WATCH: Melanie Ash talks about Meladrama stage school in Preston and her personal play, The Secret
For actor and playwright Melanie Ash, the stage was her safe place. She could be who she wanted to be and no one could get to her.
It seems appropriate then that she should use the stage to provide comfort to others who have endured similar traumatic experiences she did as a child, by penning a play about sexual abuse.It was not an easy task, but Melanie wanted to use her difficulties to support others and show them they can talk.The Secret is a one-woman play about childhood sexual abuse which will go on tour next year.
She says: “I had a troubled childhood and it is quite difficult to talk about.“But as a child, when I was on stage and performing, I felt very safe. When I was in the spotlight that was my safe place. I could be who I wanted to be and no one could touch me. It became a part of who I was.”Now, at the age of 43, Melanie is ready to share her story, but has ensured she has done it in a responsible way.She adds: “I have taken my time on it. I wanted to make sure I had the right support around me for the people that watch the show.“I have been working with Lancashire Constabulary and I have a whole package of evidence based research and resources for people to access.“This has and will continue to prompt discussion. I want to help people realise that children and mums are not responsible for what paedophiles do and I can teach them what signs to look out for. The signs are always there.“I have spent a lot of time researching sexual abuse and I have learnt a lot from leading experts. “I wanted to make a difference. This is not just a show. It is important people can say ‘we can survive it’ and come out stronger and do amazing things. It is about intervention before it has happened or getting the right help if it has happened.“I am passionate about safeguarding children. If I had given up, who else would be doing what I am doing and talk so openly about it?“I was lucky I had amazing people around me that have understood and helped me through it.”
Melanie is also working with Lancashire Constabulary to take another play – What’s Love Got To Do With It – which explores child sexual exploitation, to different high schools.Melanie cites her mum as being responsible for allowing her to achieve her dream, saying: “I was very lucky that my mum supported me and took me to singing, acting and dancing lessons. She worked really hard to be able to afford it. I don’t know where I would be without that.”It was at Margaret Bagshaw School of Dance, in Preston, that it all began for Melanie.
The former Ashton High School pupil adds: “I got lead roles at Margaret Bagshaw’s and at school.“One day I went to Wac 90 (Wide Awake Club) on Granada and I realised that was what I wanted to do.”Melanie studied drama, dance, performing arts and English at Preston’s College, before achieving a degree in drama at Manchester Metropolitan University.She then worked at Butlins as a red coat performer and was in a band – Due South.Her first paid acting job was in panto, where she was spotted by an agent who landed her two major TV roles – Channel Four reality television hoax series Bedsitcom and Emmerdale
She recalls: “Before I went into acting I worked as a singer and dancer in Due South, touring in the south. I found it hard work, as you had to be very fit. I then got into panto work.“My first paid job was with Pendle Productions, touring Scotland. We performed in working men’s clubs and one time I was playing Aladdin and kids were throwing hard boiled lollies after sucking them and they stuck to my costume. “I also did a lot of temping jobs and it was while at work I got a call from my agent saying I was due for an audition for Bedsitcom that day.“I told my colleagues I was nipping to the toilet and went to Manchester to audition.Nobody had noticed I had gone.“I got five recalls for that job and got a call at work one Friday evening, telling me to pack my bags for London. I was so happy I cried. I was there for eight weeks and earned Â£30,000. I had spent that money within a year.“Then I got Emmerdale, playing Carl King’s ex-wife Colleen, and did lots of theatre and TV work.“I took time off to have my son, Leo, who is now 10. That’s when I got into writing, so I could spend more time at home with Leo.“I often found plays with children had a few main characters and then everyone else as trees or the chorus. So I wanted to create plays with equal parts.”
Melanie’s first play was Around The World in 80 Notes, about a girl who was being bullied and was given lessons in how to cope by musical instruments who sprang to life and came from all over the world.She gained funding from The Arts Council and followed this up with Northern, Disabled and Broke, discussing people with disabilities dealing with austerity cuts.One of Melanie’s biggest achievements is launching her stage school and acting agency – Meladrama –14 years ago. It has grown from teaching 15 students at Plungington Community Centre to having bases in Preston, Ingol, Penwortham, Chorley and Horwich.
Melanie says: “We are celebrating 15 years in January which is quite a long time. My focus is about being inclusive. This is not about middle class students learning how to act. It is ensuring children from all backgrounds can attend. “When I became an actor more than 20 years ago it was hard for working class actors and that is why I wanted to set this opportunity up. It is about championing people who need a leg up.“My prices have stayed the same and I am pleased to be able to offer some classes for free or Â£2 in Ingol, so we are fully inclusive for everybody.“I ensure all venues have disabled access and there are at least two or three students with learning difficulties. We work towards each individual’s needs, whether it be professional acting or building up their confidence. “The flagship academy focuses on fostering industry ready actors and we push them a bit further.“I ensure all students get to perform, as it increases their confidence. I have a panel of TV actors and they give feedback.”
Melanie has nurtured some real success stories, including Tisha Merry, who played Steph Britton in Coronation Street.Melanie adds: “Tisha has done very well and is now patron of the agency. “I have also looked after Josie Cerise, another pupil Sophie Ashton is working on The Big Audition with the BBC and another student is currently working on a radio play.”After taking a brief break away from acting, Melanie has returned and can be seen on Channel Four comedy drama Ackley Bridge,She adds: “Ackley Bridge is probably my favourite TV part. The script and the actors are amazing.”
Melanie’s next projects include a short film called Dunder Plunder and a campaign – FA Respect – aimed at pushing out hatred in football.
For more information on Meladrama visit http://www.meladrama.co.uk/acting-classes/
Video from Channel 4's Ackley Bridge