Sitting in Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, a young Natalie Whalley is in awe of the breathtaking performance of Jemma Rix as Elphaba in Wicked.
Fast forward nearly 10 years, and Whalley is a budding musical theatre performer with an exceedingly bright future.
With a resume bursting with lead roles, Whalley found herself left with no choice but to head interstate to chase her dreams of becoming a professional in the industry she grew up dreaming about.
Q: There is no doubting your undeniable passion for musical theatre. How did your journey start?
A: When I was three [years old], Mum and Dad put me into dance lessons. Weekly, I was learning ballet, jazz and tap. Progressively that grew, and I completed all graded and vocational exams, competed in various solo and troupe competitions around the country and performed in an annual concert every year since then. During my childhood, I added acting and singing lessons to the mix and I have performed in many amateur theatre and school theatre productions. So really the journey began when I was just three years old. My life has always been totally devoted and leading up to my career as a performer.
Q: Can you tell me about your degree?
A: I am studying a Bachelor of Music Theatre at Federation University’s Arts Academy in Ballarat, Victoria. The degree includes dancing, singing, acting, theory and history classes, all relating to music theatre and the arts.
Q: It didn’t always look like you were headed for musical theatre, did it?
A: No, that’s right. For a lot of my teenage years and my first year out of school, I was very ballet-focused. A lot of my time spent training was in classical ballet and I studied at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts, completing a Diploma of Dance (Elite Performance) – the Classical Ballet stream of the Dance Course at WAAPA – in my first year out of school.
Q: Was there a moment there that you thought, “musical theatre is all I want”?
A: Throughout my childhood I had always been very determined on my dream to be a professional musical theatre performer. Unfortunately, my dance teachers were very classically swayed and ‘pushed’ me into focusing on ballet, rather than helping me to pursue my dreams. I had always intended to use the year of ballet at WAAPA as a pathway into the musical theatre course there, but halfway into my diploma, around Easter time last year, I had had enough of ballet and it became very clear to me that what I wanted more than anything else was musical theatre.
Q: How hard has it been leaving Canberra to chase your dreams?
A: My first year out of home was not as hard as I expected. Initially it was a nightmare, but once I got into the swing of things and my maturity grew a notch, everything just fell into place. Obviously, it has been very trying being away from my family, friends and boyfriend, and I constantly miss them very much, but “ya gotta do what ya gotta do!”
Q: An idol of yours in Jemma Rix says she considers herself to be a singer first and foremost. Would you consider yourself to be an actor or a singer?
A: I have always considered myself to be a dancer first and foremost, but in my first few weeks of the Music Theatre degree, I have learnt that I am an actor first, and a singer and dancer equal second. This is the equation to any performer.
Q: What is your dream role?
A: My very cliche dream role is Elphaba in the musical Wicked.
Q: No guesses as to who stars in that role…
A: [Laughs] Yes, it is of course the one and only Jemma Rix.
Q: What has been your greatest achievement to date?
A: My greatest achievement to date… that’s a hard one. It would probably have to be being accepted into so many institutions in my first year out of school. I could pick a lot of achievements in my life that are great, but being accepted into so many places and having to choose the best place for me was what has made me most proud of myself to date.
Q: Finally, as a performer who has left the local scene, what would you say to any young performer in Canberra?
A: I would urge any budding young performer in Canberra to not get caught up in the hype of amateur theater, but rather focus higher and higher and search for more accredited training; usually outside of Canberra. Canberra has a very big amateur theatre scene which is beneficial for confidence and experience, but if a performer is caught into the hype and does not remember what they are aiming for, they often find it very hard to get out.