300km East of Perth lies Mukinbudin. With a population of less than 300 people it’s the kind of place that American’s envision when you tell them you’re from Australia. Dry, hot and packed with all kinds of creepy crawlies that will kill you, eat you, or both.
From that tiny Aussie spot on the map, spawned a red-head with larger-than-life dreams of working in the theatre. Gemma May Maddock may have been born in one of the most ‘Ostraalian’ parts of the country, but her well rounded “A’s” and “O’s” would have you think otherwise.
Beautifully spoken, Gemma is the UK’s next ‘big thing’ in vocal coaching. Gemma’s professional credits include coaching every actor in the West End production of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical (with the exception of one who happened to be born in Australia) and her current position working as the Voice Coach for the children on the UK and Ireland Tour of Matilda.
So how did a country bumpkin from ‘Mukka’ (as she calls it) wind up working on The West End? Three things: hard work, commitment and an infectiously positive attitude.
Gemma began her journey at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts studying a Certificate II in Musical Theatre and at the same time, studying to be a Trinity London Speech and Drama teacher via correspondence. Following this, she moved to Sydney where she was taken under the wing of Helpmann-Award winning Soprano, Taryn Feibig.
Eager to continue studying, Gemma moved to Ballarat, Victoria, to begin her Bachelor of Musical Theatre at Federation University (formally UBAA, formally BAPA etc). During and after this, Gemma continued to teach and coach speech and drama, eventually leading to the beginning of her road to coaching on the professional stage. Gemma’s first success was with Alexandra Travers – one of the Little Cossette’s who swept stages all over Australia in the most recent tour of Les Miserables.
Fed up with the voices she was hearing on stage and driven to change the quality of education around healthy vocal production, Gemma sought out study at the highly prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Entry into the school is extremely competitive and involves a lengthy application process, including an audition and interview. No surprises – Gemma got in on her first attempt.
Like many graduates, Gemma turned to ushering in a theatre to pay the bills. Whilst working as a Front of House supervision at Kings Cross Theatre, Gemma fortuitously met Drew McOnie – the then-future director/choreographer of the West End debut of Strictly Ballroom the Musical. One conversation, an exchange of email addresses, and Gemma was headed to Piccadilly Theatre (after a series of ‘out of town’ tryouts, but details, details…)
Word of mouth spread about the new girl in town and soon Gemma was asked to join Matilda to coach the children. Six months is all it took to rocket her from deputy voice coach to ‘THE’ voice coach on the UK and Ireland Tour.
Although she spends a lot of her time overseas, Gemma is no stranger to the Australian professional scene. Recent star of Kinky Boots, Sophie Wright (Wicked, Follies) had this to say: “Gemma’s coaching style is clear, informative and fun. She has such great knowledge about the vowels and sounds an accent would require however she doesn’t bombard you with this knowledge. She lets you explore and work out what works for you, and guides you in such a lovely and fun way.”
Antony Talia (Screen star from Quanta and Journey Through Time, and Usnavi in the 2015 Melbourne production of In the Heights) also has nothing but praise for Gemma’s work: “I’d say what separates Gemma from the pack is her passion for her craft and her undying support of the performers that she works with. Gemma really, deeply understands the difficulty of working professionally as a performer and is so supportive. She’ll be honest about what your work needs and where you need to improve but her constructive feedback always left me feeling hopeful, uplifted and wanting to reach further in extending my abilities…Combine her passion with meticulous attention to detail and a vast knowledge of the many different facets of her profession makes her one of the best around and I believe one of the upcoming great voice coaches of our generation.”
This woman provides a valuable lesson to all. It doesn’t matter where you come from; small towns do not have to mean small dreams. The UK is lucky to have a golden girl like Gemma, and perhaps one day we can tempt her back to our shores. But for now, we can look forward to what else is in store for this Aussie gal making it big in the UK.