Susan Elkin meets up with Ebony Feare, 36, an actress currently playing Tortoise in Pied Piper’s touring production of Hare and Tortoise

How did you get interested in acting? When I was growing up in Leicester as an only child I was quite shy but I found I could deal with my shyness by pretending and, in a way that’s what I’ve done ever since. I could always find interesting things to do in make believe games with other children and I used to set up dance routines in the playground. From the age of about 7 or 8 I also went to local drama classes because I’d realised it was what I really liked doing.

It sounds as if your parents were pretty supportive? My mum was a single parent and yes she has always encouraged me to do whatever I want to do. Today she carries my business card in her bag and any programmes with my name in even when she’s at work. “This is my daughter” she’ll say to people proudly. It’s as if she were my agent!

How did you train professionally? I started by taking GCSE dance and drama as my options at school because I was serious by then. After that I did a BTec in performing arts at Leicester College where I learned, among many other things, about how to audition for drama school – a process which can be quite traumatising. I then looked at a number of schools but as soon as I saw Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts I knew that was the one.

What did you like about it? Well, I did a BA in Acting but I’m a singer too and I was really impressed with the way they build in collaboration between acting, singing and dance students. And it sounds silly but I liked the colours in the building and the whole friendly atmosphere – it was quite new then of course having been founded in 1996. I also love the city with its vibrant atmosphere and the cathedrals. It was a good place to train.

Do you still see yourself as a northerner? Yes I suppose I do. I’m now based in Manchester which works very well for me. There are a lot of terrific theatres nearby, including West Yorkshire Playhouse and York Theatre Royal and I’ve worked in most of them over the years. I lived in London for a while but it really wasn’t for me.

What was your first professional job? Hey There Boy With the Bebop at Polka Theatre, directed by Kully Thiarai. It was their first ever show for young teens and I was lucky to get the job straight out of LIPA. I’ve worked there many times since too. Although I’m now 36 I still get cast in young roles because I’m so petite.

And you’ve done TV of course? Yes. The first was in Vincent for ITV. I had a small role but it was wonderful to be in a cast with Ray Winstone. I remember sitting there marvelling at the first read though. I learned such a lot from the other actors. I’ve done other things too since including commercials and voice overs – thanks to my agent Narrow Road, Manchester.

But I suspect your heart’s in live theatre? Yes, it is although I have a part in a BBC drama called Moving On which is due to air this year. What I really love is touring which is why Grandpa in my Pocket, a live show based on a TV series, is one of the jobs I’ve enjoyed most. I really prefer touring to being in a run in one venue because you have to keep adjusting and adapting and it keeps the show fresh.

And what do you do in your spare time? I sing in a gospel choir called Manchester Inspirational Voices. In 2016 we won Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year! That opened lots of opportunities for us to sing with musicians such as Leona Lewis, Shaun Escoffery and JP Cooper.

Your mother came originally from Jamaica and your father from Ghana. Has your ethnicity been an advantage or a disadvantage professionally?

Well it’s never been a problem – and things have improved a lot since I started – but I’d still like to see more diversity in theatre. Race is obviously one issue but so are sexuality, gender and disability. Actually, many of the parts I’ve played are racially neutral – such as my current outing as a tortoise! And being a person of colour sometimes works in your favour. If for example a plot calls for a Jamaican girl I can do all the accents.

Hare and Tortoise tours until 4 February

Ebony’s website: EbonyFeare.com