Claire Taylor is an actor, singer, dancer and voice artist. Her select credits include West Side Story, Rock of Ages (Naledi nomination), Dirty Dancing, Sunset Boulevard and Cabaret, for which she was nominated for a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award. She has worked in theatres and countries all over the world including Australia, Italy, China and the USA. She has also featured on various local and international voice campaigns. Claire is the founder and director of a promotional and events staffing agency, and experiential entertainment company, Promotiv, which she launched in January 2018. She is currently starring as Mrs Wormwood in the South African premiere of Matilda.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
In high school, I was never the maths or science type. I was sort of scrounging around for subjects when you had to choose subjects and drama just happened to be one of them. I was never really into it. It was never really something that I seriously wanted to pursue. I had danced as a young girl and in high school, and my drama teacher, Mrs Hicks, cast me in a high school play. I did three of those and when it was time to apply to university, I had applied for some corporate things and she said, “You need to go study musical theatre.” She was probably the main driving force behind me eventually going into this. I still tell her to this day and I still see her to this day. She was a major influence.
Where did you do your training?
I went to Pretoria Technicon, TUT. I did musical theatre but I only did a year. I didn’t last very long there. I decided that I can do this myself and here I am 11 years later. By the grace of all the powers that be, I’m still working in the industry. I don’t know how that happened but I’ve been very lucky and I’m super grateful for everything that’s come my way. I made the decade. I made it.
Was there a specific moment when you realised that you could sing?
I never sang and then one of the school plays in high school was a musical and we had to audition and I was like, “I can’t do this.” We all had to stand in a line and each person had to sing a song and I think I sang two or three lines of a song because I had never sung in front of anyone before, ever. I got into the play and I had to sing in the play and that was the first time I had ever sung and I’m sort of still ‘faking it till you make it’ and figuring it out as I go along. Now I love it. I call myself a singer now, not really ever having had training.
Which is so unusual because you’ve tackled some very vocally demanding roles…
I would be lying if I said I had absolutely no training. I did the year of musical theatre but it was only a year. That was the first time I had really sung and now I occasionally see the most phenomenal woman in Joburg called Catherine Hopkins. She is The Vocal Coach SA and she is so in tune with musical theatre. She’s been a musical theatre performer, she studied musical theatre and she sort of trains people not only on a vocal/physical level but she inspires people and she mentors people and she is the most incredible person. She is fabulous.
What was it that originally attracted you to Matilda?
I had never seen Matilda. We don’t get Broadway or West End on our doorstep, so accessibility to seeing these shows is not always there besides a little clip on YouTube. When I saw the brief come out, I had seen some clips on YouTube but mainly of the children and it was just spectacular. It was big, it was colourful, it was crazy. I started researching the characters and Mrs Wormwood was this insane caricature of a human being who is just so unbelievably loud and crazy and I was like, “I’ve got to go for that one!” I don’t think I’m an incredibly big or loud person myself. I’m shy and a little bit socially awkward sometimes. I’m more and more drawn to the villain or the character actress role rather than the ingénue. I always thought I would be the ingénue. but now I’m so drawn to comedy. I’m so drawn to villains and interesting characters and Mrs Wormwood was just this crazy thing that I was like, “How is this a person? I’ve got to go for that one.”
What are you looking forward to in regards to getting this production up on its feet?
I cannot wait to don the Wormwood. It is larger than life. The wig is vast, it’s the height of myself on my head. It’s ridiculous but it’s incredible. I can’t wait to put that physical aspect to her because we’ve been exploring the nuances of the character so nicely but I cannot wait to get the whole physical thing going, the costumes and everything in tech. I cannot wait for us to start stitching together with the children because everything has been a little bit disjointed. They rehearse children and adults separately and then we slowly bring it all together. These kids are unbelievable. The cast is unbelievable. I’m in awe of everybody in the cast and I can’t wait to start marrying all the elements and, if I’m honest, my favourite part of a process is the Sitzprobe. I cry at every Sitzprobe. I think it’s the most beautiful thing to hear that music by the orchestra for the first time. I’m an emotional mess. Really looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to all of it.
This production is touring internationally after its South African run. You’ve done several international runs. What is it like to sustain a show for that kind of duration? What do you like about long-running productions or international tours?
We are so privileged to get to do what we love and then get to see the role and travel with amazing people. It’s unbelievable. Tours and especially long runs of tours can get hard. It does get hard being away from home, being away from the convenience of life that you are used to, being in places that aren’t maybe what you are used to but I love that while you are on tour, there is so much time to do things. You get out, you see the world, you get to be a tourist, which is great. I always take on a project when I tour. I’ll learn photography and that will be my project for China. I’ll YouTube videos and courses and learn. I take on a project in every country or city while on tour. We have days off and we are in beautiful, inspiring locations. I really look forward to my projects on long runs.
I’ve seen some of your photography and headshot work. How do you feel you are able to utilise that to express yourself?
The headshots and the photography was one of my projects. I started learning on a tour and am just self-taught and it’s a hobby. I don’t want to turn it into a business. I did at one point but it’s not for me. I wanted to do actors headshots because I feel like there are so many photographers out there who can shoot the most beautiful portrait but I think an actors headshot is so much more. I’ve seen very few people who can really capture the essence of a person and my goal was to try to learn how to do that. The photography was something that just came out of a project that I wanted to pursue and continue. Another project I did was a business management course and then opened up a business.
I’d love to hear more about that.
It’s called Promotiv. It was born out of desperation of being an out of work actor. There are always times in actors careers where there are ebbs and flows and sometimes you have work and sometimes you don’t. I think it is so fundamentally important for actors to have a side hustle and to get it as soon as possible, not because you are going to fail at acting but because the reality of the industry in our country, I believe, is that you can’t sustain a life purely on acting. I really believe that you can’t sustain a life purely on an acting salary. Very few people can and I think they are really lucky if they can. I decided to go into a bit of a staffing business, also as a way to give out of work actors and especially young out of work actors, work and extra money to pay the bills. We do events staffing solutions, we do hostesses, brand activations, promo girls. We also do corporate event entertainment and experiential marketing. In a way, I’ve packaged out of work actors as experiential marketing and I’m trying to sell that to brands as your brand personified. In a world where we are the most connected we’ve ever been with technology and cellphones, we also lack connection in such a crazy way and I think there is going to be a trend in marketing to bring the people aspect back into brands. We want to change the way brands interact with people and how people interact with your brand. By doing that, we can also give actors work. We can create customer-centric experiences with people, with actors. That is where Promotiv is. It’s growing and it’s gaining traction and I’m very happy to say that is my side hustle and one day, I’d like to turn it into my full-time.
Are you still able to nurture it while you are in rehearsals and performing?
When I’m in rehearsals, I will give 100% of my attention and time and energy to the show. I now have an incredible partner who has joined the team, LJ Neilson, who has just finished Evita and she is just an incredible actress and performer in her own right. She has a brain on her that is amazing. We’ve sort of teamed up and she is running the show while I’m not able to. I have a growing team who is on board and wanting to make it work as well, and therefore I am also able to pay people and keep people working. It’s almost self-sustaining which is the goal.
I wanted to touch on your performance in Cabaret which awarded you a Fleur du Cap nomination. What did it feel like to receive that recognition?
It took me by surprise. I think that Cabaret was one of the major, pivotal moments in my life where I almost didn’t think I was ready to play a lead. It happened and the show happened and I was incredibly insecure during the whole process because I tend to be quite an insecure performer especially when finding a character and when the Fleur du Cap nomination came out, I was flabbergasted and couldn’t believe it. It was an incredible honour and to be nominated with the people who were nominated in that category. Lynelle Kenned won the award that year for West Side Story and I look up to that woman. I think she is the most incredible actress-singer and also woman and person and she is so inspirational. I was really honoured to be recognised with a group of women that I idolize. It was a hard process for me because I felt like I wasn’t ready but you are never ready. You get thrown in the deep end and you just make it work. I think that you are always where you are exactly meant to be in life. The universe will never throw anything at you that you are not ready for. You either succeed through it or you learn through it.
As a performer or creative, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I feel like one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is more on a personal level but I can relate it to the industry: “You are not responsible for anybody’s happiness and nobody else is responsible for yours.” I think as actors, we crave validation so much and recognition, be it in a rehearsal process or audition, we want to know that we are doing good work. I’m learning that nobody is going to give you validation or recognition and that it has to come from yourself. Especially as an actor, we tend to base our self-worth on the jobs that we get or the jobs that we don’t get. As much as people say, “You grow a thick skin or you fight through it. You get used to rejection and you move on.” It does chip away a little bit at your soul and I think it’s so important to realise that your self-worth is not based on a job. If you walk into a commercial casting and you don’t get the job, you are not any less of an actor or a person or a performer. The same with theatre. You can’t base your self-worth on the jobs you get or you don’t get. You need to find it within yourself. There is so much more to life than auditions or shows. It’s a career. It’s not life. It’s a beautiful part of life and I love it but it’s a career.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Lynelle Kenned, 100% and not just because of her performance and her acting and singing ability. She is an incredibly inspirational woman and she has ideas and just reading some Facebook statuses of hers, she’s great. I’m finding that my pool of inspiration changes so often. Gaynor Young, I follow her on Twitter and from someone who was so young and had this career on the rise and so much ahead of her and a tragedy to happen, she tweets the most beautiful positive things every day and she is amazing as a woman.