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Why teaching at stage school is a great option

Matilda star Charles Brunton with students at PQA Warwick
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Roald Dahl’s Miss Trunchbull might not be the first teacher who springs to mind when it comes to ensuring that young performers have a positive experience of stage school.

Fortunately, it is under the far more encouraging eye of Charles Brunton, who has played the role in both the West End and Broadway productions of Matilda, that workshop and masterclass attendees at the Pauline Quirke Academy get to develop their talents.

Brunton is one of the many experienced and successful performers who complement their onstage work with teaching at stage school.

“I had just returned from New York when I got an urgent call from a friend who was desperately looking for someone to come into her school, as a guest teacher had pulled out at the last minute. I created a lesson plan that focused on confidence building and audition techniques, followed by a fun routine from Matilda. I was quite nervous, as it was my first experience teaching in a classroom environment. However, to my surprise I -immediately relaxed into it. The session was really good fun and the children worked their socks off.  

“A couple of weeks later I received an email with feedback from the kids and parents – it was excellent and the teacher had noticed a dramatic improvement in the students.

“One girl had even just been cast in Matilda. Since then I have received a lot of interest in providing workshops/masterclasses in a number of different schools, colleges and drama groups. I have been lucky enough to earn a living out of it between acting roles.”

Amanda Ling is a choreographer and director with more than 20 years of experience who teaches at Stagecoach Watford. She agrees that teaching in stage schools can offer both regular income and job satisfaction in equal amounts. “It was important to earn money doing what I loved as well as to complement the choreography and directing work I was doing on the fringe, but over the years it has also been delightful to see some of my pupils go on to become not only professional actors, dancers and singers but also technical crew.

“Some have even gone on to become teachers in their own right.”

Katherine Barry, who runs Watford Stagecoach, agrees that teaching at stage schools is an excellent way for performers to earn income and still be available for auditions in the week.

However, she stresses that while formal teaching qualifications – though useful – are not strictly necessary, one quality is absolutely essential: “Obvious as it sounds, you need to like working with kids. Those that have darkened my door who were clearly just ‘doing it for the money’ didn’t last very long – people think it’s easy but they soon find out it isn’t.

“Teenagers in particular are very good at sniffing out an ‘imposter’ and will run rings around anyone who isn’t well-prepared and on top of their game.”

With credits ranging from working with -Rhianna and Will.i.am to Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams, Bird College graduate Victoria Leung is, by any standards, on top of her game as a commercial dancer.

However, she still makes time to teach classes at Singer Stage School in Essex where she started her own training at the age of eight. “The principal Sandra Singer has a great policy of using working industry guests to teach her students. My early experience was being taught by leading performers and artists such as Danny Crossley and Nikki Trow. They inspired so many of us to make performing a career choice. I wanted to be able to carry on that tradition.”

Singer is another experienced stage school principal who insists that while skills are -important, energy and professionalism are equally key.

“I expect great skills and technique in the style of dance they are teaching my -students,” she says. “They need to come prepared with what they are teaching with both the -choreography and music in a suitable format.

“They also need to be patient, have a sense of humour and, most importantly, not be late for the start of a teaching day. They need to not only be excellent performers but also role models that my students can aspire to be like.”

Leung suggests that performers who want to explore teaching find a school or college they like the ‘style’ of, especially if they are looking to work on a regular basis.

This was the route actor Sam Marsden   took into teaching. “When I was 18 I called my old youth theatre asking if I could -volunteer, but instead they offered me a teaching job after a trial. I taught a class of 12 to 14-year-olds once a week. This experience led to other teaching work and eventually to my book Teach Drama: How to Make a Living as a Freelance Drama Teacher.

“I particularly love helping shy students or students from difficult backgrounds. My best experience as a teacher was seeing an autistic, non-verbal eight-year-old boy speaking in my drama class for the first time ever. His parents were shocked, as was I,” she says.

As with other performer/teachers (and the stage school principals seeking to employ them), Marsden encourages performer serious about working in this field to invest time in acquiring teaching skills.

“After I took a short course at Bigfoot Arts Education everything changed. They taught me all the tricks I needed to know. After you’ve learnt classroom discipline skills, teaching becomes much more creative and joyful.”

Even for an experienced performer like Brunton, stage school teaching can have personal learning benefits too.

“It’s helped keep up my stamina, energy levels, vocal strength and fitness. I enjoy it so much that when acting I continue to fit in workshops whenever I can.

“Last year, while doing the European tour of  The Rocky Horror Show, I occasionally flew back from Germany to do workshops. At one point I had a waiting list of 35 schools. I’m glad to say I’ve finally got through that list now.”

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