“ Address: 98 Kidbrooke Grove / Blackheath / London / SE3 0LG / Tel: 0208 293 5848 „
My daughter used to attend a stage school called 'Rascals' from the age of seven to thirteen. Initially, I decided to send her to a stage school as she wanted to join a club outside of school, and I thought a little acting, singing and dancing would help to boost her confidence. She went along with some friends and, for a while, had a great time. However, during the last year or two at this stage school I realised she wasn't learning much, if anything, and had now become serious about singing and acting. My daughter had won a couple of competitions yet there was no feedback whatsoever from this school as to her having any ability or not, and she never got to do much in the way of performing. I thought it very 'cliquey'.
Thus began the search for a new school.
I did my research mainly on the internet, looking at several stage schools. I had to bear in mind cost, travel and, as my daughter was mainly interested in singing, teachers who were as interested in vocals as they were in dance.
My search led me to Step Up Music Theatre school. I was impressed by the blurb of the principal, Nathalie Richardson. It seemed to be what I, and my daughter, were looking for. Ms Richardson had graduated from the Guildhall School of Music, in opera. She was qualified in jazz and piano. It seemed too good to be true! Also it was NOT franchised.
Step Up Music Theatre School was founded in 1996 after a successful summer school and has gone from strength to strength since.
I noticed that this stage school had branches held in a school at Woodford Green, Essex, not too far from our home, and three further schools located in south London, AND after school clubs. I wondered, with all this going on, would we ever see this head of school? However, nothing ventured, nothing gained...I contacted Ms Richardson by Email to explain that I wanted a stage school which would provide opportunities for my daughter who was very interested in theatre. The response was prompt and a free session offered to my daughter and any friends she wanted to bring along. I was assured that many opportunities were available.
The next Saturday morning my daughter went along, for her first taste of this school's singing, dancing and acting. When the session had finished I was told by my daughter that Nathalie, the principal, had been in attendance throughout. There were different teachers for each subject and she immediately recognised that they were of a much superior standard than at her last stage school. She also said that the head was very much involved and had asked her to sing, which she did. Later, I was given constructive feedback.
So my daughter became a regular member of Step Up. The principal said that she would be pleased to teach her privately as she thought a career in singing was very possible. I had been looking for a vocal tutor for my daughter, so was happy to have found a teacher who I thought knew what she was talking about. Also, I could tell that my daughter seemed to have a rapport with this teacher, which is a positive factor.
This theatre school offers so many opportunities. I am still amazed at what comes up. In the three and a half years that my daughter has been a pupil these are some of the events:
*For the last two years, a weekend trip to Disneyland Paris, where pupils took part, and with success, in the, 'European Festival of Dance and Performing Arts' held in Disney.
* A yearly Gala show featuring talent from all the schools in a professional theatre. This is of a very high standard with all pupils participating.
*An internal competition that children can enter in each Step Up school in singing, acting, dance or in a group. Many go through to compete against the other schools in Step Up to find overall winners. They are awarded with trophies, medals and prizes. The idea of this is to boost confidence to enable children to go forward to compete and audition. I think it also very important to add that at the final an outside judge is brought in. We have met a judge from the 'Swingle Sisters', George Ure (Boq in 'Wicked') and Chloe Hart (Tracey in 'Hairspray').
*Competitions, such as Festival4Stars, Ukunsigned and many others. My daughter self esteem has greatly improved because of entering in contests.
*Group visits to many top West End shows, including, 'Legally Blonde', 'Hairspray' and 'Wicked'. I could never have funded this if my daughter had not gone as a group having subsidised rates.
*Every year all pupils take part in a graded Trinity Guildhall exam for either performing arts or musical theatre. They are also given the opportunity to enter solo exams. The solo exams can be expensive but it's a great advantage to be prepared for them within the stage school lesson, at no extra fee other than entry for the exam, and not have to travel further than the stage school for the actual exam, as the examiner visits the school. Pupils can enter from a beginner's level or even take a diploma. I think this is wonderful and definitely worth budgeting for.
*A yearly summer school held at three of the stage schools. Children take part in a musical and in one week learn a full version of a play such as 'The sound of Music', 'Hairspray', 'Oliver' or 'The Lion King'. It's wonderful to see what they learn in one week whilst having so much fun.
The lesson content for each subject is varied and takes into account different abilities. Children are placed into age related groups but do get to know others in the school. In south London tap and ballet has been introduced.
I am very pleased with the teachers who have mainly stayed the same in the time that my daughter has attended. I think this is unusual in stage schools. It is inevitable that some times teachers from other schools will be brought in for the odd week or two, as the teachers are also 'rising stars' and sometimes have auditions or appear in shows. They are all qualified and, I understand, have been CRB checked.
One thing that I really like is the support that Step Up pupils give to their peers. They seem to have a rare camaraderie. Although they come from different locations, they meet up often for shows and competitions and form lasting friendships. It's lovely to see these kids when they are on their trips as they are well behaved, articulate young people and a credit to their school. Attending a club like this certainly keeps kids occupied, with a special focus. Going to Step Up is MUCH more fun than hanging around on street corners!
The fees are £225 per term (three terms per year). This can be paid once or in instalments. I did find this a little more to pay than at the previous stage school but, as value for money goes, I would honestly say that it's well worth it. Previously, I was paying for my daughter to just have fun but now she is learning many skills. At the time of joining, other comparable stage schools were more expensive. Reductions are available for siblings attending.
Another thing that I find reassuring about Step Up is that children start there from about four or five years old and many stay for years. I know of pupils around the age of eighteen who are still very committed and are helped with the audition process for musical theatre colleges, performing arts courses etc. I don't think my daughter will ever want to leave! I think she sleeps, breathes and eats Step Up!
I believe the success is down to the commitment put in by the head and her teachers. It's more than just a business or part time job, or at least that's how it looks to me. The principal is always at her stage schools and gets to knows all children and parents, as do the dedicated team of teachers. The environment at the schools is friendly but hard working. Although the pupils socialise there is a feeling of coming there to learn to do something they love. Of course, they will not all have careers in the industry but those that do will have been given a good grounding. I believe time spent at Step Up will be a worthwhile, character building experience.
There are more opportunities than I have mentioned here but if you are at all interested, then the site is: www.stepupschool.co.uk. This is a good comprehensive site which will give you all the information you need.
A similar review may be found on www.ciao.co.uk under the username AnneLorraine1