I hope you will forgive a semi-indulgent blog in honour of this once in a lifetime day!
When I look back, theatre work has run through my life. As a child I made theatres and wrote plays. It was an escape and a chance to make sense of my world. Performing at school and the National Youth Theatre fed my passion and showed me a way of extending that world. I loved being part of a team and being challenged by those around me.
As a teacher I found the drama curriculum a bit dull. It didn’t allow the kids to bring their own feelings into the work. It certainly didn’t teach them what I would regard as theatre skills. I found the school play was the place where I could make all these things happen. Kids have great ideas and when they are enthusiastic they are amazing, especially en masse. I came to realise it wasn’t about me and that changed me.
Working in a London theatre, that existed solely to teach about all aspects of theatre, gave me an even better model for how things could be and after being inspired by my Russian acting teacher who taught me how to make the work ‘in the moment’ I was ready to teach all ages and levels at home and abroad.
Creating Theatretrain meant I could put my thoughts in a bigger picture. And, along the way I have met so many lovely and like-minded people who believe in the same things – energy, enthusiasm and commitment wrapped up in theatre skills. Then the big performance where we come together as a massive team and make something bigger, joyful and even inspiring.
Like us all, I still have much to learn and plenty more to say. I love the way we can constantly grow the work in new ways. I’ll never tire of that.
I don’t feel 70. I feel 40. I think it’s partly because my passion for what I do gives me energy and if you give out energy you get as much back. It’s also a love for this special art that lets you step into another world and find unexpected and delightful things. If you strip it all away it’s about love, love for each other, for the world and for the work.
Quick fire Q&A with Kevin Dowsett
What’s the one thing you wish you could have said to your younger self?
Don’t worry, everything will be alright.
What are your thoughts on ageism in the theatre? Does it exist?
As they say age is just a number. If you have your health you can do as much as anyone else. Yesterday the barista at my local coffee shop said hello young sir. I knew he was joking but I’m not insulted because the important thing is to accept who you are and don’t try to pretend you are something else.
What are 7 standout memories with Theatretrain? One for each decade!
It’s 8 memories and one for luck. Could have written many more.
- The first big show at the Bloomsbury Theatre 1993. There were only 3 centres then but the sound they made was amazing. What I’d call a wall of sound. I love that level of passion. Robert and I vowed that day to one day perform at that Royal Albert Hall. It took 11 years to happen.
- The Long and Winding Road at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1997. Our first truly big show played on the set for Miss Saigon. We performed the Long and Winding Road and as a Beatles fan it was fun to see their music was still loved by a new generation. We were joined on stage by many celebrities including (now) Dame Floella Benjamin. By chance our last rehearsal in the Bishopsgate Institute had been used the day before by Sir Paul McCartney. He sent us a message of support for the programme.
- Lingen Germany. The World Festival of Children’s Theatre 1994. The first time representing our country at a major performing arts event. Gemma Collins and her brother Russell were in the cast of The Box. We created a story about the power of television over young people’s lives. These days it would be social media.
- Songs of the Century. Royal Albert Hall 2004. We made it. What a challenge. How do you put 1200 young people into performing space in a meaningful way. We decided to tell the story of the twentieth century in 5 year chunks. This meant taking the most popular song of those five years and telling the story of those times. You should have heard Pack Up your Troubles in your Old Kit bag and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary sung at the same time as World War One was enacted below. The thunderous applause at the end came after a long pause while the audience wondered what they had just witnessed. Now it’s something we know well how to do.
- O2 Arena 2013. 20@O2. To celebrate our twentieth birthday we decided to bring the whole company into one show and to perform extracts from all our previous shows. To prepare Robert and I presented two massive O2 shows with 6000 schoolchildren each time so 3000 was a piece of cake. Many wonderful moments and great to see staff performing alongside their students.
- In 2018 Raising £62,738.92 in one hour for our charity the Theodora Children’s Charity. Each centre simultaneously danced to a set of sponsored songs. It was amazing to see parents being so generous for this much needed charity.
- March 2020 On the first Saturday of the pandemic Robert and I hosted a live Facebook event. It was a disaster partly because our wifi wouldn’t sync with each other. The following week we launched Saturday Live and for 18 months Robert, Jenny and I became TV presenters and met many wonderful Theatretrain people.
- Theatretrain Centre Director Conference July 2022. The first conference for 3 years and I was surprised for my birthday at the Gala Dinner with gifts, a cake and messages on line from Theatretrain pupils, then up popped our Patron Fred Molina.
And it hasn’t happened yet but Royal Albert Hall 2023. Our next show will be our 100th large scale production. It’s called We’re Gonna. Change the World and is what Theatretrain parents, pupils and teachers think we need to do with the world to make it a better place. So the work goes on.
Happy Birthday, Kevin! You can also checkout our full interview with Kevin as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations for Theatretrain.