Lesley Andrew is a truly cosmopolitan Miltonian. The renowned vocalist and dramatist has made soloist appearances with celebrated Canadian orchestras across the country as well as performing with many of Canada’s finest choral organizations. Lesley has enjoyed tenured performances with The Stratford Festival, she has completed a number of major concert and recital tours around the world; and she now adjudicates and conducts masterclasses at festivals, universities and schools of music and drama. In her travels, Lesley has also has made special guest television appearances on television shows such as The Tonight Show and Oprah Winfrey.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working alongside Lesley Andrew on more than one occasion, and most recently during the production of La Bohème by the Southern Ontario Lyric Opera (SOLO), which she directed and I stage managed. Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a Spotlight on this truly remarkable woman!
She’s funny, artistic, demanding, hates it when people are talking back stage, and yes… that is her real hair!
Jenn: Lesley, you’re a self-proclaimed Milton girl. Was there anyone in Milton as you were growing up who made a difference in your life, or mentored you as you started out?
Lesley: Absolutely! [Local legend] Judy Hunter was a mentor to me, and big role model. I also attended E.C. Drury High School and many of the teachers and staff made a huge difference in my life.
Jenn: What drew you to the performing arts?
Lesley: I’m not sure what drew me to the performing arts. Truthfully, I don’t know if I chose the arts, or the arts chose me. Sometimes, I don’t think I had much choice in the matter. Not only is being an artist–both performance art and fine art–what I do for a living, it is part of who I am.
Jenn: Tell me about growing up in Milton. What did teenaged Lesley do for fun?
Lesley: At the age of 13, I moved to Milton to live with my mother. I had been terribly bullied throughout my elementary education. In Milton, I got a brand new start and it was fabulous. Growing up in Milton saved me. I had good friends and a supportive community. I loved watching movies at the one and only movie theatre in Milton; there were zebras in the foyer! Every weekend during the winter months, I would visit the ice rink with friends for the public skating sessions. I always had after school and summer jobs, including working at Peggy’s of Milton, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, and working as a maid at the Heritage Inn. I also joined the Milton Choristers when I started Grade 9 and sang with them throughout my high school years.
Jenn: Even though you left Milton a number of years ago, you return often to perform with the Milton Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO)] and the Milton Choristers. The town must seem so different now, considering the rapid growth we’ve had the past dozen or so years. Is there any truth to the saying “you can’t go home again?”
Lesley: I always feel at home when I visit Milton. I love performing with the MPO and the Choristers and giving back to the community in which I was raised. The town is very different now. Must admit, I am glad I was able to experience it as a smaller community.
Jenn: Singer, actress, teacher, motivational speaker, director; the list goes on. What is your favourite hat to wear?
Lesley: To be honest, I am a bit of an accidental performer/singer. I am always shocked to see people in the audience who love to hear me sing. If I wasn’t me, I wouldn’t listen to me, so it’s difficult to believe others like what they hear in me. I love performing, but I think I love it so much because I love entertaining people, or helping them to have an emphatic experience by relating to the stories I tell. It is more about communicating for me than it is about “the voice.” For me directing is more related to the visual artist side of me; it’s like creating living sculptures. I love it!
I began my career as a motivational speaker when I was a teenager. Again, I fell into it accidentally. I have never advertised as a professional speaker, but it is something I do when I am asked to do it. I believe we all have a story to tell, maybe I’m just nutty enough to tell mine in front of thousands of people. Teaching is my passion. Out of all the hats I wear, I believe my role as pedagogue is my most important role.
Jenn: You’ve done your share of prime time television appearances over the years. What shows have you appeared in, and do you have a favourite story you can share?
Lesley: Oh my. Yes, I have appeared on a number of TV shows. Some, I can’t remember, but there are the biggies like Oprah, The Tonight Show, Donny & Marie, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, To Tell the Truth, and others. There are so many stories, it would be difficult to come up with just one! There are funny behind the scene stories from my days at The Stratford Festival too.
Jenn: Your latest project was directing La Bohème for SOLO to critical acclaim. Many are saying it was the best opera SOLO has put on to date. Was La Bohème the first opera you’ve directed?
Lesley: I thoroughly enjoyed directing La Bohème. While it was my first time directing for SOLO, it was not my first time directing. I have directed productions of The Telephone, The Medium, Three’s Company, Street Scene, Hamlet, Le Nozzi di Figaro, Der Rosenkavalier, Dieppe, Rusalka, and various opera workshops of new compositions.
Jenn: Tell me about what you do to relax.
Lesley: I love working with my hands to relax. As a visual artist, I love sculpting, textile work and print making. I love to spend time at my little cottage along the shores of Lake Erie, where I have been known as The Monarch Whisperer and a rescuer of all things natural. And of course, there is my new little Airedale puppy, Radley. He certainly keeps me on my toes!
Quick fire questions: Give me the first thing that comes to you!
Jenn: Favourite colour?
Lesley: Red. Absolutely. It is a very important colour. I believe it is the colour of life.
Jenn: Favourite Milton restaurant and dish?
Lesley: Growing up, the first (and only!) restaurants for quite some time were McDonald’s, the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop, and Tim Horton’s! Then came Belamies and Kelsey’s. When I am in Milton for long enough to have a meal, I pop by Kelsey’s for a salad. If I’m on the run, I’ll visit Pita Pit (just off the highway).
Jenn: Favourite place in Milton?
Lesley: I love Hugh Foster Hall. I also feel at home at St. Paul’s United Church.
Jenn: Favourite thing about Milton?
Lesley: The people.
Jenn: What other Milton person in the arts should I consider for a spotlight?
Lesley: Judy Hunter, of course!
Jenn: Lesley, always such a pleasure learning a little more about you. Milton certainly has nurtured more than its share of world-class talent!