One of the stars of a critically acclaimed West End musical has shared his success story with budding performers from Sunderland College.
Talented musical theatre actor Michael Pickering, a star of the hit show Jersey Boys at Sunderland Empire, took a break from rehearsals to pay a visit to the college’s Arts Academy.
He met performing arts students, who are studying BTEC Extended Diploma in Acting and Foundation Degree in Drama programmes, to offer them advice about breaking into the industry, as well as revealing how he made it in the competitive world of acting.
Michael, who is originally from Washington, plays the role of alternate Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, which portrays the remarkable true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rise to stardom from the wrong side of the tracks.
These four boys from New Jersey became one of the most successful bands in pop history, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sold 100 million records worldwide, all before they turned 30.
The award-winning musical has been touring across the UK and Ireland, and enjoyed a two-week run at the Sunderland Empire, which ended on Saturday.
Michael, who trained at Arts Educational Schools London, has appeared in the West End as Doody in Grease and his many theatre credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, Three Musketeers, Mamma Mia, High School Musical and Wicked. The former Barnes Junior School and Thornhill School pupil spoke to the students about his own decision to launch a career in musical theatre, as well as sharing tips about casting, auditioning, researching roles and the importance of finding the right performing arts school for them. He said: “Coming to Sunderland College and speaking to the students brought back memories of when I was at school and we were all trying to decide what path we wanted to take.
“It’s an exciting but difficult time as there are so many options and they are still finding themselves.
“I’ve been through everything that they are going through now, and I feel it’s important to share some of my expertise with young performers to help them make some of those difficult decisions.”
The session was held in Sunderland College’s Arts Academy, a state-of-the-art building which opened last September and features a theatre, drama studios, music studios, dance studios, and visual arts, photography, media and graphic design facilities.
Michael added: “The Arts Academy is a brilliant learning space. In order to train students you need to give them the best facilities – they make the students more passionate and it gives them the drive they need to help them succeed in their career.”
Gemma Whelam, performing arts lecturer at Sunderland College, said: “We were thrilled to welcome a West End star to the college and the students gained so much from Michael’s visit.
“He has genuinely inspired our students to follow their dreams, and he offered lots of valuable practical tips which will be very beneficial to them in future.
“At Sunderland College, we organise lots of masterclasses and workshops for our performing arts students throughout the year, and we are hopefully looking forward to welcoming Michael back in the future to lead some musical theatre sessions.”