From young hopeful to musical star: the best training for you

A production by the National Youth Music Theatre. Photo: Matt Hargraves
A production by the National Youth Music Theatre. Photo: Matt Hargraves
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Whether you attend a dedicated stage school or join local dance classes, it is best to begin preparing for a career in musical theatre from a young age. Samantha Marsden looks at the options for under-18s


When it comes to musical theatre, the younger the training starts, the better. This is particularly true of learning how to dance. Chris Newton-Jarvis, a teacher at Italia Conti Academy of  Theatre Arts, says: “I would always advise to start your training as early as possible. In an increasingly competitive career, you need the edge to be able to stand at the table and compete.”

For those who know they want a career in musical theatre from a young age, there are two options: either go to a full-time stage school, or attend evening and weekend performing arts courses alongside a ‘normal’ education.

Attending a full-time stage school

Full-time stage schools available to those aged under 18 include: Sylvia Young Theatre School, Redroofs Theatre School, the Brit School, Italia Conti and Tring Park School for the Performing Arts.

Stage schools tend to offer high-standard academic study as well as excellent training in the performing arts. At the Sylvia Young Theatre School in 2016, 93% of students obtained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE level. This is higher than the national average of 69.4% obtaining five or more A* to C grades at GCSE level in the same year.

All students at Sylvia Young are automatically signed up by the school’s agency, which has had a number of clients in West End shows, including lead roles in Matilda the Musical, The Lion King, Billy Elliot, The Railway Children and Bugsy Malone.

Tring Park School for the Performing Arts also offers exceptional academic and performing arts training alongside exciting industry opportunities. Simon Sharp, director of the musical theatre course, advises those who want a career in musical theatre that “understanding the pressure and competition of the profession are not things to fear, but issues to combat with an excellent work ethic and approach”.

The UK’s top full-time stage schools for under-18s provide world-class training and exciting opportunities. They certainly give students a head-start in the industry. However, fees tend to range from £4,600 to £7,655 per term, and, with three school terms a year and possible boarding fees on top of that, sadly it’s an unaffordable option for most – except for the lucky few who win a scholarship or alternative funding.

There is, however, one exception to this rule: the Brit School offers full-time academic and performing arts training for students from the age of 14. This is state-funded and free.

A Brit School show. Photo: Grace Benita

Part time training for under-18s

There are many weekend theatre schools, evening classes, after-school clubs and youth theatres across the UK that offer performing arts classes to under-18s. There are franchised groups such as the Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts, Stagecoach Theatre Arts, Jigsaw and Razzamataz. Or there are groups such as youth theatres, after-school clubs, private tutors and local dance and theatre classes.

For those aspiring to a career in musical theatre, it’s particularly important to go to as many dance classes as possible from a young age, with ballet being a particularly valuable foundation. In most areas across the UK, there are many excellent local dance groups.

Creative director of the Pauline Quirke Academy Adam Davenport, says: “For those wishing to pursue a career in the performing arts, attending classes as a child can provide a core foundation of skills and experience, which can help with entry to professional, vocational training. We help our students grow into respectful, grounded and well-rounded adults, as well as excellent performers. Above all, we encourage our students to be amazing, just by being themselves.”

From September, the Pauline Quirke Academy will run a full-time academy offering a two-year diploma in performing arts for students aged 16 and over, and a one-year musical theatre diploma for students aged 18 upwards.

Several drama schools offer diplomas to students aged 16 to 18, including Italia Conti, Tring Park School, the Brit School, Emil Dale Academy, Redroofs Theatre School, Bird College of Dance, Music and Theatre Performance and Laine Theatre Arts. Many of these schools also offer summer courses in musical theatre.

Another option is to audition for the National Youth Music Theatre and Youth Music Theatre UK; both provide world-class training and have notable alumni.

National Youth Music Theatre offers 10 to 23-year-olds skills workshops, masterclasses and residential courses led by industry professionals. NYMT also commissions and produces new British musical theatre work and annually produces new realisations of major works. They work with thousands of youngsters across the UK to develop both their creative and personal potential. Andrew Lloyd Webber calls this “the best youth music theatre in the world”.

Youth Music Theatre also offers very impressive training and performing opportunities throughout the UK to 11 to 21-year-olds. YMT specialises in creating new musical theatre, including Loserville, which went on to be produced professionally at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and in the West End. It was nominated for best new musical at several awards, including the Oliviers. YMT offers one-week summer courses all over the UK.

Round-up

If you want to become a triple-threat performer, the sooner the training starts, the better. Whether training starts at a full-time stage school, a part-time school, a nationally known group or a local group, one thing is certain: passion, determination and an excellent work ethic will be essential if you want to succeed.

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