WHAM Theatre Schools is a brand new performing arts model that is closing the gap between those students who just want to gain confidence, and those who want to progress further via Exams, Agency Work, Advanced Training and Performance Opportunities.
THE CREATION OF WHAM!
WHAM has been created by experienced performer, teacher, experienced business owner, Mark Bowman, who is originally from Sidcup, Kent. Currently trialling the successful model in Belfast, Mark made the move over to Northern Ireland in September 2017. He has put thought and care into this new theatre school model, using his previous industry experience along with a team of his close contacts in the Entertainment & Arts industry. Before coming over to NI, Mark worked at the Iconic Abbey Road Studios as the Head of School for the Abbey Road Institute, and before this, ran performing arts schools via PQA, which was set up by Birds of a Feather TV star Pauline Quirke, and was the original Principal to launch their Academy in Longfield, back in 2016. He's also run adult Pop Choirs via the ever growing brand Glee Club UK.
He says "As a performer, and as a teacher/school owner, I witnessed so many different techniques & processes that were brilliant for the younger generation when training, but I also came across some very poor ones too,and when you work under a large brand, it's very difficult to implement the changes that you personally feel are best for your students, which is why I wanted to take my time and create WHAM".
So, what has been implemented from his learning curve, you ask? Mark explains the most important element is ensuring that the students needs are considered. "As much as I enjoyed my time as a Franchisee of quite a few performing arts networks, I would find that the opportunities for the students wouldn't be set necessarily by their ability / desire in how they work under pressure, it was just by age. I would get children attend who absolutely loved their classes on a Saturday, and made such amazing progress with their technique, but were just there to learn new skills and gain confidence.
However, on the other end of this scale, Mark recalls he would also have students that were motivated by the larger scale projects, and thrived on pressure and adrenaline. When it came to showtime, exams, and auditions, I would have a division of those who needed these opportunities to remain motivated. They would become bored if they didn't.
Hence, WHAM offers these advanced progression routes to those students who want to follow it, but this is offered separately, outside of the classes. "The classes are our foundation of what we do, and these will NEVER be compromised for large scale productions or stressful exams. Any opportunities for larger shows, solo exams, agency sessions will be scheduled away from our standard timetabled Musical Theatre Class.
Mark also had concerns about the students who had different priorities:
Performing Arts is often assumed as 'Jazz-Hands' and 'all things big', but the students who didn't come to our classes for this reason, quickly became stressed, miserable and unhappy during show or exam rehearsals. This was because they went from doing their enjoyable Musical Theatre & Drama classes every week, to suddenly sitting in rehearsals for 3 hours with an enormous amount of pressure to remember lines, costumes and lyrics.
It wasn't until Mark had moved onto new projects, that he found the time to reflect on what he had experienced. He says "I stopped running theatre classes and stepped back into Music Production in 2017 at Abbey Road Institute, and I missed it so much, but I felt that before I ever went back into this field, I needed to take the time to learn from the wonderful experience I had to create something that I (as the founder) believed in, and felt would have a chance of working!".
Even though he describes himself as a motivated and ambitious individual, Mark also comments on his awful confidence & self esteem issues as a child : "I was extremely shy as a teenager, and I had very low self-esteem, however, I knew that music & performing arts was where my career was going to be. I HATED my drama lessons at school, because I was so self conscious of performing in front of my other classmates, but, in Music, I was a completely different child, but I secretly had a strong desire to act and perform. Although, at that time, I wouldn't have coped with the pressure of performances & drama exams. I was a mess when it came to performing in front of examiners and an audience. Despite this, my drama lessons outside of school were wonderful! I could be myself, and after a few years, it gave me the confidence to become that performer I wanted to be when I enrolled at College".
Mark is also an advocate for Mental Health in Young People, after describing Anxiety, Depression and Stress in the Younger Generation is "Extremely Real". Mark also states that it's important to try and give the younger generation downtime.... "I used to run my classes on a weekend, and as convenient as we thought it might be, attendance could be an issue. It is easy to forget that weekends provide children with time to rest, and switch off their batteries. We would find that if families wanted to go away for the weekend, they would be in a position of having to choose their classes, or precious time away. This is why the survey came back with a weeknight preference, which is why we decided on a weekday evening. There is so much pressure on our children today, and mental health still isn't taken into consideration where their education is concerned. I remember feeling depressed, and anxious as a teenager, but I didn't know what it was at the time, and we're seeing this become more real in our younger generation".
So, when putting the Theatre School Model together, Mark took the feedback he'd previously received from parents, teachers and students to build WHAM. "From fees to class times & days in mind, I created a survey and asked parents to kindly complete this, and I am so glad I did, because parents & guardians are the ones that support their children in their activities, and when it comes down to it, they're the ones that make it happen for their kids! They're the ones that take the time out their day to drive their children to their clubs, supply their costumes, make sure they have a drink with them when they come to their classes, and ultimately, commit to their child's needs. So I wanted to hear from parents, on what they felt would be best for their child and their lifestyle".
As a parent, you'll probably want to know why you should send your child to WHAM, and 'what makes it different?' Mark says "We're not competitive, and we certainly don't want our students to feel that they have to sacrifice ANY type of training they attend already or enjoy regularly. Our training system has been set up to try and support our students' journey in finding themselves, not to try and entice them away from other schools or providers". When asked about this, he continued "There is so much unnecessary competition between dance schools, performing arts academies and drama groups, and I've never understood why. It's important to remember this; as a performer, we set up schools & theatre groups because we are passionate about what we do, and instilling growth & development into our students....... I couldn't think of anything worse than being the only theatre school available! We should all be working together to help our students, and if that means they need multiple memberships at different training establishments, so be it!".
WHAM also has some impressive Patrons, supporting Mark and the school model, some of who are West End Performers, and in the Music Industry. CITV presenter and Former West End Leading-Man Chris Till (from Gravesend) says:
"As a professional Performer working in the West End and on TV, I've come across many different training platforms within the performing arts industry. WHAM allows the younger generation to be supported, regardless of their ability,without them having to worry that they will be uncomfortably challenged, or, not challenged enough! I've known Mark for over 7 years, and his approach to Performing Arts Training is not only filled with passion, but his nurturing & compassionate persona ensures student needs are at the forefront of what he does. Not only this, the WHAM team are professional, compliant, and full of energy! Your child will be in the best hands at your local WHAM school. Best of luck to all students across the WHAM Network! " - CHRIS TILL - Patron
Another Actor, Luke Higgins local to Dartford, Kent , where WHAM also has a school says:
"I've had the pleasure of working with Mark on various creative projects, and have had the honour of teaching workshops to his students. When I was growing up, performing arts training was either very energetic/ambitious, or too gentle, which was extremely difficult to reach out to those who were in the middle! With the WHAM model, kids can have fun in the classes, and decide whether or not to take the extra opportunities that are offered to them! Some kids, teens, and adults, just want to learn a new skill in the arts for confidence building, which is wonderful! However, there are also some young performers that are hungry for success, and I absolutely love how WHAM has considered this. Go TEAM WHAM!" - LUKE HIGGINS - Patron
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM WHAM.....
Now you've heard the ethos of WHAM Theatre Schools, you'll most likely want to know the weekly setup and how it all works practically! Well, our core class at WHAM is Musical Theatre. This is because students can experience triple-threat performing arts in a fun and stimulating environment, that is also affordable and anything from 45 to 75 minutes a week" says Mark.
You're probably thinking, this all sounds great, but how much does it cost?! Well, WHAM offer monthly, affordable memberships via direct debit, and you're only ever in a 30 day contract if you choose the monthly option. Prefer to pay upfront? No problem, WHAM can offer bulk 11 sessions, with a whopping 20% discount! Have more than one child who wants to attend? Sign them up and your youngest child gets a 25% family discount on their fees! The groups are divided into the following classes:
WHAM BUBZ (1.5 years to 18 months - opening in Sept) - 45-60 min classes with parents
WHAM BAMZ (4 & 5 years) - 45 minute classes
WHAM JUNIORS (6 to 8 years) - 60 minute classes
WHAM MIDS (9 to 11 years) - 75 minute classes
WHAM SENIORS (12/13+ years) 75 minute classes
PRIVATE TUITION INCLUDES MUSIC THEORY, KEYBOARDS/PIANO & VOCALS
Parents & Guardians will be pleased to know that WHAM STAYS OPEN DURING THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS! Why? "Because the amount of parents that used to tell me their kids would get bored during the summer, but summer schemes would often be far too much financially. You'll often find that most families go away for one or two weeks holiday, then the rest of the time, they've got no more plans! We run for 45 weeks of the year (Northern Ireland 44 weeks of the year), and only have a break at Christmas, Easter and Half Term / Mid-Breaks". Says Mark.
PARTNERSHIPS & OPPORTUNITIES
What else does WHAM offer it's students? Well, as promised, the Theatre School model delivers the classes as standard, which also includes some smaller open classes for parents to see their children's progress, and group Musical Theatre examinations in which students can gain a qualification by devising an excerpt from a Musical, during their lesson.
We've also partnered with Kent-based "Kitsch Agency" so we can offer our students the chance to experience castings, and to develop their career. This partnership has some interesting history, which Mark explained; I have known the owner Kelly for quite a few years now, and the way she runs the business is absolutely wonderful. She's a mum, a professional performer / trained dancer, a business owner, which simply has made her one of the best agents around! Both her kids have had fantastic success over the years, and she knows the business inside out. Like me, she's experienced the positives, and the no-so positives!
When asked about the partnership with WHAM, Kelly Kalfa, owner & director of Kitsch, responded: "As a parent with 2 children in the industry, I've come across a lot of different theatre and drama schools, all of which are beneficial, but I love the fact that WHAM considers the kids from both sides of the coin. The industry is hard, and can be extremely stressful especially on children, however, there are some that can take it, and others can't I love how WHAM doesn't push those who just don't want to subject themselves to the industry, yet, for those that 100% do, they will support them and lead them in the right direction. It's amazing!"
What about the larger-scale performances you ask? When we asked Mark about this, his response was that he felt constantly putting pressure on every student to perform in a large scale show is just too much for some children. However, to fit in with the model, he's put the following in place: "As I mentioned before, I am against pushing students to take part in the Jazz-Hands style shows. Nowadays, you don't necessarily need that experience to gain experience in front of an audience. Sometimes, you can produce a high-quality play in a small studio theatre, or in-the-round (where your audience is sitting in a circle around you). I've produced plays for my students at RADA before, and they performed in their small studio theatre space, and it was absolutely amazing! Sometimes, less is more." But what if you're screaming at this article saying "My child DOES want to take part in large scale shows?!!!!", Mark comments "We will still offer students the larger scale opportunities, but we will be running rehearsals, auditions and preparation on a separate day away from the classes, and will often partner with a production company. One of our companies is James Arts Productions, based in South East London who hopes to cover all WHAM locations. We have a number of partner companies in Belfast too".
Director of James Arts Productions , Scott James says "We're a company that specifically specialises in production, we don't run theatre schools or these type of classes in house, so partnering with WHAM is perfect for it's students to gain experience in a professional performance. Our rehearsals do provide students with the necessary skills and an accurate reflection of what it would be like in the industry. They will often be working with other professional actors during their rehearsals too ".
THE BORING BUT IMPORTANT STUFF.....
Exciting isn't it? As much as Mark wants you to know how much fun your children will have at WHAM Theatre Schools, he also wants to let parents know that WHAM take their duty of care seriously when it comes to Safeguarding children. "We love what we do at WHAM, however, parents & guardians also want to know their children are in safe hands, and have the correct procedures in place. So would I as a parent, and that's why all of our schools all hold a Child Safeguarding Policy, Public Liability Insurance, hold a risk assessment, have First Aiders at every session, and every team member holds an Enhanced AccessNI / DBS check as well as taking part in Child Protection Training. 99.9% of the time, things run perfectly, and so smoothly, but nurturing children's development is so important, and we're delighted that parents choose us to assist in shaping their children's futures & personalities, that's why we must have these necessary procedures in place. Mark also says they're members of the Pre-School Learning Alliance to keep their skills and procedures up to date! By becoming part of an existing organisation or body, you're given up to date information & guidelines, which help us provide the best services to our students, we're always evolving, and keeping our model fresh and exciting!