‘We tap danced in the hallways’
Drew McOnie, choreographer
Often in movies the arts are portrayed as glamorous: a star magically appears and everything is very dreamy and ambitious. What was exciting about Fame was the way it showed you were there because you are willing to dedicate your life to building a profession. It was a more realistic version of the industry. He captured the hunger and the desire and the hard work.
Going to performing arts school has changed my life. I went to Tring Park when I was 11. I had gone from my school in the West Midlands, where I was absolutely unpopular, inventing my own playground dances, to being in a place where people understood me and that made me thrive. Suddenly I had value and a skill, and being passionate made me a cool person, which was the opposite of before. In my memory, the constant desire to create and perform that you see in Fame is absolutely true. We would be on our way to science in the morning and run down the hall, up and down the stairs to tap dance. This was how we communicated.
I met Alan Parker when I choreographed Bugsy Malone at Lyric Hammersmith in 2015. We were all very nervous about him watching the show, but he was so supportive. He was so warm and you could see the joy he felt watching the brilliant young performers. He was pretty calm sitting in the rehearsal room, holding his cards close to his chest, but he was really listening and watching, really paying attention. He was very complimentary about the choreography, but he said I could do better with the song Down and Out. The following year, when we relaunched the show, we started that scene all over again, and he was right.
“In the 80s, everything was soft filter – it was dark”
Little Paris, actor
My love for Alan Parker started in 1987. I had just made a record with Courtney Pine called Like Dreamers Do, and Alan used Courtney on the Angel Heart soundtrack. Angel Heart was a film that really changed my life, especially as a person of color. Alan introduced the breed in his films in such a true and honest way. He was way ahead of his time that way. The guy who played Leroy in Fame, Gene Anthony Ray, it was revolutionary to see a black man dance like that, not just do street dancing, but turn him into this classic thing.
I shot in a Fame musical based on Alan’s movie, not the TV series. I did a lot of theater, but never stayed on a musical for more than six months. I did Fame for two years – that’s how much I loved the show, because the story is so good. It wasn’t the twee version, it was the real one. In the 80s everything got sugar, sweet filter, glamor, but Alan turned dark.
I was 17 when I signed to Island Records. You become famous, suddenly you have this power, then the vultures come out. You have people who are very jealous, people who wish it was them and who come to destroy you. It’s the industry. Alan has always shown reality, and that’s why I loved him.
“We would do hardcore ballet then double maths”
Jenna Russell, actress
It must have been the early 80s when I saw Fame and it had a huge effect on me. I’ve always loved musicals, but I remember being struck, as I always have been by Alan Parker’s films, by the fact that he’s not afraid to let the darker tones shine through. dark. There were those brilliant moments of joy – when they were dancing over the cab, going crazy – but mostly everyone was struggling, and I remember how hard it all looked, the cost. . Because a lot of students are quite vulnerable which is why they end up falling into the arts, because it is a place where they can explore this vulnerability in a safe place.
I went to Sylvia Young drama school when I was 14. The TV series was going on then, and there was this crazy craze with everyone wearing their leggings and headbands and me thinking I was so lucky because I was in a school where we did this. Does this really reflect what the training looks like? Yes and no. Competition and jealousy, I can’t remember at all. At Silvia Young it was very bohemian, we would all skip dancing and do improv or a hardcore ballet class and then try to settle in to double up on the math. We all felt like the children of Fame. We were getting on the tube and all singing and it was exhilarating. This is what I remember: the world of possibilities.