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Taking Malta to the West End – An interview with Ben Darmanin

Image courtesy of Matthew Mirabelli - Sunday Circle

I’ve spent many a night sat in the rows of London’s theatre district imagining how much excitement there must be back stage. I have definitely harboured my own secret (till now) fantasies about treading the boards in some way.  When I walked in to the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa to interview Ben Darmanin, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d read his bio and formulated all my questions based on that and on my perceptions of the glamorous life of a West End musical theatre performer.

The man I met was not what I had imagined.  Suited and smiling I felt there was so much more to Ben the minute we started talking.  My embarrassingly obvious first question was about how he felt about having worked with such big names as Sir Elton John and Sir Cameron Mackintosh. I was really expecting to hear how he’d aspired to be working with the greats and work his way to the top. But Ben was far more modest in his reply. “Everything happens for a reason and I can only aspire to be the best that I can at what I’m doing.  Does it feel right and normal?  In my heart I am still this Maltese boy from St. Julian’s who made a choice to be involved in the arts as a career.  It wasn’t easy because at the time there was no real ‘route’ for me and no role models to emulate locally.”

 

Image courtesy of Matthew Mirabelli - Sunday Circle

Image courtesy of Matthew Mirabelli – Sunday Circle

At this point my carefully prepared list of questions, full of assumptions, was pretty much side-lined as I found out more about this fascinating man and his love for the performing arts.  Ben is very passionate about the education of future performers, and takes full advantage of his role as Artistic Director of the Margaret Howard Theatre College in the UK to make the performing arts a real, viable choice for young people today.

Four years ago Ben started A Week in the Life, a learning experience designed to give aspiring Maltese performers aged 16 to 30, a full immersion insight into the life of a performing arts student. The aim is to offer training in the various disciplines while also preparing the participants for the realities of life they would have to face if they choose to follow this path.  Ben told me that “people make it in this competitive industry in the UK thanks to their life skills, as much as their talent in singing, dancing or acting. The Maltese students have a very strong work ethic thanks to our education system and this really helps them with the discipline of the academic side of the performing arts.”

 

A week in the life

Students at A Week in the Life

The structure of A Week in the Life is a week-long, residential programme for 40 aspiring Maltese performers. Students live together, eat together and train together in various dance styles, acting improvisation, solo singing and the integration of acting and singing. The training is provided by world class coaches who have worked with casts of some of the biggest West End shows such as Les Miserables, The Lion King, Wicked and so many more.  Ben emphasises that one of the most important elements of the programme is that it is all at “a London pace”. This means timings and discipline are of the utmost importance.

I wanted to know what the life of a West End performer is really like to get an idea of what these students would experience. “It’s exciting, diverse, and a bit like a pin-ball machine, never knowing where you might be propelled to next.  It’s not linear and is made up of highs and lows. Everything rides on what happens in the audition room, so you need resilience to succeed.  It doesn’t always rely on your talent either, as your look might just not be what the casting director is looking for.  So it’s really important to just go with the ride, keep going and surround yourself with a strong support network. At Margaret Howard we feel it is important to shower our students with positivity. We critique to create improvement not to break people or to create clones.”

I concluded our interview by asking Ben which show was a must-see right now for anyone visiting London. He recommended In the Heights. The winner of 3 Olivier Awards, this show also boasts among its cast Maltese performers Sarah Naudi and Damian Buhagiar.

Applications are now open for the 2017 edition of A Week in the Life. Visit http://www.aweekinthelife.co.uk/ to apply. Auditions will be taking part in Malta this October.

 

Featured Image courtesy of Matthew Mirabelli – Sunday Circle


4 Comments

  1. Anna Darmanin says:

    Great Writeup and lovely photos.

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