Emma Hatton studied English and Physical Education & Sports Science, graduating in 2004. With a strong singing voice and a passion for acting, Emma shares her experiences of becoming a West End actress and releasing her own album. Having played in ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Wicked’, you may have seen Emma on the West End stage for yourself!
Why did you choose to study English and Physical Education & Sports Science at Loughborough University?
I had never really given much thought to going to University. I had no clear idea of what career I wanted so I wanted to keep my options open and my family encouraged me to just keep following the path of the subjects that I enjoyed. It was such valuable advice and I’m so grateful to them for this attitude because I have taken it forward into every aspect of my life. When I discovered that I could combine my love of sport with my love of reading and writing, I knew that this was the only course that I was interested in. I just knew in my gut it was the right one for me. I was training heavily and competing at a relatively high standard as a long and triple jumper at the time so to gain a place at the highly acclaimed sporting University was a dream come true.
Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities during your time at Loughborough - if so how did these impact upon your student experience?
I certainly did! I just wanted to do it all and make the most of my time at this wonderful institution. I was in the Athletic Union, a member of the Amateur Dramatics club, Dance club, I was the Social Secretary for my hall of residence, Cayley, and I presented a weekly radio show. I feel that not only did I get to learn so much in addition to my degree but I had the most enriching experience. No two days were the same for me and I got to meet and make friends with so many different people with different interests and backgrounds.
Aside from the knowledge gained from my academic studies, I learnt the importance of self-discipline and time management. Life skills which are invaluable in mine and I’m sure, every line of work! I was surprised, as were many of my friends, at the amount of independence you had when it came to learning. It was the perfect approach for teaching us that you are not spoon-fed in the real world. So if you chose not to come to a lecture or not to submit your work on time, you wouldn’t get a telling off. But you quickly came to realise that the only person missing out, if you took that approach, was you.
I had so many wonderful moments and fantastic memories, but if I had to pinpoint one it would be Fresher’s Week in my second year when I was the Social Secretary and it was my job to make the new Freshers feel welcome and be a support to them. It was so lovely to meet all these new people and be able to help them settle in.
It’s been a pretty unconventional one! I’ve jumped from jobs in Sport and back to Music and Musical Theatre.
Not long after leaving Loughborough, I came back to work on campus for the British Heart Foundation as their Jump Rope for Heart Coordinator. I sang in a local jazz band called ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’, then I took a gap year, gained a place at the London School of Musical Theatre, and got various jobs in musicals and pantomimes. I then went to work at London South Bank University as their Academy of Sport Development Officer.
Then I went to an open audition for the original cast of ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ and was offered one of the principal roles of ‘Donna’. I toured the UK for 6 months then played this show at the Savoy and the Playhouse theatres in the West End. After that, I got to understudy and play both lead roles, Scaramouche and Meatloaf, in the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, which has now closed but was playing at the Dominion Theatre in London.
I then went on to be the standby for the role of Elphaba in the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria theatre and then took over as the lead role which I finished playing, after 18 months in the role, in September 2016. I am now doing one off concerts and jazz gigs. I released my first EP ‘Merry Christmas, Darling’ last year which went to Number 1 in the iTunes jazz and blues charts. I am working on a crowd funding project at the moment to release my next EP. Alongside this I’m auditioning and going to classes.
There are so many wonderful people I could quote as role models. One of my biggest role models was Eva Cassidy, in terms of her approach and the choices she made musically, disregarding what was needed from her commercially. I also look up to a wonderful American performer called Shoshana Bean, who I am now lucky enough to call a friend. She also played the role of Elphaba on Broadway but is so incredibly proactive and she is such a savvy business woman as well as a great talent. There are plenty of actresses I would love to be like but everyone brings their own uniqueness and different qualities. I just hope that I’m always brave enough to take risks and lucky enough to love what I do.
I have to say that every show has brought me so much joy in different ways. The people I met, the opportunities it brought to me. But if I had to pinpoint one, playing the role of Scaramouche in We Will Rock You, was always my dream and to achieve that was an opportunity that I will truly cherish. And as an ensemble member in that show… it was like being part of the most epic rock concert every night. It was just incredible.
Can you tell us about performing in ‘Wicked’ in the West End? How did it feel when you were cast as Elphaba?
I had never auditioned for ‘Wicked’ so when I was called in to audition, I genuinely thought that Elphaba was so far beyond my capabilities at that time. It is such an iconic role notorious for being one of, if not, ‘the’ toughest singing roles in Musical Theatre for women. Every round I got through was a pleasant surprise so I just continued to enjoy the novelty of not being told "no" - as it happens a lot in this industry. I did 7 rounds of auditions and was offered the role of Standby Elphaba, which essentially means you are in the building solely to be on standby in case you are needed to go on during the show.
I did this for 18 months but was on a lot more than most standbys are as, unfortunately, our current Elphaba had a back problem. I worked incredibly hard on the role, both acting and singing, and after 5 more sets of auditions, I was offered the lead role. I had to pinch myself when I got the call. I still can’t quite believe that I played that role. But I did! For 18 months. It was the most incredible opportunity… hard work but an absolute role of a lifetime.
I was brought up with a family of music lovers and my grandparents were musicians. My grampy played trumpet in a jazz band and I was incredibly close to him. Through dance classes I started to realise that the old fashioned songs that I was tap dancing to really excited me. I’ve always loved the older fashioned vibe and used to listen to Gershwin, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole etc.
I’ve always had a very mature, rich voice, I think, partly due to what I was listening to and who I was imitating. It has prevented me from getting some jobs in musical theatre as my voice doesn’t always match my image! I’m quite petite with a big set of lungs. I rely on those casting directors and producers who are a little more willing to go with something a little different to the norm.
But, it has also opened doors in some really exciting, unusual projects… for example, I just performed a one night event with a 32 piece orchestra. It was a production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show, ‘State Fair’ and they needed a big band singer. The more experienced and older I’m getting, I’m less inclined to want to change my sound to suit the project but I want to seek out projects that allow me to bring my sound. I’m working very hard at the moment to move into the Jazz and Blues scene and am doing concerts in some great, respected jazz venues in London with some wonderful musicians so I’m quite excited to see where that could lead.
Not at all! I always used to dream about being on stage when I went to watch musicals and I loved being on stage in am-dram or school productions but to be perfectly honest, I never ever thought it would be a reality. I thought it was something that only people from London could do!
Like I said, lots of interesting jazz projects and I have some nice corporate concerts in the diary. In terms of going into a musical, I have my eye on a couple of roles but it’s all about timing!
A big one is picking yourself back up when you don’t get a job. It’s worse when you’ve got further and further in the audition process and then it doesn’t go your way. That’s tough. Particularly when the only feedback they have for you sometimes is that it just didn’t go your way this time. You learn to grow a thick skin and try not to take things personally. Your self-esteem can take a bit of a beating! As can your bank balance but there are plenty of others jobs I could do if I was only in this for the money.
The biggest one for me, though, is definitely the lack of time you are able to dedicate to your loved ones as the job can often demand a lot from you time-wise. You can be on opposite schedules to your loved ones and the job can be so demanding that your only day off can sometimes be completely written off as you're so tired. Understanding family and friends are like gold dust so I cling onto them tightly.
Either performing and collecting the Olivier award for Wicked at the 2015 Olivier’s or my self-funded first EP going straight to number one in the iTunes jazz and blues charts last Christmas.
How have you managed your time to fit in your singing and touring with your show, ‘Songbird’, alongside other commitments?
Time management! I am such a procrastinator and have a tendency to always leave things to the last minute but I’m learning, the hard way, that to be able to fulfil these wonderful commitments and opportunities to the best of my ability and to get the most enjoyment out of them, my time management skills need to be very strong. I also have a wonderful agent, family, friends and boyfriend, who help me manage the different pressures and deadlines.
What is your favourite thing about your job, working in the West End, and in general working as a performer?
Oh gosh! So many things to mention! I am so incredibly fortunate that I am able to make a living from my passion. I am now hugely enjoying the fact that I am able to be a little bit more selective about the projects I choose to do. Luck is a huge part of what we do and that has taught me that as long as I give 100%, the rest is out of my hands so I’m grateful for the strength of character that this business has instilled in me. You meet incredible people… so many different characters… and you stay so young at heart!
Is there anything else that you would like to share about your career or experiences at Loughborough?
Despite the excitement of my career, I still feel that the years I spent at Loughborough were the best years of my life. The Students’ Union was such a wonderful hub, that I know a lot of Universities just don’t have. I met some of my dearest friends there… I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a Loughborough graduate and I envy anyone who has their time at Loughborough University ahead of them. I am so grateful for all it offered me and taught me and it holds a huge place in my heart.
You can keep up to date with Emma's work by following @emmahatton1 on Twitter.