As Protein Dance prepares to bring its playful show to the Bury St Edmunds Festival, one of its singers, Donna Lennard, takes part in our Q & A.
Q. What five words would best describe seeing you live?
I believe seeing Protein live is: Engaging, thought-provoking, multi-sensory, interesting, and entertaining. Not technically five words, but five terms!
Q. What or who inspired you to do what you do?
I enjoyed singing and performing as a child – my debut was as Pharoah in Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat when I was nine – but I only began to take it seriously when my drama teacher at high school heard me sing and suggested I try some opera. The combination of acting and classical singing was so powerful, I loved it and knew I wanted to pursue it as far as possible.
Q. Do you have any links to Bury St Edmunds or Suffolk?
I was born in Ipswich and lived there for two years before moving to Bedford. We would often drive past Bury on the way to visit relatives, cruising through the strong smell emanating from the sugar beet factory that, for some reason, reminded us of peanut butter! We also used to visit Bury quite a lot, it’s a lovely town.
Q. Where do you call home?
Now, I live in Chelmsford with my husband and four-year-old daughter.
Q. What can audience members expect from your upcoming show?
It’s a provocative show about a subject that we can all relate to, and we approach it in a variety of ways. All of the sound and music is made by us performers, and there’s always something to see so it’s rather engaging. The seating layout, which is set out like a restaurant, also means that as an audience member you are actively involved with creating the overall environment without (hopefully!) feeling uncomfortable.
Q. What has been your most memorable concert and why does that one stick in your mind?
It must be when I first performed at the Royal Opera House in ‘How the Whale Became’ by Julian Philips. While it wasn’t on the main stage, it was still in the building which is deemed as the pinnacle of an opera singer’s career. It was my first official professional job and I had to pinch myself that it was real. I felt very lucky and extremely excited. I hope to return there in the future, perhaps on the main stage, but we shall see!
Q. How do you keep in tip-top condition?
My voice is obviously very important to me, and this show requires a lot of stamina. Lots of rest in between shows, keeping it hydrated, gentle warming up and warming down, and no alcohol all help! Keeping my body healthy is also crucial, as opera singers are required to move a lot more than they used to; being asked to ‘park and bark’ is no longer an option! I do gentle yoga, walk a lot, and am mindful of what I eat.
Q. How do you relax?
I enjoy going for long walks and listening to music such as Radiohead or Ella Fitzgerald. If the budget allows, then a lovely massage wouldn’t go amiss either.
Q. What is your favourite food and drink?
I enjoy a wide variety of food, but I think I’d have to pick my Dad’s lasagne as a firm favourite. As for drink, if I’m not singing, then a Mojito or a pint of Guinness would be my preference. Otherwise, it’s a lemon and ginger tea please!
Q. What’s your favourite piece of art... why?
I don’t think I have a favourite as such. I enjoy portraiture a lot, I think it’s fascinating to see how an artist has captured a person – their thoughts, feelings, character – in one moment of time.
Q. Do you have a favourite pet?
I should say cats as I have one at home (whom I love dearly, I should add), but I used to have guinea pigs as a child and I thought they were amazing. Not only great pets for kids, but fascinating creatures too. And those squeaks! Adorable.
Q. Can you think of an interesting fact about you that friends/fans may not know?
Haha, I’m quite an honest and open person so there’s probably not a lot that people don’t know! I’m the Burp Tennis Champion of the Bedfordshire Youth Opera circa 2007… it’s a skill I probably shouldn’t advertise.
Q. What are your future plans?
I’m hopefully going to give birth to my second child at the end of August, and then there’ll be a little more performing with Protein in the autumn which should be fun.
Q. If you could perform at any venue in the world what would it be?
Probably The Met Opera House, or the main stage of the Royal Opera House.
Q. Is there anyone you dream of performing with?
There’s a plethora of talented, inspirational performers on the world opera stage with whom I’d feel very privileged to perform with, such as Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Bryn Terfel, Joseph Calleja… so many! In a fantasy world, being in the same space as Mariah Callas or Joan Sutherland would be incredible.
Q. What other Bury Festival acts would you want to see and why?
Sadly we’re not in town for long enough to see any other acts, but if I did have the time, I’d try and see as much as possible, especially The Sons of Pitches, the Aurora Orchestra, and the NYMT, as well as some of the plays being shown.
Q. What instruments do you play?
I play the flute, and very (very) basic piano.
Q. What do you think is your most annoying habit?
Being grumpy when I’m tired!
Q. What is your favourite movie and why?
I should pick something that’s very intellectual with a host of awards… but I’m afraid it has to be ‘Dumb and Dumber’. Silly, slapstick comedy with fantastic performances from both Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels. I might know all of the words, I have seen it many, many times.
Q. What’s the one gadget you can’t live without?
I don’t have many gadgets – I don’t even own an mp3 player – so I’d have to say my phone. Phone, computer, sat nav, music player, camera… I’d be very unhappy if I lost it!
* Join Protein at The Athenaeum on May 26 for a witty piece of dance and music theatre, inspired by social occasions and life at mealtimes. You will be invited to sit at a table, offered a tasting menu and served a show that explores our relationship with food. For tickets visit www.buryfestival.co.uk or call 01284 758000.