As Six superstar Maiya Quansah-Breed sat in front of her webcam Saturday, the Olivier Award-nominated actress looked like any other 22-year-old in a video chat with friends.
Quansah-Breed played Catherine Parr in the U.K. tour and Arts Theatre run of Six, a hit West End musical about Henry VIII’s six ex-wives. She recently participated in a virtual Q&A with North Carolina actor and director Mike McGee.
Adjusting her computer screen, Quansah-Breed leaned into the camera to wave to the 40 or so audience members.
“This is the first time I’ve worn makeup in so long,” she admitted with a laugh. “I’ve been watching a lot of telly (and) eating a lot of crisps.”
Like many other artists, Quansah-Breed has been at home for the last few weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. After leaving Six last year, she was set to take the stage in a new musical, Cases, at the end of March, but the show’s premiere is now suspended.
“It just is what it is, just have to stay home, stay safe, keep everybody else safe,” she said. “Fingers crossed it all goes back to normal and I get to entertain again.”
Quansah-Breed didn’t always want to be on stage, she said. Although she started singing at age 4, she didn’t see musical theater as a viable career option until she went to see Oliver! on a school trip.
“Kerry Ellis was belting out this song (“As Long As He Needs Me”), and I sat there and went, ‘I want to do that. I can do that,’” she said.
Quansah-Breed studied musical theater and, after encouragement from a teacher, applied to three drama schools. But after auditions, she was racked with self-doubt.
“I had a little bit of hope and I was like, ‘Maybe they’ll want me,’” she said. “And then a month goes by and all my friends get into drama school, and I’m sitting there wondering, ‘What am I doing wrong?’”
Finally, after several months, Quansah-Breed received an email from the Guildford School of Acting on her 18th birthday.
“I scrolled through and lo and behold there was the (email saying), ‘We’d like to offer you a place,’” she said. “You know when the whole world stops? My ears were ringing, my hands were shaking, I was sweating. My mum said she’s only seen me cry like that once.”
Quansah-Breed had a great time at school and made lifelong friends. But there were still times when she wanted to quit, she said. Even now, after her career has taken off, she says she often feels anxious.
“People put me on a pedestal and think I’ve got it all together, but in here, it’s a mess,” she said. “If someone is struggling, I would highly recommend (therapy), no matter what age you’re at.”
“If anyone is nervous, anxious, get help. There’s no shame in it.”
Quansah-Breed said her mother and the rest of her family helped her get through a lot of the stress of show business, including her post-school auditions for Motown and Six.
When Quansah-Breed was cast in the new musical, she was stunned but added she was excited to take on Parr, a character she loved.
“(Parr) was a 35-year-old woman and I was a 20-year-old girl just out of (Guildford School of Acting),” Quansah-Breed said. “I think I brought the vulnerability to her, but then Catherine brought the strength and the knowledge and the presence. I’ve got to thank her for that.”
Parr has a pivotal role in Six. Her song, “I Don’t Need Your Love,” is the final solo, and a turning point for the women, who have spent the show competing. Instead of joining the competition, Parr entreats her fellow wives to shed their need for Henry’s approval and love and instead tell their own story.
“That song holds so much weight within the show,” Quansah-Breed said. “I was scared because Parr doesn’t do much. Throughout the show, she’s kind of in the back. She doesn’t come to the fore until the very end.
“You’re hoping that you’re worth the wait.”
“You’re hoping the story you’re telling is worth the wait.”
And for the 40 participants in McGee’s virtual event, it seemed like time spent with Quansah-Breed was well worth the time and money. Following the event, McGee donated part of the proceeds, close to $500, to the NC Artist Relief Fund to assist local artists impacted by COVID-19.
For a listing of other virtual events, visit the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.