This year’s winner of The Stage Scholarship at Sylvia Young Theatre School is 12-year-old Gretchen Withecomb, from Lewisham in London. The award is valued at more than £70,000 and will provide full-time training in dance, acting and singing. The school has an international reputation for excellence and principal and founder Sylvia Young oversees the scholarship auditions.
Prior to her audition, Gretchen had been attending the D&B Academy of Performing Arts in Bromley for two years.
“I’ve always been quite theatrical,” says Gretchen. “I always used to sing when I was very young. We didn’t really know that I could do it properly. Then my mum signed me up to go to D&B. About six or eight months later, they signed me up to do the agency there, and I got into the agency, which was good.”
The audition process for the scholarship at SYTS can be quite daunting, with the initial round seeing 80 to 100 hopefuls.
“When I went into the later auditions, there were just the teachers and Sylvia, which was quite scary at the time. But when I did it, it was fine – although I did mess up one of the scripts I did, which caused me to have a panic attack after. I was like: ‘Ah, now I’ve completely messed it up! I’m not going to get it! I’ve done so badly wrong.’
“Then I went home and I was really sad, and my mum was like: ‘You’ve got through to the last round of the final five,’ which was insane. Then we did the same thing on the last audition and I was the only girl.”
Speaking of Gretchen’s audition, Young said: “Gretchen shone all the way through the selection process. She is engaging and had a very natural acting style. She lit up the room.”
‘Gretchen shone all the way through the selection process. She lit up the room’ – Sylvia Young
Even though Gretchen doesn’t start at SYTS until September, she is already being put forward for movies and musicals.
Her mother, Faye Withecomb, has always been encouraging of her daughter’s talent and is relieved that, thanks to Sylvia Young Theatre School and The Stage, drama training has become a viable option.
“Gretchen was not happy at her secondary school and we applied for her to go for the scholarship literally a week before the deadline. We feel extremely blessed and proud of our daughter’s achievement, which has changed the direction of her future in such a positive way, and are thankful of the opportunity.”