Featured In the Spotlight artist this month is Sharon Rose - an actress, singer and musical theatre performer with a string of West End credits to her name, including Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, Motown the Musical and Caroline, Or Change at the Hampstead Theatre
When I first photographed her in 2014, she'd been working her way up through the gig circuit and done some recording, and was ready to take her career to the next level, having been talent-spotted by one of my favourite clients, Sarah Dormady at Goldmans Management. When worked together again last month, she'd just found out the hugely exciting news that she'd been cast in Hamilton, although she was only allowed to announce it in the last couple of weeks, so it seemed a like a pretty good time to catch up properly on the roller-caster ride she's been over the past few years.
So, I think it's fair to say that you've had a pretty busy time since we first met! Can you give us quick update on what you've been up to?
Some incredible things have been happening; I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked practically non-stop for the last 3 years. I’m so grateful. Shortly after we first met, I was cast in an ensemble role in Beautiful, after which I had the amazing experience of playing Diana Ross in Motown the Musical (Sharon also played the roles of Mary Wells & Little Eva during her time in the run), and then Radio 2 in Caroline, or Change. And I've just finished rehearsals for Hamilton, in which I'm on standby for all of the Schuyler sisters, which means I could be called on at any time to perform any of the roles. So I'm spending a lot of time backstage at the moment, but it's still pretty intense!
I know you were no stranger to performing your music to live audiences before going up for these roles, but what was it like stepping onto a West End stage for the first in a major production in front of a theatre-going audience?
It was completely insane! I was frightened, intimidated, I felt like I was completely out of my depth. So I just had to shut my eyes and think 'I'm here now'...I felt like what I really wanted to do was to run away, but I went for it and I'm so glad that I did. It would have been so easy to decide not to carry on, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have had all the amazing experiences that have come my way since.
And how has the journey been since those early days? Your confidence must have grown gradually stronger the more productions you've been in and the more roles you've played?
I'm not sure that how you feel ever really changes that much. With each job that I've had, I've had greater responsibility, so you still have to convince yourself each time that you are able to do it. Every project has bought some kind of new fear!
Do you have any pre-show rituals that help you to prepare to go onstage?
I've always had a strong Christian faith so, for myself, I'll pray before I go on stage. And with the cast I'm in now, there's a really strong sense of companionship and camaraderie, so everyone will stand together and hold hands before going on-stage. As well as supporting each other, it really helps with keeping the energy up and making the show feel fresh night after night.
What originally inspired you to become a singer, and how did you get started as a professional?
My inspiration was my family - if it wasn't for them, I honestly don't think I would be doing what I'm doing now. My parents met in a band (Sharon's mother was also a singer), and they were also both Church Pastors and then Ministers, so music played a core part of our lives both in our family lives and in our spiritual lives - my parents truly ingrained music in our genes!
We always sang, and still sing, as a family, and I think that's played a large part in helping to build my professional career; I haven't had any formal training, but singing and playing together gave us a language of spontaneity in music that I feel helped me grow as a musician. With my little sister, it was almost as if we had a sort of telepathic communication when we were singing together, and were able to anticipate what each other was going to do next. Even if we had an argument, we could often work it out though our creativity in music.
The support that I've received from my parents and siblings has always been really important in terms of helping me build my career. They've encouraged me 100% in everything I have done musically, so that's been a real help through some of the more challenging times.
What are the sort of challenges you've had to overcome over the years?
There were a lot of reality checks, like learning to network, how to self-promote, dealing with money etc. When you're self-employed and going round doing gigs, you're never really sure where the money's going to come from, and there were times when I'd be doing part-time jobs and then going out at night to do a gig, getting home at 2am and then doing it all over again the next day.
I think that's the sort of thing that can test your commitment and it's where the self-doubt can start to creep in, but I also truly enjoyed learning how to communicate with and entertain audiences, even when I was performing at venues that had a total of 2 people in the audience! Seeing them leave with a smile on their faces made it worthwhile, and I can look back now and clearly see that any of the risks that I took were completely worth taking.
In terms of the stage work that I've done, most of the roles I’ve played have had a connection to me as a person so I’ve enjoyed them all in a way that hasn’t really pushed me to my limits. Diana Ross was a big sing and Sister Mary Clarence was intimidating, but both were very exciting, especially Sister Mary Clarence - she had layers! (Sharon was playing Sister Mary Clarence in Sister Act when she was first spotted by Sarah at Goldmans). And I think I've still got to discover what else my voice can do, so who knows what challenges I might be facing in the future?
What's the most important piece of advice that you would give to an aspiring singer / performer?
Be kind. Maintain your integrity. Stand for what you believe in and don’t let that be taken away from you. Let your work speak for you and you’ll never have to.
Great note to end on, Sharon. Excuse the pun. Looking forward to seeing what happens next in the world of Sharon Rose!
Ever wondered what it's like to be backstage in the West End? Sharon takes us to work for the day at Motown The Musical!
Performance images courtesy of Broadway World. Sharon pictured left in the Supremes trio in both shots.