Young Thanet actress who pursued dream despite loss and hardship wins Luke Westlake Scholarship

Bridgette Westlake - mother of Luke - and scholarship winner Melodie Karczewski Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

A Thanet woman who pursued her dream of an acting career even whilst coping with  her mother’s death and being diagnosed with a seizure condition has been awarded a scholarship.

Former Chatham and Clarendon Grammar student Melodie Karczewski, along with her twin Lucy, grasped every opportunity when growing up in Thanet to get involved in the acting industry.

From drama classes to attending the Kent Film Foundation club, Melodie then worked three jobs so she could audition for acting roles.

The 22-year-old said: “My twin Lucy and I did a drama class every week at Masque Theatre School which my mother paid for despite her low income. Throughout the years they supported us, even giving us free lessons in musical theatre.

“We clung onto any opportunity to act and create. Kent Film Foundation’s weekly club run by Jan Dunn taught us about film and made the industry seem more accessible.

“I did not know anyone in the industry and was eager to learn. Kent Film guided me and even bought my twin and I writing software and a laptop to create our own scripts.

“When my mother died I was in the last year of school and my eldest sister took Lucy and I in. I had to take on three jobs in order to pursue my goal of being an actor.

Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

“The money was spent on going up to London to audition for acting roles through the site MANDY, and saving to move to London. Luckily, I got into Open Door, a charity for working class and diverse actors. They pay for drama school auditions, tutoring and workshops.

“Open Door allowed me to audition for the top drama schools and my dream came true when I got into The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. However, I was diagnosed with Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder around the same time and was worried about moving away from my support network without knowing more about my condition which causes me to have seizures at any given time. Therefore, I couldn’t accept the place.

“My twin and I saved and moved to London and applied to drama schools again the next year. After more gruelling auditions, Lucy got into LAMDA and I was offered a place at The Royal Welsh College Of Music and Drama. I felt so unbelievably grateful to get into such a brilliant school.

“The staff at Royal Welsh are incredibly supportive and I am so happy I waited to understand myself and my condition before I jumped into such intensive training.”

A non-epileptic attack is a type of seizure. It can look similar to epileptic seizures or fainting spells, but it is not caused by abnormal electrical discharges or blood pressure.

Melodie is now a second year student at Royal Welsh College and she applied for the Luke Westlake Scholarship, which supports a working-class student through their last year of study and first year entering the industry as a performer.

The scholarship is awarded by Just Add Milk Theatre Company (JAM) and is in memory of actor Luke Westlake who trained with JAM’s co-artistic directors Kristian Wall and Kyle Rowe at ArtsEd and had begun a good career with string of television credits including Luther and Dark Heart. Sadly in June 2020 Luke passed away. A diligent, fierce, working-class actor, he represents what the scholarship stands for and JAM say they are very grateful to his parents, Bridgette and Lee, for giving their blessing to continue to run the scholarship in his honour.

In memory of Luke Westlake

As part of her application Melodie explained what the Luke Westlake Scholarship would mean to her, saying: “It would give me a support network that I wouldn’t really get otherwise – or other people get. Because my mother died I have no parental support, so I’ve been wholly independent since the age of 18.”

The  panel were impressed by Melodie and she was awarded the scholarship during a ceremony at the Turbine Theatre, Battersea Power Station.

The scholarship offers artistic and financial support worth some £4,000 including Spotlight membership, subscription to The Stage, headshots, showreel, stage combat training, tax return accountancy, £500 towards rent and a series of meetings with agents and casting directors.

Team JAM (Kyle Rowe, Liam McLaughlin, Kristian Wall)

Scholarship co-founders Kristian Wall and Liam McLaughlin, said “Melodie is a very worthy winner of the scholarship this year, from the strongest shortlist to date. We are fully invested in her exceptional talent, unique story and, now, journey – we can’t wait to watch her grow and follow in the successful footsteps of our previous winners, Madison Stock and Ayo Adegun.

“Covid-19 continues to make our industry less accessible for the working class actors, which is why this scholarship is so important. We will continue to support working class actors through our scholarship and workshops and can’t wait to return in 2022.”

Jan Dunn

Film director and screenwriter Jan Dunn said on behalf of the Kent Film Foundation team: “Melodie was one of the young members of the Kent Film Foundation’s Girl’s Film Club, where the professional arts practitioners we hire were able to harness her talent by mentoring her on to getting selected for the BFI Youth Film Academy for Kent which is hosted by Screen South over in Folkestone and is highly prestigious.

“The great thing about Melodie is that she grabs every opportunity that is offered her. If a talented young person can motivate themselves and understand they are being supported to build their own aspirations and better chances for their future, it makes supporting a young person growing up with all sorts of disadvantages as Mel had, a lot easier to do.

“It was a privilege to utilise my own contacts to help her achieve her goals. I am so proud to have had a chance to do that for someone as talented as Mel and I wish her every success.”

Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

Melodie said: “The Luke Westlake Scholarship will not only help me financially but will launch my career. My original plan was to conceal my disability as I felt like it would stop me getting acting roles but now I realise there are professionals here to support me, root for me and there is nothing stopping me from achieving my goals.”

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