First-time Stage Scholarships partner the Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts aims to make a very big difference with the largest number of places ever offered in a single year. Up to 50 Saturday scholarships, one at nearly every PQA location across the country, will be provided at a cost to the school of nearly £53,000.
For each winning applicant, that’s worth more than £1,000 to cover tuition fees – three hours of lessons in musical theatre, comedy, drama, film and TV – uniform, masterclasses and Trinity College London exams.
PQA founder Pauline Quirke is a believer in the power of drama to change lives and the importance of making theatre skills available to all youngsters, regardless of means.
Quirke’s own introduction came from another famous drama mentor – Anna Scher, who introduced generations of working-class Londoners to showbusiness. Quirke went on to a television career, beginning as a teenage presenter in the 1970s, before becoming a household name with fellow Scher graduate Linda Robson in Birds of a Feather.
PQA creative director Simon James Green says: “Pauline’s approach has always been about trying to give something back, as she benefited as a child from similar training. It’s about offering opportunities where we can.”
In 2007, along with husband Steve Sheen, Quirke turned her ambition into reality when she founded the first Pauline Quirke Academy. Since then, PQA has expanded to more than 50 sites, from Newcastle to Torbay.
So what’s the secret of its popularity? “Firstly, it’s a friendly, family atmosphere – there is no sense of cut-throat competition. We go for a nurturing atmosphere. It’s not just about getting roles; they learn skills that will always be helpful, whether it’s making university applications or applying for jobs,” says Green.
“A high percentage do want to perform, but kids also come with different priorities. They might be keen to meet a different bunch of friends and/or build up their confidence,” he adds.
The academies also aim to give children experience of as many different aspects of performing as possible. In one Saturday class, you will have hour-long sessions in comedy and drama, musical theatre and then film and television. Classes are divided into age groups, and teachers are specialists working in their chosen fields.
There’s plenty of opportunity for practical training, too. Within the film and TV module, the youngsters get to devise, script, storyboard and edit their own short films (a selection are even shown at schools’ local cinemas, and every two years a number are shortlisted for a festival at the Empire, Leicester Square).
There is also a chance to take part in PQA’s annual West End productions at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Last year, 800 PQA students from 16 academies across the UK were involved.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for them – it’s hard enough for a seasoned pro to get to perform in the West End. They love travelling to London, and the parents are delighted,” says Green, who is also a professional director and works with the children on the production.
Green’s fellow creative director Sarah Counsell runs PQA’s creative management agency Quirky Kidz, and some students have won roles in the West End and on television. But Green explains that great care is taken in managing children’s expectations and pointing out what a tricky business performing is.
He also wouldn’t want scholarships applicants to be worried about being finished, polished performers: “We are looking for kids that will fit in nicely with our family dynamic. The big thing is seeing potential and a passion about joining PQA so that they can get everything they can from the experience.”
Whether you want to make it in entertainment or learn valuable life skills, The Stage/PQA Scholarships are a unique opportunity for youngsters across the UK. If you are aged between six and 18, click here to apply or see below for more information. The closing date for applications is May 16.