I am asking this question on behalf of three people – myself, my husband and our 10-year-old son. He is currently in home education and very passionate about music and performing arts, and we want to give him more time so that he can do more of what he loves.
He has already achieved several grades in both singing and musicianship working with private tutors, but we want to find a good stage school for him to help not only with his career ambitions but also with his social life. Also, he likes acting and we would love for him to be able to develop those skills in the same way he is working on his musical skills.
Neither of us comes from a theatre or music background, so we are not really sure what we should be looking for in terms of a school where he will be happy but which will also give him the best chance of success, if he decides to enter the industry in the future.
Every year I hear from parents who want to support their youngsters’ performing ambitions, but whose expertise has been gained in entirely different walks of life. I have been asked the same questions by parents already working in theatre and film. Our industry changes so rapidly that the older generation is often unsure their own route when first starting out will work as well for their offspring. Talent flourishes when built on a solid foundation, and confidence grows when that talent is supported by sensible, current information.
I’m sure you already know to steer clear of anyone making over-the-top promises of fast tracks to fame and fortune, especially when accompanied by high-pressure selling. As supporting your child’s performing ambitions is likely to involve an ongoing time and money commitment, it is perfectly reasonable to look for instruction that enables a young person to develop their performing skills for the sheer joy of it, but also provides the best chance of using those skills to gain real castings, if they are interested. There are plenty of reputable schools, both independent and part of franchises, which can tick both boxes.
If I were looking to find one for my own kids, it would definitely be one where most of the tutors were currently or very recently active in the performing business in addition to their teaching work, where the material and styles being worked on include contemporary as well as classic shows, and where the focus is on bringing out the best in each individual student rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Remember that ultimately this is a talent, experience and application rather than qualifications-based industry. At 10 years old, the more opportunities you can create for your son to gain experience working with different tutors, applying their talents to a variety of creative projects and interacting with other performers as a group, the better.
For example, if you and your son want to develop his range of acting skills, it is worth seeking out a stage school that gives the same focus to this area as it does to musical skills. How that works in practice would be a good question to ask the principal beyond general information contained in marketing materials. You might also see if your local theatre runs a youth drama group and what the lower age limit is. Other parents, children and word of mouth can be good sources of information – and don’t be afraid to shop around because, in doing so, there are a lot of useful experiences to be gained.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at email@example.com or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne