Drama club with a difference puts region’s youngsters in the spotlight

Tired of jazz hands, show tune standards and saying A HANDBAG!! over and over? Entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE visits a drama school with a difference.

I’M sitting in the strangest doctor’s waiting room EVER. People are falling asleep, talking to imaginary friends, trying to control chaotic limbs, ageing. Welcome to The Young Persons Theatre Project.

Their improv drama class over, I sit down with some of the students to see if it’s all as much fun as it looks.

Charlotte Murray, 16, from Woodbridge, loves the lack of jazz hands and smiles. She wants to study performing arts at university and loves the project’s gritty, practical approach to preparing her for a career on stage.

“It’s teaching the basics of what we need to do, how to get through the theatre life of auditions. In singing they teach you the composers whereas [at other schools] it was just ‘we’re going to learn this song’.

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“It’s a lot different to other drama groups; it gets down to what you need to know as an all-round performer.”

Romi Beresford-Levett, seven, from Ipswich, loves the acting and singing.

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“My mum was looking on the internet for stuff that I could do and came across this one. I really liked it when I had a trial,” says the wannabe future actor.

She counts stage fighting and acting as her favourite things learned so far; as well as the chance to make new friends.

That sense of comfort and friendliness was a big draw for Amber Burgoyne, 14, too, who travels all the way from Colchester to attend classes.

No stranger to performing - she does GCSE drama and got down to the last 40 hopefuls auditioning to perform with Ruthie Henshall at the Regent earlier this year - she says the school is more like a family.

“They’re teaching you what you want to learn and don’t make you feel closed off from the group. They make you feel comfortable within it so you’re not scared to do anything and the confidence you get afterwards is amazing.

“Being quite a shy person, to come here and do this... even watching other people do it, it helps you improve. It’s teaching me so much.”

Six-year-old Rufus Gladwell from Holbrook, comes along every Saturday with his seven-year-old sister Matilda.

Shy at first, he face lights up when talk turns to stage fighting. It’s the most fun thing he’s done yet.

“The first thing we did, we did pretend slapping,” he says, showing me how it works. I won’t spoil the secret of how it’s done though.

Josh Osborne, 16, from Rendlesham, is enjoying the chance to bring his singing and dancing up to par with his acting.

“They never used to be my stronger points it was more something to fall back on if ever needed; now it’s obviously going to be a lot easier for me in the future if I ever need to do anything for an audition.”

Handy if he’s to realise his ambition of appearing in Les Miserables in London’s West End.

Catching the performing bug after watching the Lion King as a small child, he’s performed in lots of school plays; everything from Grease and Dracula to Blood Brothers.

Since the Angel Theatre at Rendlesham closed, his drama displays have been restricted to school shows.

“This is the first time in a few years where I’ve actually been able to pick my feet back up and carry on with what I wanted to do.”

It’s really helped him understand how to sing - he no longers hides among the louder singers so he can’t be heard - and dance.

“You’re learning to do a variety of different things. We’ve done stuff from Phantom of the Opera, Little Shop of Horrors, My Fair Lady and then for dancing we’ve done contemporary, hip hop. With drama we’re doing improvisation, characterisation, a week ago we were doing drama fighting. Every week’s different,” he says.

“It makes me feel a lot more secure, I feel I’ve accomplished something and then I feel more comfortable when it comes to auditions that I know my stuff, I know what to expect.

“I feel a lot more confident with my abilities. Unlike most drama schools this isn’t a set syllabus. It allows you to discover your abilities as well as learn and have fun with it all.”

The YPTP focuses on dancing, acting and singing.

Classes are held at Suffolk New College in Ipswich from 10am-1pm every Saturday during term time and take place in the performing arts block, which includes the use of the fully-equipped dance studio and the two purpose-built theatres.

Classes are divided into three age groups; six-nines, ten-14s and 15-18s.

The tutors are professionally trained and experienced actors, dancers and theatre coaches and cover a range of topics including dance, TV coaching, voice training, mime and stage fighting among other techniques.

The project also has a national theatre and TV agency on board which monitors students throughout the year, with the potential to offer those who show real potential representation.

It was the brainchild of Tim Allsop, head of drama, who trained at The Guildhall School Of Music and Drama as an actor.

After graduating he joined The Royal Shakespeare Company where he performed for three years, mainly at the Barbican. He has toured with many companies throughout the UK.

While a commercial operation, it’s clear from the fun everybody is having, this isn’t about the money.

“It’s about giving quality and not just let’s get them all to dance for three hours because that’s not what we’re about,”

says Tim.

“We see ourselves as a drama school not a Saturday club. We have kids who say we can’t afford to come here and I say well we’ll find a way.”

The philosophy is very much to have fun while training.

It’s working, attracting youngsters from Witham, Clacton, Chelmsford and Woodbridge to name a few places.

The younger pupils develop an understanding of drama by playing theatre games, learning songs and having fun. These are the tutors’ building blocks which they use to discover kids who have ability and talent that can be honed as they progress through the age groups.

“Next term we’ve got radio and television facilities which we’re going to use for the older ones. We’ll do anything, I’d do horse riding if I could fit it in, but the corridor’s not long enough,” laughs Tim.

He stresses youngsters shouldn’t be afraid of giving their dream a go because they’re afraid they don’t have what it takes or they’ll make a fool out of themselves.

“Take that risk because you’ll never regret it. I will never ask you to read something from a script; we don’t do that, I’m looking for talent. Talent isn’t written on a piece of paper.

“I want people to come and say ‘look I think I’ve got something’. Come for a class and see how you get on. If you’ve got it, we’ll bring it out of you and nobody makes a fool of themselves with us, nobody.”

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