vol. 8 Staging

Credit: Ed Currie and Andy Coxon

02 / 02

Ed Currie and Andy Coxon:
"That world was my life at that point. I knew I wanted to be a performer."

Performers & Entrepreneurs

A chat about falling in and out of love with performing, their accidental discovery of entrepreneurship and the importance of authenticity.


Mar 25, 2022 | As told to Cherie Yang

To Ed Currie and Andy Coxon, being authentic is the most important value to have.

With backgrounds as West End performers, they were originally unsure whether or not to embrace their performing credentials in their brand—but now, they would never look back.

To them, their brand is a show—their imagery (or, choreography, as they describe it) is carefully planned, beautifully crafted and masterfully woven together with their story to ensure that they are always showcasing their authentic selves, and staying true to their values.

We discuss the resilience of performers, their initial foray into creating deodorant (undertaken in their "tiny" London flat), and the power of community in Kickstarting their brand.

Find AKT on Instagram, or on their website.

Listen to Ed & Andy's episode on our Podcast here.

  • &: Andy, I’d love to talk about your background first. Are you still in the theatre industry?

    EC:

    Andy: I just did my final performance last month. I did a three month contract over winter, and that was my swan song, if you like. AKT has now taken up full-time priority and it's going so well. Mental health wise though, I couldn't balance the two.

    What I have achieved over the last twelve years as a performer is phenomenal—and there's no reason why I can't go back to it when I'm a bit older, but from what I've done, I'm extremely pleased with what I’ve accomplished.

  • I started when I was about thirteen, back in Derby in the middle of the UK, doing amateur dramatics. That world was my life at that point. I knew I wanted to be a performer.
  • &: That’s amazing. How did it all begin with you getting into acting and the theatre world?

    EC:

    Andy: My very first professional performing job was as an understudy in the Evita UK and European tour. That's going back about eleven years now.

    I started when I was about thirteen, back in Derby in the middle of the UK, doing amateur dramatics. That world was my life at that point. I knew I wanted to be a performer.

    I moved to London, got an agent, and started auditioning. It took about a year to get my first job after lots of rejection. And then it kind of snowballed. My career kept going from there. Obviously lots of rejection in between still. It wasn't easy, but I got a good one or two contracts a year, which not everyone does. I've had some great acts and roles, so that's why I say I feel quite content to be able to go, okay, let's just shut that door for a minute.

  • &: How has your day-to-day changed now that you’ve finished your last show?

    EC:

    Andy: Well, I used to do around 20,000 steps a day, and now I do about 900 because I sit here at my desk. [laughs] It’s hard to describe my day because before, I was trying to juggle the two—when I wasn't on stage in the evening, I'd still be working on my laptop during the day.

    Now, I've got more time to sit at the computer and really focus and nail down all the branding, planning ideas and get all of that going without the distraction of, I've got to be at the theatre soon for warm-up.

  • As a little kid, I’d always be recreating Disney shows with my sisters, doing dance routines as a blue bird for the opening of Cinderella.
  • My favourite bit about it was doing warm up before a show. You get to see all your friends every day, you gossip whilst you're doing your stretches and vocal exercises...
  • &: What about you, Ed? Did you always know that you wanted to be a performer?

    EC:

    Ed: Yeah, always.

    As a little kid, I’d always be recreating Disney shows with my sisters, doing dance routines as a blue bird for the opening of Cinderella. [laughs] Lots of that as a kid. And then I did the same kind of route. I did amateur dramatics at home, in Macclesfield in the Northwest of England.

    I then went to drama school and went to a place called ArtsEd in London, got an agent, got my first show in Top Hat straight out of college and then some other bits.

    But I departed from the theatre in a different way to Andy. Andy was very content, whereas I fell out of love with performing. I didn't enjoy it as a lifestyle because there's no safety. You’re not treated very well, and going from job to job is really difficult. There's not any security in what you do.

    My favourite bit about it was doing warm up before a show. You get to see all your friends every day, you gossip whilst you're doing your stretches and vocal exercises—but then kind of doing the same thing every night, it wasn't for me.

    I always say it's interesting that creative people go into musical theatre, but as soon as you're in a show, there's no creativity anymore; you're stuck doing the same thing every night.

  • I'm glad I did it. I can now say that I achieved my dream. My dream was always to be in a West End show, and now I've done it twice. So I wouldn't change my history.
  • I think that people always want something else when they’ve reached their dream. If you turn your hobby into your career, you'll always then find something else because you've reached your goal.
  • &: You hear people say, ‘Don't make a career out of what you love’. What are both of your takes on that?

    EC:

    Ed: I'm glad I did it. I can now say that I achieved my dream. My dream was always to be in a West End show, and now I've done it twice. So I wouldn't change my history.

    Andy: I don't really have feelings towards that saying, because I think that people always want something else when they’ve reached their dream. If you turn your hobby into your career, you'll always then find something else because you've reached your goal. People like Beyonce, surely can't sit there and go, “Great. I've done everything. I'm happy.” She'll do perfume. She'll do acting. Everyone that has a drive or a focus or a dream will do what they can to get to it.

    Ed: Life happens. You go into something expecting one thing, but there's so many other avenues that present themselves to you. I remember when people used to come into drama school to talk to us about what's going to happen beyond drama school. One of the guys that came and said, “If five of you are still doing this in five years time, that would be amazing. And if one of you is still doing this in 10 years time, that would be amazing.” The reality is that something else takes your interest, or another job lends itself to you, or you fall in love with somebody or you move to a different country—life happens and you go with the flow.

    Andy: Right. There's no wrong in stopping or pausing or taking a different route and finding your creativity elsewhere. You'll never lose that creativity. You just channel it into something else, whether that's building a website, being a photographer, teaching people—I've done all of those things, and I still continue to do them all. I love it.

  • Every week I'd be researching different ingredients online—I’d buy them, mix them up on the hob in the kitchen, buy some test tubes, get some beakers. Andy was living with me at the time, so I'd hand him a part of something that I'd made and be like, try this.
  • &: I want to rewind and talk about how AKT was started. Could you take us through that?

    EC:

    Ed: We met when we were in a show together in 2015. We were working on Beautiful, the Carol King musical at the Aldwych Theatre.

    I always knew that sweat was an issue for me. You know what I mean? It’s such a natural thing, but for me it was an issue. I used to get so embarrassed going to restaurants or meeting friends. I'd be under the hand dryer before meeting anybody—I'd put deodorant on, but I'd still smell. My t-shirts would have those horrible, claggy yellow stains in them from antiperspirants—so I was trying everything. I was getting so frustrated with it that I decided to figure out how to do it myself.

    I had met this chap, on a cruise ship randomly, and I was complaining to him about how I was smelling after working out—and he was like, I make my own deodorant. He sent me his recipe—I didn't smell in the same way that I normally would, but I got a massive rash. [laughs]

    Every week I'd be researching different ingredients online—I’d buy them, mix them up on the hob in the kitchen, buy some test tubes, get some beakers. Andy was living with me at the time, so I'd hand him a part of something that I'd made and be like, try this.

    Some of them were gross, but I knew there was something in it because they helped me more than anything that was on the market. I was like, why is this not out there? Why has nobody else done this?

  • Adding to that, we weren’t really planning to sell it—it was never a plan to make a business from it. It was purely to make something that worked for him.
  • &: Is this something that was completely new to you?

    EC:

    Ed: It was completely new to me. Once I’d found something that was starting to work, I took more of an interest in it.

    Andy: Adding to that, we weren’t really planning to sell it—it was never a plan to make a business from it. It was purely to make something that worked for him.

    Ed: Yeah. I started handing it out to people in shows and to friends and family. I remember one Christmas, we did ‘Homemade Christmas’, so I made everybody some deodorant. Everyone's reaction was like, hey, how have you figured this out? [laughs] So we started handing out to more people—and then people were wanting to buy it from us and it just snowballed from there.

  • We thought, why don't we use our theatre community? So we gave hundreds of samples to every single West End performer and asked them to post about it on the same day that we launched the campaign. It was everywhere on social media.
  • &: When did you realise that this could become something bigger?

    EC:

    Andy: We went to see a play that my friend Caroline Quentin was in. Her husband is a cosmetic scientist, so we went for drinks after the show and he set us up with a mentor who told us to get it cosmetically tested so that we could legally sell it.

    We had about six meetings with her. She was teaching us about labelling and packaging and how to fill it all out, and then she suggested getting a crowdfunding campaign done because we needed a nice chunk of money to kick off production.

    We thought, why don't we use our theatre community? So we gave hundreds of samples to every single West End performer and asked them to post about it on the same day that we launched the campaign.

    It was everywhere on social media.

    We hit our target on day one of the Kickstarter campaign. We went on to make triple the amount that we needed in one month. That's the point where we both kind of went, holy crap, we've got 3000 orders that we need to fulfil.

  • I've always had an interest in business myself. I had my own photography company. So I said, why don't we together turn this into a business and make money from it? That was the catalyst.
  • &: Andy, how did you get involved in the business?

    EC:

    Andy: We were living together and Ed had stopped performing. I was basically watching him lose his way in life. He had no idea what route to go down. He was exploring things like interior design—being a delivery driver at one point, trying so many things.

    I've always had an interest in business myself. I had my own photography company. So I said, why don't we together turn this into a business and make money from it? That was the catalyst.

    Ed: Yeah. The brand was completely different back when we did a Kickstarter. It was all black and gold. But on the day that we were about to send off the trademark registration, we got a cease and desist letter from a lawyer saying, “You're using our client's name to trade”.

  • I always compare it to putting on a show. As a performer, everyone has a recurring nightmare that you are pushed out on stage and you don't know your lyrics or your lines—that’s everyone's biggest anxiety in performance.
  • &: Wow. What happened then?

    EC:

    Ed: Instead of fighting it, we decided to rebrand—and honestly, it was the best thing we could have done. We were embarrassed about putting our story forward about being West End performers—we thought that nobody would take us seriously. It was the marketing agency we hired that was like, “No, this is your truth—this is what's exciting about the brand. You've got to promote that.” So, AKT was created.

    Ed: For us, brand was super important.

    I always compare it to putting on a show. As a performer, everyone has a recurring nightmare that you are pushed out on stage and you don't know your lyrics or your lines—that’s everyone's biggest anxiety in performance.

    I still have nightmares about it and I've not performed in six years. [laughs]

    And so creating the brand, it's the same thing. We never want it to half-ass it. It’s all carefully choreographed and directed and the set—all the imagery that we put together—has all got a tale—this overarching story about who we are and what the product does and how it performs.

  • Performers are also the most resilient people you'll ever meet. They have to make that rent. If your contract ends and you don't have another one to go to, you have to find things to do in that time, whether it's working in a bar, leafleting, teaching, photography—I've done all of those things because I've just had to make a living.
  • &: So much of your West End background feeds into AKT, but is there any way in which you feel that being a performer has hindered you?

    EC:

    Ed: From a personal perspective? Imposter syndrome, we get that all the time.

    Even now, I went on this business lunch, which for me is so bizarre—it's still new to me. Obviously we launched the brand in a pandemic, so our exposure to business owners and people in a sort of commercial network, we haven't had that experience.

    We're still performers. A lot of our friends are still performers. Even though I know what I'm talking about now, it’s still a thing. Every day, it's a learning day—sometimes I catch myself and think, ‘Am I supposed to be talking like this?’ It’s so bizarre. I still think of myself as a dancer by trade, but I'm not—we’ve been doing this since 2016. I've learned a lot since then. So sometimes I need to remind myself that I know what I'm talking about.

    Andy: Performers are also the most resilient people you'll ever meet. They have to make that rent. If your contract ends and you don't have another one to go to, you have to find things to do in that time, whether it's working in a bar, leafleting, teaching, photography—I've done all of those things because I've just had to make a living.

    So when someone says to me, that'll be £13,000 for a photoshoot, I'll pick up the camera and figure it out—because I've got that intuition of figuring stuff out and learning. The biggest thing that we need to pat ourselves on the back for is how much we have put on and how much we've learned—partly because we had to, to get to the stage we're currently at, but also because we wanted to.

  • I’ve done teaching, which is something that I've always loved—but this is the first year of my life that I haven't taught.
  • &: Andy, you mentioned that you've done photography, you've done teaching and various other side hustles. Talk me through some of these.

    EC:

    Andy: There’s been some real dark moments. [laughs]

    Where you literally just take a job because you need a bit of cash between acting jobs—particularly things like call centres. I've worked for a cocktail bar and they were trying to make me learn all the recipes for 76 cocktails and I was like, ‘No, there's a manual. I'll just read them as I make them. I'm not learning them. I work here one day a week.’ They were going to test me! I was like, no, I’m out. [laughs]

    I’ve done teaching, which is something that I've always loved—but this is the first year of my life that I haven't taught.

    I did a lot of teaching singing, teaching drama at schools, audition teaching, preparation for exams and things like that. I've always loved it, but I lost the love a little bit, shall we say? It’s hard when the students have been given to you almost like babysitting rather than because they want to be a performer. When you get those students, the ones that really want to do it, that's when it excites your inspiration as well.

    Photography is something that I've always loved. I started off our brand by doing some photography in the flat, making it up as we went along. I still do it. I've just bought a load of new lights, because I'm going to start learning some more of our product photography and content for social media.

  • &: Do you still create all of your content yourself?

    EC:

    Andy: Not all of it. A lot of the imagery is created through design agencies we’re been working with—but I've been directing it with them. If I had time, I would do it all myself, but we use photographers and people that have that creative eye—it's important to get an outsider's view as well.

    We don't want all of our campaigns to look the same. We want to feel like the same brand, but we want to have an elevation each time or different inspirations. Really still linking into that performance side, but different locations, different people, different styles.

  • &: Ed, what about your side hustles?

    EC:

    Ed: I’ve had some rotten jobs outside of performing! My worst one was being dressed as a beer bottle, handing out leaflets. [laughs] I used to be a delivery person. I worked at Madame Tussauds—I used to scare people in their scare attraction. I’ve done it all.

    I love dance. That's what I always wanted to do. That's part of the brand as well—we have a lot of movement inspired imagery. What I'd love to do one day is choreograph one of our campaigns or something down the line.

    I used to choreograph and direct shows and I'd love to do that again. Obviously, I don't have time to do it at the moment.

  • I was a finalist for ten lead roles before I got one. It was like, how long can I continue doing this? Because it batters your soul. You have to really want it. The rejection is hard.
  • &: You both mentioned that experiencing rejection is a big thing as performers—is it difficult?

    EC:

    Ed: Yeah, that's constant. Fourteen rounds of auditions, and then you don't hear anything back. It’s a bit of a brutal industry. I definitely think it could be kinder. But it toughened up that skin, that's for sure.

    Andy: I was a finalist for ten lead roles before I got one. It was like, how long can I continue doing this? Because it batters your soul. You have to really want it. The rejection is hard.

    We had a rejection yesterday from an investor for the company—it's the same feeling still. But it's not personal, there's always a reason. It's not because you're rubbish or no one likes you. You have to allow yourself to wallow and feel bad about it for a second, but then move on.

  • There's so much creative scope that we have the authority to do with our branding. To utilise what we know and who we know. We haven't even scratched the surface yet.
  • &: How do the two of you split your roles as co-founders?

    EC:

    Ed: We’ve swapped positions since we first started. Andy was operations, and I was very much on the branding side. Then we met in the middle and worked collaboratively, and now we've gone the other way. Andy focuses a lot on the brand and the marketing. I do operations, supply chain, financials, and product development. What I'd love is to get back into the brand area, because I think that's where I'm probably best—I'm a creative person by trade.

    Andy: Everything that goes out will always be approved by both of us, as well. It's always in collaboration.

    There's so much creative scope that we have the authority to do with our branding. To utilise what we know and who we know. We haven't even scratched the surface yet.

  • There is so much excitement in what's coming. We just have to keep our ducks in a row and activate it all.
  • &: What are you excited about for the future?

    EC:

    Andy: A lot. As we get through this investment round that we're doing at the moment, we're going to be able to hire new team members so that we can purely focus on the brand because, it's a show—I love that phrase.

    It's a lifestyle. We want this brand to be around forever. We want it to sit alongside people like Aesop and Le Labo—to be regarded as a real staple brand. We’ve got so much scope, there's so much we can do.

    There is so much excitement in what's coming. We just have to keep our ducks in a row and activate it all.

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