Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Patrice Tipoki Arkins, currently starring as Fantine in Les Miserables. Patrice was nominated for a prestigious Helpmann Award for her performance as Fantine, and has recently announced that she will grace the stage as Fantine at London’s West End.
A performer who reaches into the hearts of her audience, Patrice has refined her admired gifts to grace the stage across Australia and internationally. We congratulate Patrice on her upcoming dream role of performing as Fantine at London’s historic West End. Patrice graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theatre, as one of the youngest graduates. Patrice toured Australia and Japan with We Will Rock You, performed as Nala in Disney’s The Lion King, Elphaba in the hit musical Wicked and more recently, Belle in Beauty and the Beast. We were thrilled to hear that Patrice will be starring on the West End!
Patrice, how do you feel when you are on stage, alone and you are about to perform? It’s very amazing, it is a very liberating feeling. I get to sing “I dreamed a dream” and everybody knows this piece, even people who don’t like musicals know the song, and there is a moment, just before I start singing where it’s just complete silence. There’s a little bit of strings playing in the orchestra but other than that there is nothing. It’s amazingly liberating to look out into the darkness and feel like you’re completely alone but then you’re in this intimate space with the people as well – it’s really exciting and really scary.
Do you get nervous? Yes, very much so, as does everyone. I think it’s dangerous if you don’t. You need to care enough to want to do your best and it’s just how you channel that energy, making sure you rehearsed enough and prepared enough for things to go the way that you need them to.
You play a few instruments as well as performing in voice, on stage and dance – why did you choose musical theatre over your other talents? I liked musicals because I got to do everything that I loved to do – so it wasn’t just singing, it was acting as well, and dancing.
Have you got a saying, that’s yours, when you’re having a dark moment or a challenging day? There are a lot of things I tell myself before a show. There’s always lots of prayers. With something like this, it’s about so much more than just you, there are so many other parts to the machine, there’s lighting, sound, other cast members, the orchestra, directors, and everyone, so no matter how hard you might find it on stage it’s nice to know you’re never alone and there’s lot of other people to help to move the work along.
What advice would you give to your fourteen year old self? Maybe not to sweat the small stuff. I was always busy when I was younger, I always had extra-curricular activities on. I was always worrying about not being able to accomplish every single thing that I needed to do – when I was at dance lessons, worrying I wasn’t able to do my homework, or when I was at school, worrying I would not be able to do my dance exams. I guess, if I could have been able to accept that my best was okay, that it was enough.
How do you feel about balancing work and family? It is a constant juggling act. I know a lot of other mums who have said, since becoming a mother, they feel they are always feeling guilty about something, which I can totally understand but then, all you can do is do your best and try and be in the moment. When I’m at home I try to be focused on my girls and family and when I’m at work I try and be focused on my work and not feel guilty about the other. I think it’s a challenge to have both and to try and do both at the same time but I know I’m blessed to be able to have that. I have friends and colleagues in the industry who are becoming parents and mums and they ask us how we do it – it’s nice to know we are all trying to juggle it together – I just say “chookas”, which is a theatre term for good luck. It’s totally worth it, it can totally work – but it’s a challenge!
Have you ever felt pressure to conform? Yes. Nobody’s perfect. I’ve always been very blessed to find people who respect me for my standards and don’t expect me to conform. Sundays are the end of our working week with musicals and so Sunday night is when everyone has their parties or knock off drinks or whatever and I always felt so rude… for example when I did Wicked I always felt so rude on a Sunday night saying “see you everyone” and they were all going out together and then a lot of the girls realised that my priorities were different. When I fell pregnant with my first, they all organised to take me out to a children’s farm for an afternoon so we could all go together, I thought it was so considerate because they knew I wouldn’t appreciate going out to a bar, they were just beautiful.
Can you tell us about a challenge you had in your life? Losing my little brother which was before our wedding, because that was a huge challenge… whether you let circumstances affect you or how you let them affect you… a lot of people questioned whether Richard or I should even get married or not and so that would change it for us. That was a moment where I felt really clear and really affirmed in what I needed to do and what was important to me. I know it’s a really tragic event but I think it set me on my path and helped clarify the sort of person I wanted to be.
Do you have someone you look up to, who you think is courageous? Different people for different reasons. My husband, my little brother. I’ve always looked up to my mum, in the way that she’s always been so dedicated to us and wanting us to be our best and to have opportunities. The women in my family are very driven, loving and disciplined. One person I think is really cool and courageous is Alex Boye – there’s people I look up to in a spiritual sense and there are performers I look up to but he encompasses a lot of it. He sang on my album. I’ve had some wonderful teachers growing up, music, and school, and church, but all taught me different things.
Have you got a saying, that’s yours, something you say when you’re having a dark moment or before a show? There’s always lots of prayers! I guess it’s trying to be grateful amidst it all. With something like this, it’s about so much more than just you, there’s so many other parts to the machine, there’s lighting, sound, other cast members, the orchestra, directors, and everyone, so no matter how hard you might find it on stage it’s nice to know you’re never alone and there’s lot of other people to help to move the work along.
Your sister, Laura Tipoki, conducts in Les Miserables. She does, Laura’s our Associate Musical Director, and next year Les Mis is going overseas and she will step up and be the Musical Director. Our parents were entertainers, we grew up performing together. We travelled all around Australia and New Zealand performing, we toured for eight years with them. My little brother, Tama, was actually in the show (Les Miserables) until recently. He sings and dances and plays piano. My other brother is a musician and dancer and singer, he did the production of Sweet Charity which toured Melbourne and Sydney last year. It showed at the Opera House and won a number of Helpmann awards. He’s done a lot of musicals as well.
Do you have a daily habit that helps you to do your best? We normally try and make juice every day to make sure my girls are getting the vitamins they need. Try to get into better habits, it’s spring – a good time to start new things. I try and read scriptures every morning with the girls, we try and do our school work and scriptures every morning.
What is one thing that you would like your daughters to be able to do and why? I would like my daughters to one day find what they enjoy doing. And to learn self-defence!
What advice do you have for aspiring young performers? Get as much experience as you can, if this is what you feel you want to do. Lessons, exams, eisteddfods, good training & guidance. And if it doesn’t work out for you, don’t lose hope. It is a tough industry & it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay.
What drives you to sing and keep performing? I have been blessed with amazing opportunities to keep singing. I love doing it and I feel spoilt that I get to. But opportunity doesn’t always come knocking, sometimes you have to go out and get it. And if it’s right, it’ll happen. Having a supportive family and friends inspires me greatly. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them. I want to be the best I can be whether it’s at singing or anything else. That drive to strive for perfection is always there. If it’s right and I can, then I’ll keep singing.
You can download your copy of Patrice’s album, A Musical Heart on iTunes.
Les Miserables opens at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre on November 10. Tickets from Ticketmaster.
Written by Melody Dexter – Founder of Omika.