Video: Why there's no place like home for West End star Emma Dodd who turned her back on the London stage to create her own theatre school in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 14:00 22 November 2014
In her sitting room in Ipswich there is a black and white photograph of the stage door at London's Shaftesbury Theatre.
It has great meaning for Emma Dodd and something that reminds her of her days in the top London musicals.
She said: “A friend took the picture for me and gave it to me when I left the business. I look at it every day. The Shaftesbury theatre was like my home, I was there for a long time.”
High Society, Showboat, Starlight Express, Hair Spray, Evita – for a decade Emma performed and entertained.
The 36-year-old said: “I grew up in Dryden Road and went to Thurleston High School. I was interested in performing since the age of about three. It was a lifelong ambition and I never thought of doing anything else. I always knew what I wanted to do.”
Engaging to talk to and modest about her achievements, Emma went on to fulfil her dreams in a notoriously tough and competitive industry.
She said: “I trained in singing, dancing and acting, you need to have the same standard in all three, they call it a “triple threat”.”
Early experience with the Woodbridge-based theatre group Company Of Four helped nurture her talent and after A levels at Northgate High School Emma went on to study her trade at the Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom.
She said: “I went when I was 18 and did a three year course in musical theatre. When I was there I was lucky enough to get pantomime work every year. I had a brilliant time.”
After finishing her studies in 1999 Emma went straight into Starlight Express.
She said: “Starlight was the first musical I had ever seen so I couldn’t believe I was even auditioning for it. The show ran for 18 years and I was in the last year and a half. I played the part of Joule, she’s the dynamite train. I had to learn to skate in three months. It was an awesome experience.”
The next job was a touring production of Calamity Jane then back to the west end in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Emma said: “Jason Donovan was in it and I was a massive fan. I was in the ensemble but also covered the role of the baroness. I loved Chitty.
“After Chitty I went into Showboat in the Albert Hall. I went for an audition for the ensemble and they asked me to do the part of Ellie May Chipley. The audition went well.”
A short stint in Evita – which meant an audition in front of Andrew Lloyd Webber – led to Hairspray with West End star Michael Ball. She said: “I had a great time in Hairspray but I had in my mind to start a school. I was a home girl, I missed my family. I had offers of work but there are a lot of insecurities in that industry. I wanted a home and family of my own.”
So while performing during the week, Emma set up Sunday workshops in 2008 where she would get her friends in the industry to come and work with Ipswich youngsters.
She said: “It was hard work, I used to do the paperwork backstage.”
By now Emma had married her husband James who she said she relied on for support and encouragement as she got the next stage of her career under way.
She added: “I loved working with the kids in Chitty and I decided I wanted to pass on my knowledge. I started doing the Sunday workshops in Kesgrave Community Centre. I couldn’t have done it without my husband; he encouraged me and does the paperwork. I have never worked on a computer in my life.”
Today the school has around 80 students and ranges from three to 16 with some adult students and The Emma Dodd School of Performing Arts celebrates its fifth anniversary this year.
Emma added: “It has done really well. I can’t believe that these kids love it as much as me. It’s brilliant. I haven’t ever really advertised and it has all been word of mouth.”
As her success has brought West End work for some of her students, Emma decided she ought to open a theatrical agency.
She said: “I had the contacts and people were approaching me to get youngsters in shows so I thought I had better start an agency, so I am an agent now as well. They have been up for lots of auditions but I drill in to them that they should be gracious and have respect. If they don’t have the right attitude they won’t get work.”
One of her 11-year-old boys has recently had an audition for a Hollywood blockbuster movie starring Johnny Depp, which if he was successful in landing the role he would start filming next year in Australia. Another of her students had a role in the West End’s Matilda.
In the midst of setting up her business, Emma has had a child of her own – 18 month old Jack.
She said: “The next stage for the school is our own premises. There are a lot of talented youngsters in Ipswich and I want to help them and pass on my knowledge to them.”
The school is performing a celebration showcase to mark the school’s five year anniversary.
Emma said: “My mum Brenda died in 2011 so I am going to dedicate the show to her. She was 61 and we lost her to leukaemia. She was a big part of the school.”
But would she ever go back to the stage herself?
She said: “I had a great time and I loved the buzz of being on stage, especially if you make the audience laugh. I have a lot of friends still there but I don’t know if I would perform now. Let’s just say never say never.”