Don’t all musical theatre students dream of performing on the West End?
Having recently emigrated to the UK, small town girl and Oakfields College, musical theatre graduate, Tyla Nurden’s life has been a whirlwind of success, and one can see why she is flourishing in this bustling environment.
After making her West End debut in The ‘Rocky Horror Show’ in October 2021, she kindly took the time to answer some of our burning questions about her new adventure and how it all started.
Let’s start at the very beginning …
Have you always wanted to be a performer? Tell us where your journey began.
I’m a small town girl who grew up in Pietermaritzburg, Howick and Richmond. I started performing around three or four years old.
My first bit of dancing started with Debbi Le Roux (Dance with Debbie) - that was my absolute FAVOURITE and I still have her unconditional love and support to this day. I also danced with B-Rock, and was involved in the dance company at Epworth High School where I was also head girl in my matric year. Other than that, I didn’t have any proper, technical training in ballet or in any other dance styles to be honest. All I knew was that I loved performing and story-telling and I absolutely needed to do it!
When I was thirteen years old in 2007 my Mom, Jarryd (my brother) and I made a trip all the way to big, bustling Johannesburg! Coming from Pietermaritzburg, Jozi seemed like the New York City of South Africa to us. This is where we watched our first ever full-scale musical, The Lion King. I truly cannot put into words what I experienced that night but both Jarryd and I immediately knew that this was what we had to do with our lives and DREAMED that maybe one day we’d get to perform on that exact same stage…
(Spoiler alert: not only did we achieve that dream but we also did it TOGETHER. We’ve also recently emigrated to London together, so what else is possible now?! )
I knew formal training was essential to becoming a well-rounded professional so I started looking around for a tertiary institution that offered an accredited training programme but that also had a good track record, high standard and good reputation. I did a lot of industry research and the Oakfields College Faculty of Musical Theatre and Dance was HIGHLY recommended to me by numerous other professional performers whom I was luckily enough to be able to communicate with prior to my audition.
Of course, I was elated when I heard I had been accepted!
Can you tell us what your experience was like as an Oakfields College musical theatre student?
Well, as I mentioned – I didn’t really have any formal training. Sure, I sang and danced growing up in KZN but I wouldn’t exactly call that real experience. Going to Oakfields College was a total shock to this small town girl’s system but you have no idea how ‘hungry’ that made me to learn and grow in every way possible! Throwing in the towel was NEVER an option for me.
The course certainly toughed us up. The hours were very demanding. When I told people I was studying musical theatre they thought it was all just fun and games. Sure there is a time for that and most of the time it is fun and INCREDIBLE that we’re able to ‘play’ and call it work! But besides having ‘fun’, most people don’t understand the literal blood, sweat, tears and discipline it takes to work on your craft.
It’s gruelling, but once you find your groove, remember WHY you chose this as a career, the impact you can have on your audience and start experiencing your own growth… it’s worth all of it!
In what ways did you grow and develop as a young performer?
Oakfields College offered SO much that helped us expand in many different areas!!
We had acting (from classical to contemporary), singing (filling our rep files with all genres) and dancing (in many different styles) and what I loved was that we were not only allowed but encouraged to attend extra classes that weren’t in our curriculum - this being the perfect opportunity for growth and to become a versatile performer which I totally grabbed by the horns!
I also attended every workshop, went to every show that the college had organised for us to watch and auditioned for all our student productions as well as the professional ones that we were allowed to go to.
Lastly, we had weekly performance classes that were vital to my growth. As much as it petrified me, I think that was one of the biggest catalysts to my development as a performer. The prep that went into it, the actual performance and the feedback sessions afterwards really were invaluable.
Ultimately, every single physical and theoretical class had its purpose and undoubtedly prepped me for ‘the real world’.
At Oakfields College I grew as a performer in ways I didn’t even know were possible.
I developed discipline and a work ethic on another level which you really have to become besties with especially when you leave college…because talent alone can only get you so far!
My growth from my first year to my third year was pretty wild to say the least. I still remember my first singing exam: I begged to do a duet because I was so scared and ended up singing ’16 going on 17’ with Mervyn and even then I forgot the words!!! Hahaha easiest lyrics on this planet and I’m pretty sure I was almost mute too.
But I was hungry to grow and to become the performer that I knew I could be! So I worked hard, I put in the extra hours, I attended all my classes, I paid attention and applied the notes given to me and by my third year I was able to sing my first solo in our college show ’The Cradle Will Rock’ and get through a performance class without feeling like I would have a heart attack. And as someone who had pretty much no technical dance training before coming to Oakfields College, by my second and third year I was performing in many choreography projects, dance seasons at the National Arts Festival, college productions and I even landed my first professional show at the Teatro in my third year, ’Blame It On Bollywood’.
With the type of support received at Oakfields College, we really can achieve incredible things if we put in the work, BELIEVE IN OURSELVES and trust our journey.
What were some of your student highlights?
So many! Performing at the Grahamstown National Arts festival, working in professional shows such as ‘Liefling’ at the Pretoria State Theatre in my first year and ‘Blame it on Bollywood’ at the Teatro in my third year were all highlights but the best part of my student experience was how my fellow students truly became my family.
My time at Oakfields College with those I studied with were some of the best and funniest moments of my life… we really did love and support each other through thick and thin.
Entering the real professional industry can be challenging. How did you transition from student to professional?
I’ll never forget on my very first day at Oakfields College, Jackie said: ’Your careers start TODAY’. It took me a moment to understand why that was the case - but then I realized our lecturers were all extremely talented, working professionals who would most likely be in the position to audition/hire/recommend us once we had graduated! Learning from these ’industry insiders’ definitely helped prepare us for the real industry.
The college also presented many workshops with industry professionals and the creative teams on all our productions were all acclaimed directors, choreographers, designers etc. All these things gave us exposure, learning experience and the opportunity to network and build contacts which largely contributed to helping me launch my career.
At the end of each year, the college mounts a ‘Third Year Showcase’ which is the culmination of our training. This is where we had the chance to perform our best pieces in front of SA’s top agents and industry employers and it was through the showcase that I was scouted and signed with my South African agent, Althea Greenland at Viclectic Artists Management! She is PHENOMENAL at her job as well as incredibly supportive - and fierce when it comes to getting the best for you!
Now I am signed with Russell Smith Associations in the UK and I cannot wait to see what magic we can create here!
Besides being a performer, you are also a master at hustling in various other sectors. How and when did you decide to branch into other spheres?
Immediately after college. I think it’s important to find whatever else you’re good at or passionate about and pursue that too! Our industry is small, and sometimes it can get tough so it’s great to have something else on the go to help you financially and mentally! Also, gone are the days of thinking we can only have ONE career! Nancy…embrace your inner superhuman!
You spent a number of years freelancing in South Africa before going to the UK. Can you tell us about how you got to the West End?
My story is a bit surreal to say the least! I was the female swing and first cover for Magenta and Columbia in South Africa when we did ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ there from 2019-2020 which is how I made the connection with the UK creative team.
Then on 26 October2021 I emigrated to the UK and my plan was to simply hit the ground running and trust that I would eventually find my feet and work, etc. If being an SA performer teaches one anything...it’s how to hustle right? So I landed at 2pm that afternoon and by 6pm (only 4hrs later) the UK Rocky Horror team called me to get to the Peacock Theatre ASAP because they needed me to perform in the show the next evening on the WEST END due to a COVID emergency. My soul left my body for a few moments and then the rat race began! Haha!
I rushed to the theatre that evening to watch the show at 8:30pm as a refresher (hadn’t done the show in nearly two years!!). I began rehearsals the following morning, then just 45 minutes before the show was meant to begin it was cancelled due to another COVID case...my nerves were shot! LOL!
The following day, I went to rehearsals again (not knowing if the show was going ahead yet). Then 4pm comes…show is confirmed but not only would I be making my debut on the West End, but it would also be LIVE streamed in 500 cinemas across Europe, the UK and Ireland (which Jarryd and my step brother in Liverpool got to see)!
There is so much more to the story but this is the gist of it and I don’t think I’ll ever actually be able to fully process what the heck happened! But FOREVER ON CLOUD! It has been a whirlwind
Can you tell us about some of your biggest career highlights thus far?
That would undoubtedly be the past three shows I’ve been in – The ‘Rocky Horror Show’ in South Africa because I got to professionally share the stage with my brother Jarryd for the first time! (He played Rocky). ‘Eros’ at Gate 69 in Cape Town because this show and the people involved reminded me that my wings weren’t broken and I could absolutely fly! And of course The ‘Rocky Horror Show’ on the West End and in Norwich which is pretty self-explanatory especially because this show very quickly became one of my greatest loves back in SA.
Take us through an average day now that you’re in London.
The ‘Rocky Horror Show’ is touring across the UK so the show times vary depending what city we’re in but there are eight shows a week with double shows on Fridays and Saturdays. We travel to a new city on Sundays for our first show on the Monday evening.
On the West End our shows started at 8:30pm and in Norwich it was 7:30pm but call time is usually an hour and a half before the show begins. My routine is to get there two hours before so that I can start with my pin-curls, then warm-up and then the rest of my make-up, wig and mic which also leaves me with ten minutes before beginners to ground myself for a kick-ass show!
INTERESTING FACT: over here, you have to put your own wig and mic on and there isn’t an individual mic-check at all …total opposite in SA. I feel like you could get detention for a year if you ever touched your wig and mic back home! Haha!
Besides performing, do you have any other projects/activities that keep you busy in the UK?
Yes! I am a qualified personal trainer and fitness instructor which is perfect for me because I am super passionate about health and wellness and guiding, supporting and motivating others to create the best version of themselves on a daily basis. And if I’m doing a show in the evening, I am still able to work with clients and take fitness classes during the day…pretty perfect!
Your journey is so aspirational! What advice would you give to others who want to pursue a career in performing arts?
If performing truly is your passion and something you simply can’t live without…then GO FOR IT! Don’t listen to others who may say that it’s not a legitimate career or that your hopes and dreams are stupid and unachievable. If this is something you REALLY want to do then do the work, be disciplined (from the day you start college and every day after you’ve graduated), be hungry, learn, grow, attend EVERY class/show/lecture/workshop if you’re able to - even if it’s not compulsory.
Make sure you find the RIGHT institution for your performing arts training with the best people to mentor, guide and teach you.
BELIEVE in yourself and know that ANYTHING is in fact possible. But also be humble, supportive and encouraging towards yourself and your fellow performers and crew. Making this your career is not about you and your ego…it’s so much bigger than you…it’s about your audience and creating a safe space for them to feel, heal, belong and SO much more. Never forget that. Performers are undoubtedly the helpers and healers of the world outside of the doctor’s rooms… so own your talents and sprinkle your magic far and wide. The world needs it more than ever!
Thank you, Tyla! We so appreciate you taking the time to share your inspiring journey. Your immaculate work ethic, endless passion, phenomenal talent, unwavering resilience and positive energy was evident from the moment you started at Oakfields College and we couldn’t be more proud of all you have achieved so far. We can’t wait to see what more your future may hold! We’ll be watching.
Follow Tyla on Instagram at @tylanurden