Our Art Director and Founder, Kevin Dowsett, is feeling rather nostalgic as we celebrate 30 years of Theatretrain this month with our grand “Summer by the River” performance at The Scoop on Saturday. Here’s what he had to say…
This month I finally got to visit Theatretrain Portsmouth. James Percy, the Centre Director, opened during the pandemic which was a brave thing to do. The pupils got to know each other online rather than in the flesh and so must have been slightly fazed when it really came time to meet. The same with James and I – we had sorted it out through zoom too.
I needn’t have worried! This new centre was bubbling over with excited pupils who were preparing their production of Matilda. Their enthusiasm was as infectious as it is in other centres. It was lovely to see them going through a whole centre warm up, squeezing into the space and moving to the music after which they belted out a spontaneous burst of “We Don’t Talk about Bruno.” Then they all linked arms and reminded themselves what they stood for. How they supported each other, and others supported them and finally how you need a sense of humour. Then it was down to work and, when hush was asked, all those people made a working atmosphere of silence and focus. I had a great time and, apart from a joint photo, I was a fly on the wall – which is exactly how it should be. The focus is always the work.
I say all this because it just happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of my first ever Theatretrain class. Just one centre in Ilford, Essex and among that first class were Gemma Collins, aka The GC! Now more well known as a star of reality TV, fashion designer, influencer and, more recently, getting back on that stage with her one-woman show! And, Jason Kew, now the Technical Supervisor of Lighting at the Barbican Concert Hall. Jason has been the stage manager for most of our 99 London Shows. A highly professional and very loyal team player.
This week I’m looking back on all those years and thinking of the thousands of young people who have worked with us, the teachers, the centre directors, the shows – the sheer energy, scale and excitement of our work. Also, our international success – most of 30 years have taken us to other countries or brought other countries to us.
It has been an honour for me to found and lead this company and I’ll continue to do it; I hope for years to come. I’m often asked if I knew it would grow so big and my answer is yes. Right from the start I wanted to create an organisation that had many centres, and I knew it had to be in a different way to everyone else. So that’s what we’ve done.
I’m proud of the fact that no other performing arts company brings so many young people together to perform from across the country – in iconic theatres with shows that challenge them to be part of something big – something that gives them a powerful glimpse of a shared feeling. The feeling you get when 5000 are cheering you on and drying their eyes as you take your bow.
And it all starts with that same feeling that I saw, anew, this week in Portsmouth. Here’s to the pupils from all those centres travelling to celebrate and sing in London at the Scoop this Saturday. And here’s to the next 30 years!
Nice one, Kevin! For those not in the loop, Theatretrain is a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 3 -18 that specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost you can find a centre at one of the 80 locations across the UK or check out our recent blog on why kindness matters in performing arts
For more info on the 30th Birthday event in London, head to our Facebook event.