When actress Vanessa Bolt found she was not getting the exposure she needed, she simply took her career into her own hands. JANE HARRISON discovers a woman who makes things happen
LIKE so many things in her life, ranging from steam-cleaning trucks to teaching in Greece and Abu Dhabi, Vanessa Bolt's decision to launch her own production company was based on her determination, self-belief and sheer guts, rather than carefully honed skills in the business.
She did have a sound acting base - courses at the Central School for Speech and Drama and at the London Centre for Theatre Studies - but this self-confessed "wild child", who left school at 12, simply ran with the ball.
Vanessa, 35, who runs Bolt Productions from her home in North Common Road, Ealing, says: "I did a few short films, went on tour and did rep but I was not getting enough work and did not feel I had the time to wait.
"My age was against me and I needed more exposure. So I set up Bolt Productions to showcase actors who are just starting out and to generate work for talented professionals who are not getting looked at.
"I didn't really know what I was doing and when it came to finding a theatre, in my naivety, I thought: how hard can it be?
"As the problems came up: finding somewhere to rehearse, funding, publicity, props, you just deal with them."
Incredibly this whirlwind of a woman did just that, coaxing Jermyn Street Theatre in London to showcase her first play, La Ronde, last June and The Tabard Theatre in Chiswick to stage Lusting After Pipino's Wife this September and October.
She chose La Ronde because there were ten characters with equal roles and she didn't want 'divas'. The script for Pipino, she admits laughing, she found under her bed.
Vanessa also hit on the idea of running fundraising Comedy Nights at The Loop Bar in London to highlight charities as well as her company.
They raised money for Women's Aid with the first play and The Railway Children, which helps young people worldwide who live on the streets and railways, with the second.
She even found a disused chapel in Ealing for rehearsals. She says: "It was a wreck with no running water or electricity. It was dark and freezing so we had to set up our own lights.
"We had to get a skip to clear it first and it was warmer outside than inside! Each actor put in £250 and, of course, had to do other work.
"Until you prove yourself, you don't get funding and you don't get funding until you prove yourself. It's Catch 22." But it was worth it. Vanessa says: "It was very hard getting publicity. I rang everyone I knew and then found the magic word in the press was the 'Arts Desk.' I was talking to agents,
casting directors, banks. I discovered you had to pay to use a play. What did I know about copywrite?
"I was producer, actor and socialiser but it went very well. It got a glowing review and everyone got something out of it. Our first play broke even - apparently unheard of."
But it took its toll on Vanessa who has a 14-year-old daughter, Eve.
Vanessa says: "It engulfs your life. You get months of 16-hour days. You don't see you family or friends. You don't have a life outside the bubble.
"When you finish a production, you turn on the TV to find out what is going on. After the first production, I shut down for three months."
Vanessa knows she has come a long way since she played the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz at the age of eight. She left school, which was "frustrating and constricting" at 12 and took on a myriad of jobs, one of which got her in serious trouble in Abu Dhabi.
She says: "I almost got arrested for insulting a national. I sent a child out for disrupting the class I was teaching and when he came back in tears I discovered he had been beaten by the usher (like guards). I was furious. I can't stand injustice."
A few years later, she felt propelled to take action when she was working for an estate agent and could see her future slipping away.
She says: "I looked out the window at Gloucester Road station and thought: 'I will be doing this for 20 years if I don't do something now.'
"I always wanted to act so I started with courses at the Central School for Speech and Drama."
While the London Centre for Theatre Studies was traditional and very exacting, it stood her in good stead for the demands of a production company.
She says: "It was completely exhausting but when you come out into the industry you are set because nothing phases you."
While she is inspired to continue the good work, she says the public must be equally supportive: "People must come and see theatre. It is not that expensive. You can walk away hating it, loving it or not understanding it, but you will get something from it.
"TV is brain candy. Theatre makes you ask questions. It changes society and makes you think."
She is now looking for new work to produce. She says: "A good script is rare. If you have anything that is new and original, send it to me!"
Vanessa admits there have been ups and downs and starting your own production company is never easy, but she would do it all over again.
She says: "It's tremendously hard work. You have to have a solid team of people who are dedicated.
"It's fun; a passion that drives me. And it can always be better."
* If you would like to talk to Vanessa about a script or if local businesses would like to offer funding, contact her on 07739 179 006.