Kara Lane is an Aussie Music Theatre Performer based in the UK. From performing on the West End and playing Mrs Banks in the International Tour of Mary Poppins, to founding vintage trio The Girls from Oz and singing as a guest artist with the Jive Aces, Kara has worked extensively in the UK Performing Arts Industry. Before she heads out on tour as Alice Beinecke in The Addams Family, she sat down with us to chat about her exciting work overseas.
First of all, whereabouts in Australia are you from?
Kara: I am from Rockhampton, Rockvegas in Queensland. I grew up there, my Mum’s from there, my Dad’s from over here, he was a Yorkshireman. I’d never moved from my family home until I went to Mackay. I did the Conservatorium of Music there for a year and then ran away to Sydney and did two years there, one year at an acting course and one year at a dance course at Brent Street and then moved over here. Next year I’ll have been here for half of my life, which is mad because I still very much feel Australian.
When and how you did you start performing for the first time?
Kara: My Mum is a singing teacher and she always performed in local amateur musicals, I [also] learned a lot just by listening to her teaching other people. I remember watching Young Talent Time when I was a kid and think[ing] ‘yeah I’d love to do that’ but I didn’t actually think it could be a professional career. When I was about 14 [my Dad] sent away to the Con and WAAPA and to other well-known music theatre colleges and he presented me with this plastic bag full of leaflets for training in music theatre. My mind was blown because I had no idea that you could go into it professionally, let alone train for it, so from that point I was like ‘well there is no other option for me’. So, I’ve never really looked back.
What have you found to be similar and/or really different about working in the UK as opposed to working in Australia?
Kara: I think the work ethic in Australia is better than over here generally speaking. I think in Australia it’s a much smaller industry, therefore it is a lot more competitive. I mean obviously, actors are out of work all the time, wherever you are, but over here there is so much more opportunity. You know London, you could close your eyes and pick a spot on the map, there’ll be a theatre there that you can go and watch something [at]. Yeah, I definitely think it’s a bit easier over here to be honest.
However, saying that, I’ve never put on my own show in Australia, but I’ve had a few friends who have, and they have found it easier to sell tickets which is probably down to [the fact] that there’s less theatre in Australia and therefore there’ll be more people going to one event, whereas over there the audience is spread out amongst all the options. So, selling shows over here when you’re producing your own show, is really difficult especially when you are creating a show out of nowhere like the ‘Girls from Oz’. We are starting to build up a reputation for ourselves. We did a show in London a couple of years ago at Toulouse Lautrec and we were in [the toilet] getting ready and these three ladies came in and they went ‘oh oh you’re the Girls from Oz… we came over from Belgium to see your show’. That was incredible and obviously, that doesn’t happen all the time, but it [was] just absolutely mind-blowing.
So, what motivated you to create a company that’s all about Australian Culture and music, particularly given that you’re working in the UK?
Kara: Good question, I was asked to do a cabaret at a beautiful theatre up in Sheffield and it happened to be on Australia Day. I’d always wanted to do this trio thing, so I asked my best friend Simone, who is Australian and Erin Cornell who, again, is Australian. We weren’t doing anything Australian we weren’t singing Australian songs, we were just singing musical theatre songs in three-part harmony. Unfortunately, Erin got laryngitis two nights before and we had to pull in [Abbey J] so it was all very last minute, but the audience still loved it. We had two sold-out shows and everyone was going ‘well where are you CDs? Why can’t we buy your CDs’ and ‘you ladies should take this show to London. It’s lovely, your voices blend beautifully together’.
It was only gonna be a one-off show but because the audience reaction was so good, we decided to do it again in London, this time with our other very good friend Julie Yammine at the Pheasantry. We started introducing some Australian songs rearranged in three-part harmonies, they went down really well and then we were all taken off to different [projects] and it didn’t happen for about two years. Then randomly, out of the blue, we got asked to do a corporate event overseas somewhere and because I wasn’t available and Simone wasn’t available, I decided to audition and get a few casts together so that we could continue it going. Now we have about 9 different girls who know the show, saying that half of them have gone back to Australia now after the pandemic, so yeah we’ll see what happens when things start opening up again.
On that topic, how has the pandemic impacted your work as an artist and also the company as well?
Kara: Well, the ‘Girls from Oz’, we had the most gigs lined up last year that we’d ever had, so we were really excited about that, it was such a shame that they all fell through. That just kind of stopped, we had a bit of fun during lockdown, we made a silly video about being in lockdown, which was just fun, but since then everyone’s just kind of gone off, a lot of people moved back to Australia, a lot of people have just obviously [been] trying to survive the pandemic [and] lockdown.
Personally, I was very fortunate because I knew the week before lockdown that I’d been cast as Alice in The Addams Family musical. Obviously, there was a huge fear that it was just gonna be cancelled completely and that really got me down but knowing that that job was possibly in the pipeline kept me very positive throughout the whole lockdown. [It] also made me appreciate how hard it must have been for so many other actors not knowing where their next income is coming from. I kind of ended up becoming my other half’s PA if you like, he’s an entrepreneur and producer and everything, so he’s been very busy during this time, so I’ve been helping him out but also renovating our house and we got a dog and so life continued. A friend of mine once said to me ‘as an actor there; so many times, that you’re in work and then out of work and you’ve got to learn to appreciate what you have at that time’. So if you’re out of work then you need to make the most of that being family time or study if you wanna try something new, rather than pining to be back in work. That’s how I was trying to get around it mentally, the whole lockdown thing.
Can you tell me a little bit about some of your most exciting or memorable moments working abroad?
Kara: Probably one of the most amazing moments was when I was doing Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins. I’d seen the show a couple of times cause I had friends in it, I had a few auditions and then I got cast in a role which was amazing, incredible. Yet, I still didn’t quite realise how big that role is in the musical, I didn’t realise she had so much dialogue. Anyway, we got to the press night and Cameron Mackintosh was there, bearing in mind I’d spent my entire childhood praying every night of my life that I would be a lead role in a Cameron Mackintosh musical one day. Cameron went ‘right I need a photo with my two leading ladies’, and I was standing there not really paying attention and he was like ‘my two leading ladies’ to me and I was like ‘oh god that’s me, alright, okay’. That moment my eight-year-old self was like screaming going ‘you’re a leading role in a Cameron Mackintosh musical. This is what you’ve been dreaming of your whole life’ didn’t even think of it, didn’t even realise until that moment.
Madness! There are like moments as your career builds where you realise that you’re ticking off boxes that you never [thought] you would ever tick off, although you dreamt that you would, and you have to kind of pinch yourself occasionally.
In addition to working as a leading lady you’ve also done a lot of work as an understudy and I’m just wondering if you can talk about the difference working in those two roles?
Kara: Well up until my 30s I was so fortunate to be going almost from job to job to job, I was very rarely out of work and that was because I was open to understudying and being in the ensemble. It’s a much harder job but you get paid less and you get less acknowledgment for it. Hats off to anyone who understudies because you have to be so hardworking and audiences don’t realise how hard it is to be an understudy… it’s such a shame when people feel disappointed that the lead role is off, because you know [the understudy], they are just as talented.
Now when I got to a certain age, it was my early 30s, I decided that I wanted to only play lead roles. That’s not at all to take anything away from people who understudy, it’s not to say ‘oh I want to do better’, it’s a personal preference, I’m not trying to lessen what anyone else is doing. But I decided that I wanted to be a lead role so that brought its own challenges. Obviously, I’m not famous and that is a huge tick in the box if you wanna play a role and it was harder because I had to have the courage and the willpower to turn [it] down if I was offered an understudy. At one point I was offered cover Fantine for Les Mis for a year’s contract in town and at the same time, I was offered Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes for a six-week contract. Most people go ‘well duh you take the West End job, that’s for a year’ but I chose Reno Sweeney because I just thought ‘it’s going to move me more towards my goal that I want’.
I feel like also producers and casting directors don’t take you seriously until you’ve made that leap, I really don’t think I would have been cast as Mrs Banks for Mackintosh if I hadn’t turned down Les Mis for them. Yeah, in my mind that is a good step that I took, although it was very hard at the time.
Who are some people that you’ve especially enjoyed working with?
Kara: When I did Lend Me a Tenor our director Ian Talbot, [who] ended up directing me again in Annie Get Your Gun he is amazing, also Christopher Luscombe who was my director in Rocky Horror Show was amazing, Rachel Kavanaugh who directed Oklahoma. Every director’s been amazing, but these are people that I feel really took the time to, without maybe realising it, to teach me even more of the craft of performing and I feel like I learned a lot from them.
David Bedella who played my Frakenfurter when I did Rocky Horror, he’s still a dear friend of mine. Rocky Horror was one of my first principal roles and there were a lot of things that I didn’t feel comfortable doing in the rehearsal room because it was a very sexual show, you know, and he took me aside and said:
You know it’s a rehearsal room, we’re all professionals, we’re all here to support each other and we all understand that it’s a work in progress. So, you don’t need to be perfect when you’re in rehearsals, you don’t need to go home and practice it, use the rehearsal process as your means of exploring and everyone will be doing the same. Don’t feel self-conscious about it.
That was something I’ve taken away with me. I mean so many people are incredible, I could go through every show and pick out at least ten people per show who have been amazing.
You’re going to be on tour again, I think it was only a couple of days ago that they announced The Addams Family. So, what are you most looking forward to in returning to theatre and rehearsals and the stage after a very long time away?
Kara: There’s something about being in rehearsals, it’s just so exciting, it just makes me really happy. It doesn’t really matter how many shows you’ve done, it’s still that exciting feeling of meeting new people that you’re going to spend almost every day with for however long the contract is and they’re gonna be your friends by the end of it. You look forward to the rehearsal, to trying on your costumes for the first time, to really discovering your character, to the technical rehearsal to see what an amazing job the set designers have done and you meet the crew and then you meet the orchestra. Then on top of that, you have your opening night and you’re performing for the first time in front of an audience and you’re seeing what the reactions are and learning new things about your character and your role because people are reacting either how you hoped they would or in a completely different way. It’s all of those things, you get to relive them again and they never get old.
What do you miss most about living in Australia?
Kara: My family, I’m getting married in October and I don’t think they’ll be able to come over because the borders are not opening. I miss the weather, maybe not the heat but the sunshine. I miss growing up in a small community like Rockhampton I really miss that community feeling, everyone knows each other, you’ve got, you know, people pop[ping] around at any time.
What advice would you give to other Australian artists who want to work overseas? In the UK or internationally?
Kara: Be aware that obviously you’re coming from a different country, it’s going to be hard to get your foot in the door to start with. If you’re lucky enough to go to a college in the UK and you get to know the teachers that’s a form of networking in itself and then you get a showcase at the end. If you’re coming over straight off the boat wanting to go straight into a show that’s really difficult. I think, again, I was really lucky; I came over to do a ship and [then] I decided to stay in the UK. I worked front of house for 7 months before I finally got Jesus Christ Superstar but even that is really quick. I think you need to be realistic.
Well thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me
Kara: Absolute Pleasure
UK Readers can catch Kara performing as Alice Beinecke in the National Tour of The Addams Family, running from 19 August 2021 to 19 March 2022. Book your tickets at:
You can find out more about ‘The Girls from Oz’ on their website: https://www.thegirlsfromozgroup.com/
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.