Performing arts teaches a lot more than how to perform

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This year the number of Stage scholarships – provided annually to children and young adults studying performing arts full time or part time in schools and colleges all over the country – is the largest ever awarded.

What a joy last Friday to meet 27 of the winners assembled at Fairfield Halls in Croydon to be photographed and interviewed in preparation for an exciting, pre-Christmas issue of The Stage on December 20 and an online video (take a look at last year’s) that will highlight their achievements.

Here, you can catch the 2012 winners’ enthusiastic early reactions, captured on the day…

Meanwhile, I spoke to the immensely proud mother and grandmother of a Razzamataz winner who had got up at 2am to catch the 4am Megabus from Sheffield to London so that they could all be in Croydon by 10am. Then there was the father who’d brought his nine year old winner from Penrith in Cumbria and two students who’ve won scholarships for the three year course at Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama (MADD) in Nottingham.

It was also a pleasure to chat to four winners from Susi Earnshaw Theatre School which I had visited in High Barnet only three days earlier. And I enjoyed catching up with the three Sylvia Young Theatre School winners because I was present at their auditions and helped with the scholarship judging in March.

What struck me about every single one of them was their extraordinary level of focus, maturity and professionalism. It is partly because they are all – by definition – talented, committed and very good at what they do. But there’s something else which the world at large tends to overlook.

Children and young people who are given plenty of opportunity to sing, dance, act, make music or perform in other ways, develop qualities which many of their contemporaries lack. They are disciplined – not in any perjorative, draconian way – but simply because they know they have to follow rules and instructions in order to perform to the best of their ability. That’s why they have self control too – as well as determination. Why is anyone surprised that pupils at schools such as Sylvia Young Theatre School or Susi Earnshaw Theatre School get some of the highest examination results in the country despite studying the mainstream curriculum for only part of the week? These children know how to learn and they are extremely hard working.

When the 27 were being photographed as a group they had to sit or stand quietly for the best part of an hour while photoshoot photographer Alex Brenner tweaked their positions – and the hair and make up people dealt with the finishing touches. There was no fidgeting or grumbling. Just admirable self-discipline, grace and good humour.

Yes, performing arts training does a great deal more than develop performing artists. Anyone with responsibility for education silly enough to believe that music, dance and drama are frivolous luxuries, please note.