The Theatretrain Way is what drives Theatretrain. It’s the idea that performance training should be accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Although Theatretrain is guided by its creative team, we encourage individual franchisee owners to make their locations their own. Each and every location has full creative licence. As the owner, you can take your personal experiences of the performing arts and turn them into a lively, engaging atmosphere for young people to learn to sing, act and dance.
Here, Theatretrain Exeter owner Paul Clark describes his experience and what he does to bring an element of adaptability to his theatre company.
Meet Paul Clark
Paul has worked within Theatretrain for years, finding new ways to develop his teaching skills and inspire his students. When he saw the opportunity to open his own Theatretrain location in Exeter, a spot in dire need of a professional theatre training centre, he jumped at it!
This is Paul’s story so far…
What Started Your Journey Into Theatre Training?
I am a secondary school maths teacher, and shortly after returning from a 6-month teaching secondment in New Zealand, I applied for an acting teacher’s position at Theatretrain Northampton. I worked there for two years before moving up to Staffordshire.
Shortly afterwards, I was asked if I would teach singing at Theatretrain Rugby and did this for 6 months before, once again, becoming the acting teacher when the existing teacher left. I stayed with Rugby for 4 years before I moved down to Devon in 2014.
I was then working in a boarding school, so time was very limited, but, having been involved with organising shows and trips with Theatretrain Rugby, I realised that setting up my own theatre school was the next step. Once I moved out of the boarding school, I finally decided to ‘go for it’ and start up my own theatre school.
What Drew You To Exeter?
Having researched the area and found that there were not too many local theatre schools in Exeter, I decided this was the best location for my own Theatretrain centre. There had been a school in Exeter a few years prior, but it had not lasted long.
I was, therefore, starting from scratch. We opened with 7 students in November and rapidly grew to 36 students by January. We then maintained around 40-45 students for a few years before a recent push in advertising boosted this to nearly 60 students in the main company.
That’s Fantastic! Why Did You Choose To Open A Franchise?
Having worked for Theatretrain before, taking a franchise with the company was the next logical step. Having always been involved in the performing arts with young people outside of my regular teaching job meant that a theatre school was an obvious choice.
How Did You Raise The Finance To Open?
I did not have to pay the fee until the end of Year 1, so used the profits from the first year to pay off the finance needed to buy the franchise.
This was a good incentive to ensure that my first year was successful!
Does Theatretrain Offer Training & Support To You?
There was a 2-day training programme provided prior to opening. I had done some training a few years back (before I moved to Devon) but then repeated this in September 2017 before opening.
This meant that I was fully up-to-speed with the latest developments within the company. Head Office has always provided support whenever needed, as well as information/training given at the Franchisee’s conference and the teacher training sessions.
Tell Us, What Does A Day In The Life Of A Franchisee Look Like?
Busy! I regularly spend at least an hour a day on admin. This can be responding to enquiries, creating and promoting adverts, keeping on top of fee payments, updating accounts, planning shows, emailing parents, etc…
As someone who is an efficient organiser, I really enjoy these aspects of the role as well as working with the students every week.
It Must Have Been A Challenge At Times…
Yes. The biggest challenge was getting the initial numbers to allow the centre to start. Thankfully, this went well, and numbers have steadily increased. During the past 5 years, we have already appeared on TV, performed at the Royal Albert Hall, completed three local shows, ran a trip to New York, performed at Disneyland Paris and taken a production of Alice in Wonderland to a youth festival in Switzerland.
These activities set us apart from our local competitors as we provide additional experiences for our students over and above the regular weekly classes.
This was highlighted during the Covid pandemic when we instantly switched to online classes. Although a challenge, we made it work, kept the interest of the students with classes and weekly challenges and allowed us to be creative in different ways. We even created a production during this time using Zoom and recording the results.
Always striving to be creative and adaptable meant that the lockdown classes were enjoyable for the students. The success of these online classes meant that we maintained healthy numbers when we could reopen our physical classes. Although we lost a lot of the older students, we gained new ones, and numbers never dipped below 40 during this time – which I felt was a real success.
Has Theatretrain Exeter Had An Impact On Your Own Life?
Realising that I can run my own business and be in control of what I do and how I operate has been an enjoyable experience. However, as I am still teaching full-time does mean that I work more than usual. The great thing is that running the franchise feels more like a hobby than work!
Is There A Work-Life Balance To It?
I try to keep Sundays free for my own time but do often find myself working! However, spending an hour a day every week means I can keep on top of things.
Have You Got Any Big Plans For The Future?
The great thing about being a franchisee is the opportunity to expand. Having grown the numbers in the main company to 60, I also added the Junior ensemble (4-5 year-olds) and two successful Musical Theatre groups. This has taken the overall numbers within the franchise to around 140 children.
The Musical Theatre model is great for my area as a lot of areas do not have the numbers to sustain a Main Company, but running a 90-minute musical theatre class is a great way to get students involved and to raise the profile of the business.
When It Comes To Staff, Do You Have Any Tips For Budding Franchisees?
Recruiting good staff is always difficult and, in my area, there are very few freelance teachers available. Anyone that is highly experienced in the industry tends to move away from the area to find work.
However, I have been very lucky and always managed to find a good teacher for each discipline. I pay them well and because they can also take part in some of the extra experiences that I offer (trips, performances, etc…) it keeps them interested on a creative level.
I now have 9 staff members working for me, and success is rewarded with pay increases or verbal recognition of the good work they have been doing.
Do You Get Into The Community Spirit Too?
All of our groups are involved in local community events (Christmas light switch-on, themed town events, etc..) as this helps to raise the profile of the business as well as giving the students further performance opportunities.
If You Could Give Franchisees Any Advice, What Would It Be?
Produce a good business plan for the first three years of operation and research the local competition carefully. If you know who your competitors are, where they operate and how much they charge, then you can target accordingly.
So In Your Opinion, What Makes A Successful Franchisee?
Good organisation skills and good communication with all (Head Office, teachers and customers).
Sounds Good. Do You Have Any Goals On The Horizon Keeping You Pushing Forward?
To continue to expand the business locally so as to provide more opportunities for more students. A local theatre has just closed its youth company, so I am currently looking into ways I can incorporate this into the Theatretrain portfolio.
And Lastly – If You Had To Do It All Again, What Would You Do Differently?
I can’t think of anything I would do differently, as it has been a learning journey, and you have to make mistakes to move forward.
Becoming A Theatretrain Owner…
Grow your own Theatretrain business with the ongoing support and collaborative community of the whole Theatretrain team. If you have a passion for teaching and performance, then this could be your opportunity to work for yourself doing what you love. Find out more here…