Hi Shanita, thank you very much for speaking with us today. Can you tell us how it came about that you are now a Background Artist for Coronation Street please?
I started on Coronation Street about 18 year ago as a Background Artist. As I had an Equity Card from my Vocal Entertaining years, I could do Television work as well as Stage work.
So you too began your career as a singer? I am finding that many of you are multi-talented, and are solo performers as well. Can you tell us a little more about this side of your career?
I started dancing classes from the age of 7 and won cups and medals from various Dancing Eisteddfods* around Bristol where I grew up. From the age of 16 years I was entered into various Television Talent Shows as a Vocal/Dancer. In those days I was a tap-dancer as well. This exposure helped to develop my stage career. Although I was a Solo Performer mostly in Northern Clubs and Summer Seasons, I later had my own Band Group and also fronted Big Band Sounds.
Wow! As I said to one of the others, you really should get together and put on your own show. I wonder if ITV realise the amount of talent they have walking around in the background?
Have you done Extra work on other shows?
Before the Corrie years I appeared in other TV Productions - Drama/Comedy such as 'Making Out' - 'Clocking Off' 'Medics' A & E, etc. For some reason, I usually got cast as a nurse, but actually I can't stand the sight of blood.
Maybe they should have cast you in 'Doc Martin', you and Ellingham would have made a great team then!
I also had a few parts in different local Amateur Dramatic Societies. One was a Police Officer in "Rumours" , and another Narrator/Bag Woman in "Christmas Carol".
Thank you for letting us see what you looked like in those roles. I have added the photos to your gallery below.
18 Years is a long time. Can you tell us the biggest changes you have seen in your time there?
Firstly, Equity Cards are no longer compulsory for background artists like they were when I began. Other changes are wardrobe outfits. Once it was provided, now we bring our own, depending on the number of episodes. This could be as many as 4 outfits for either Studio or on the Street.
Cut backs I suppose, but at least this way you know the clothes suit you and fit you properly.
Where are we most likely to spot you?
I've usually been seen in the Rovers Return (now burnt down), Roy's Rolls café or Audrey's Hair Salon, also the Corner Shop and Medical Centre.
Do you have a favourite episode that you appeared in?
The best episode on Corrie for me was in Audrey's Hair Salon under the Hair Dryer appearing asleep. I had stepped in at the last moment due to someone's absence. The scene followed a story line of a client who had died under the dryer. So this produced concern in the acting scene I appeared in.
Oh yes, I remember that storyline! A lady had died under the dryer. Then when they got another customer in, they were paranoid that she might die too. Told her to keep turning the pages of her magazine so they would know she was still alive! It was hilarious, because they spoke to her at one point, and she didn't move and just as they started to panic, she moved again. So that was you?
Yes it was, it was a very funny scene. Other bits were long ago when spoken lines were given to extras (that was called a Walk on Three). As an Usherette, I asked Steve McDonald for his ticket at a cinema entrance with his then girlfriend Vicky.
I don't remember that one. Actually I am surprised Steve took Vicky to the cinema, he probably made her pay for their tickets, as he was only ever after her money!
Another special moment for me was when Betty Driver (Betty Williams) chatted to me in between takes. She admired the top I was wearing and wanted to know where I bought it.
I have heard she was a very special lady, I wish I had met her.
What would you say is the best part of your job?
Working with Coronation Street Production Teams, Crew, Technicians, and fellow Background Artist has meant getting to know people over the years more as friends. I also like having the opportunity of working on location (it doesn't happen often though). Usually it's when special events are filmed like Church Weddings, or other events. Then we get taken by mini bus to a location and have catering meals provided.
That's interesting, because I have heard that some of the front line cast hate weddings because of all the waiting around, it's refreshing to hear from someone who enjoys them.
What is the worst part of your job?
Has to be the long hours hanging around especially late at night, and particularly outside on the Street in harsh cold weather conditions.
You are not alone in saying that. It must have been bad this year especially, it has been so cold for so long in both our countries.
OK, what about funniest moments?
Funniest time on set was during a take on the Street. A Sound Engineer lowered his sound boom to just a foot above pavement level and blocked my path. Rather than not following my cue I practically climbed over lifting knees high to do so. This bit was in shot and seemed to humour everyone, but I did feel a fool though! Needless to say it was a retake!!
Another amusing situation. We seem to have a flock of pigeons who have adopted "The Street". However, when they begin to coo from rooftops it sometimes interferes with dialogue sounds. Strangely enough I recently noticed a few pigeons have been featured as centre stage on closure shots to Coronation Street! They must have passed their audition.
Ha ha, yes, pigeons have been a part of Coronation Street for quite a few years. I always thought they were put there deliberately, I didn't realise they were intruders!
Now, to your personal life. Do you have to travel far to get to work?
No, I live just 15 minutes from the studios, travelling is easier for me than some Background Artists who have to travel quite a distance. So guess I'm lucky.
Do you have a 'significant other' in your life?
I certainly do! His name is Michael Denham, an ex-teacher whom I met through a local walking group. You can see him standing next to me in one of the photos below of our group.
Then I think you have just answered my next question, which is what do you like to do when you are not working?
Yes, a hobby of mine is walking. I have joined local walking groups and have been active since 1995. I have managed to tuck some miles under my belt over the years, even climbing Mount Snowdon twice, as well as The Old Man Of Coniston and Great Gable. Relaxation seems rare but days out and a challenging game of Scrabble is enjoyable too.
Well, I would love to challenge you to a game of Scrabble sometime, but don't think I will join you in climbing Mount Snowdon! I admire you greatly for doing it though!
What is the piece of music called that we are listening to? Did you write it?
I did, it's called 'Leave It', and you are the first to hear it. Most of my compositions these days are digital.
My interest is in various Community Radio stations followed on from my Entertainment years. Operating a mixing desk was quite daunting, but I enjoyed presenting my own radio programme. "Tune into Jazz" promoted local Jazz Musicians and their unsigned music. This helped my development into recording and music ideas.
I think producing Digital Instrumental Music was an extension of my last interest, but this meant my musical styles and interests also changed especially with digital recording. The music with this page was recorded some time ago played on keyboards and compares differently to current styles produced on my computer now on Youtube. With a website as well to promote it all, I'm really moving on. www.shanitaleedigitalmusic.wordpress.com You can also hear me on You Tube at http://www.youtube.com/user/shanitalee80/videos?view=0
Where do you see your future taking you?
Who knows what will happen in the future. Don't really like to predict too much as one never knows what will happen. Whatever happens I do wish Canadian, and all other Corrie fans well in their enjoyment of Coronation Street.
Thank you so much Shanita for giving us your time today, and allowing us to share in your life story a little bit.
* For those wondering what an Esteddfod is, it is a Welsh artistic festival dating back to at least the 12th century. Bristol is not far from Wales.