What price fame? A lot of hard work

24th May 2013 at 01:00
We must teach children that success in the arts doesn't happen overnight, Stefan Anderson says

Since the proliferation of reality shows such as The X Factor and Got to Dance, children increasingly want to be "stars". However, many equate success with this kind of instant stardom, rather than realising that most careers in the performing arts blossom only after years of hard work and the slow nurturing of raw talent. Success is very far from immediate.

Ella Henderson, a UK finalist on The X Factor last year, was a student at my school for five years and she illustrates my point. Ella is extremely talented and we were delighted to have played a part in her development - she worked very hard for a long time.

Since Ella's success, we have received an influx of enquiries and applications to our courses, and we attribute some of this to the X Factor phenomenon. Yet the quality of many applicants is poor and their expectations are massive. Many potential students, and parents, think that success is just around the corner. The reality is that a career in the performing arts includes vocational training and years of learning your craft, be it musical theatre, singing, dance or drama. It requires the best teachers to train the aspiring young performer.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that many of those who have found stardom on reality shows have crashed and burned? Not only do you need to train your body and voice but you must also increase your stamina and discipline, and often change your lifestyle. You also need to learn how, socially and psychologically, to deal with the pressures of life in the performing arts.

Many of our students - including Lily James, who stars in Downton Abbey and is about to play Cinderella in the new Disney blockbuster - rack up years of experience in London shows before they get their first big break, and they are well prepared before they head off to auditions.

It is great that reality programmes are celebrating the performing arts but we need to educate those who are interested in the sector about the reality, rather than make it look as if one audition will result in their getting the lead in a West End show or becoming a finalist in a reality series.

Programmes such as The X Factor are positive as they bring performing arts to a mass audience and inspire people to pursue their dreams. But what needs to be recognised by, and explained to, anyone who strives for a career in the performing arts is how the industry works.

Many expect rejection early on in their careers, but dealing with it, accepting constructive criticism and realising that a part may not be right for you is key. Rejection is part and parcel of the industry and at our school we are determined to make it clear that highs and lows are inevitable. Creating a solid portfolio of work and expanding one's repertoire is essential to preparing for a career in the performing arts. Television programmes show the public raw talent but they do not train or mentor that talent for the long term.

Just as damaging can be situations where students are catapulted into the spotlight before they are professionally and emotionally ready. Stardom may happen quickly but success does not. Success means hard work, learning your trade and building credibility and stamina.

In many industries, the older and more experienced you are, the more interesting the opportunities become. In the world of performing arts it is often the reverse. Although more parts are now available for mature actors, far more are on offer to the young. This means that students need to safeguard their future. Young performers need to ensure that they have more strings to their bows - directing or producing in drama, for example, and teaching or choreography in dance.

To succeed in the performing arts requires talent, passion and thousands of hours of focused training. And it bears almost no resemblance to getting the nod from Simon Cowell.

Stefan Anderson is principal of Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, a residential and non-residential school for 300 students aged 8-18 in Hertfordshire, England.

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