We were delighted this week to learn of a success from one of our former students. Sophie Muringu joined us in Year 12 to study drama A level and was an instant hit within the performing arts department – not just for her excellent acting talent but for her magnificent musical ability. She appeared in countless performances including the school Carol Concert and Summer Arts Festival.
She has recently been accepting into the prestigious National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) – alums include Idris Elba, Sheridan Smith and Jude Law. Sophie has earned a co-starring role in their musical ‘Billy the Kid’ in August 2021. We spoke to Sophie about how she got into this prestigious musical theatre school and what comes next for this talented young musician.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
First of all, what is the NYMT?
NYMT is a company that gives people like me the opportunity to be seen by big-time agencies. A lot of successful people went there, like Idris Elba. NYMT put on four productions every year – you get cast in one. I got a co-starring role this time. You’re encouraged to invite [casting] agencies to come and see your performance! They come to watch you in this professional production and hopefully sign up to then go on to do professional acting or singing in future. It’s great exposure. I spoke to the agency Curtis Brown and the lady there said she did NYMT which is why she works there now! She told me to go for it and that I’d have great experience making friends and connections with people like me.
Tell us about the audition process.
I first auditioned last year in person while I was still in school. In the first auditions I could see how they were reacting to me. They were like ‘Wow’. I was 17 when I auditioned and I was put in with the older ones – up to 23 years old. Everyone in that age group had a lot of experience – when I turned up, they all had folders with pictures and portfolios and music sheets and dancing shoes. And then there was me in trainers and a baggy t-shirt with just a piece of paper for my singing performance!
I felt better being in person because I could see the company’s reaction – smiling at me, encouraging me. Singing is my strength – it holds everything up. If I couldn’t sing, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to get into NYMT. When I had the singing part of the audition, I thought this is my time to prove myself – to show them that I deserved to be there. They loved me and I could tell – they said ‘I love how you changed it.’ I got a standing ovation for my performance and I couldn’t believe it – just small me who sings in her bedroom and enjoys performing and singing!
After my audition, I got in – but then they had to suspend the whole term because of the pandemic.
This was my first audition process other than school plays. I auditioned last year for [drama school] LAMDA. It was great to have that experience – great to see people like me who love drama.
So, this year you auditioned again – how was it impacted by COVID-19?
The audition process was a bit different this year. The first stage we had to fill in an application form online. I submitted an acting scene and two singing videos since singing is my strength because I never really danced professionally! I decided to submit two different types of songs – they wanted to show ability to do an accent or show a different style of singing.
This time around, [the audition process] was much more nerve-wracking because it was all online. It was much scarier uploading a video [rather than performing live] because I always watch it back and then re-do it again and again and again. I feel like I was much more nervous for this one, definitely.
What did you have to do for your audition?[The first] song I did was ‘I Am Telling You’ from ‘Dreamgirls’ by Jennifer Hudson which is a very “big” song. The other song I did was a Disney song from ‘The Princess and the Frog’. It was fantastic, it was great.
After that, we had to wait to see if we got an email for a recall. The first recall was to analyse your dancing. On the Zoom call, we were taught a dance routine and then we performed in small groups. It was a bit hard because it was online but it was still very fun. Then we did a bit of acting, reading a small part from one of the NYMT scripts.
The last recall was being recalled for a specific play. I was recalled for the play ‘Henrietta’ which is about a girl in WWII. It’s very classical – very traditional singing and speaking. Very “posh” speaking as you’d expect from a British play! When I got recalled for ‘Henrietta’ it was a bit scary because it’s not what I’m used to. Being a Black woman, I obviously wouldn’t have fitted into that play because it’s about World War (1940s) and it was very preppy and posh – I thought, ‘I’m not posh!’
I also got recalled for authentic raw musical ‘Billy the Kid’ which is based in Southern America. It’s very “normal” and “real”, and I felt it was much more “me” – the music, the songs, the accents, the behaviour. I felt like I was supposed to be in this as it’s very me.
We had to learn four songs and then pick a script to perform. We uploaded them to YouTube privately. Then, we had to learn a dance routine and perform it on the Zoom meeting. The dance routine was very fast, very quick steps and it was an up-tempo song. I was a bit nervous about getting every step right – very fast. I can dance but the steps were very complicated!
When I came to audition, the dance choreographer told us they weren’t looking for perfection. They just wanted someone to stand out and be fun – don’t even think of the steps! She said ‘Tell a story – think about your friends after you’ve had a few drinks and you’re dancing!’ That made me feel so much better because I thought ‘That’s actually me!’ [Laughs.] I dance and sometimes it doesn’t make sense!
And now you have a co-starring role in a professional production. How do you think Isleworth & Syon (I&S) helped you?
I think the school is great, I think the teachers are amazing. I talked about I&S to people who don’t even know what I&S is – which shows how much I love the school! When I finished my GCSEs and I chose my A levels (maths, drama and geography). Maths and drama had a clash at my previous school so I needed to come to I&S for drama. I didn’t want to go to an all-boys school at first!
When I got there, I have to give it to Mr McDonnell [Head of Performing Arts] – he’s a very selfless person. He was the first teacher I had there and the one who made me feel comfortable – I really felt like I could speak to him. Even as a very confident person, it was very nerve-wracking going to an all-boys school by myself! Mr McDonnell made the first few months really smooth for me.
Then I met Mr McKeever and I still to this day talk about these two teachers – it’s so nice to have someone who truly and genuinely believes in you. I never in my life thought I could do something like this – a co-starring role in a professional musical theatre production!
I feel like I&S really encouraged me – Mr McKeever [Head of Music] really pushed me. [It was great] having opportunities like the Royal Festival Hall and auditioning with the talented young [students] for the Paris music tour. I really feel like I was robbed of my last few months [because of the pandemic] as I wasn’t ready to leave! I would re-do Year 13 just to have the rest of the months back.
Honestly, I am so grateful. And I’m like, ‘Look at God’ because I was saying I didn’t want to go to the school. I’ve had so many opportunities.
I don’t want to let the school go! [Laughs.] I owe this one [the co-starring role] to I&S.
Have you spoken to any staff since you’ve left?
I spoke to Mr McDonnell about what I was going to do next, and said maybe I’d go to university and study drama and teaching. And he pretty much said ‘why are you lying to yourself – why are you wasting this talent when you could do something?’ I really didn’t believe in myself – he was basically telling me I needed to do this! Last year when I auditioned for NYMT I had that support system, with Mr McDonnell asking me how it went and prepping me.
I feel like the most important job is teachers because they teach people to become who they want to be – like a foundation. It’s so great to have teachers who are passionate about what they do. I am so grateful to the school itself for hiring such great teachers. I think they should have a plaque on the wall! [Laughs.] Thank you, I&S, I love you from the bottom of my heart – you’ll see me again!
What about the future – where do you want this to take you?
I really have been working on music – I’m really trying to give music a go and see where it can take me. When I left school, I left on the idea of having a gap year but now as the years are going by, I don’t think I want to go to university this year. I’m not ready to do that – I haven’t done the things I wanted to do. I’ve never really had the free time to sit down and produce music or write songs – that’s really the thing that I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been practising – listening to myself over and over again to perfect my singing, to find myself as an artist.
Tickets for ‘Billy the Kid’ will be available soon – keep an eye on our Twitter account for more details. Well done to Sophie – we are so happy to see one of our former students making such a name for themselves.