virus outbreak is doing more than disrupting the health of thousands of people across the globe; life for young people like Louise is very hard because on top of worry about potential illness for herself, family and friends, there is the uncertainty about the length of the lockdown and the huge anxiety about the future and what exactly that future will look like.

Hopefully as we begin to ease lockdown measures put in place to flatten the Covid curve, Louise will find her place in the ‘new normal’ of the acting world. It will be tough but Louise does tough and she has a fabulous set of values and an impressive armoury of skills that will see her through.

LIPA make a graduation video every year that includes a second of each production and music event that happened and they make sure that each student of that graduating year is shown at least once. Here is Louise’s.

All the best Louise for a very exciting future.

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