We talk to Tina McVeigh of the Belfast School of Performing Arts about teaching life lessons
As the post-pandemic stage lights start to flicker back on in theatre land, it would seem the enforced shutdown of productions has only increased young people’s desire to tread the boards.
Managing director of Belfast School of Performing Arts (BSPA) Tina McVeigh says her busy schools are inundated with interest, and she is continually inspired by the enthusiasm for youth theatre.
Tina is responsible for delivering many opportunities provided for BSPA pupils, including theatre skill workshops, international trips, as well as opportunities to perform throughout Northern Ireland.
Her own involvement in theatre began at the age of eight when she was cast as Jane in Mary Poppins.
Her love of the arts was developed further at Methodist College Belfast, where she acquired and retained a great love of classical, secular and medieval choral music.
Being introduced to the magic of musical theatre as a student teacher at Stranmillis College, she enjoyed the wonderful productions of Gilbert and Sullivan.
She then joined Belfast Operatic Company in 1986 and performed regularly in the Grand Opera House.
Now, as head of the largest local theatre school, she enjoys being a part of developing a new generation of theatre lovers. Established in 2011 and boasting over 800 students, BSPA has just been named as performing arts school of the year at the Northern Ireland Prestige Awards 2021/22.
“We celebrated the BSPA’s 10th anniversary last year under difficult lockdown restrictions,” she says.
“But through the storm, musical theatre was a beacon of light in the darkness that attracts naturally creative people to its positivity.
“We are in the strong position of having our greatest number of students to date and a waiting list for a number of our schools.
“Our students, aged three to 19 years, are now excitedly rehearsing eight stunning shows to be staged this spring and we have just announced two very exciting summer projects — Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Producers.”
While many young performers dream of becoming the next Idina Menzel, Ben Platt or Cillian Donnelly, only a lucky few will ever make it to the big time and build a professional career in the performing arts.
But Tina believes the value of performing arts extends well beyond fantasies of global stardom.
“Theatre practice and training offers so many benefits that it’s hard to know where to begin to explain how young people benefit,” she says.
“Performance builds confidence, self-esteem and helps people find their voice. They understand if they can stand on stage and deliver their lines, a dance routine or a song, they are capable of anything.
“Shakespeare himself reminds us that ‘all the world’s a stage’, and skills learned in BSPA are easily transferable to every aspect of life.”
Every stage production is a triumph of teamwork as it takes many people with different skills to come together to make it happen.
The technical team, stage crew, make-up, costumes, actors and directors must work in harmony with a single vision to deliver a great show for their audience. This requires discipline and learning how to work with other people.
Tina adds: “Over 10 years we at BSPA have seen lifelong friendships build between our pupils. They interact in such a positive environment.
“They draw fantastic confidence and resilience through our collaborative working approach.
“We create a family of performers that supports and builds each person up so they can reach their full potential.
“We encourage our pupils to develop emotional awareness; to be brave, kind and encouraging to each other. Our wider society always needs more people with those core skills.
“We want our pupils to be resilient and confident, so along with classes in dance, drama, music and performance, we give them mindfulness techniques such as breathing practices to overcome nerves and stage fright.
“Many pupils tell us they then use these emotion-calming skills in school and exam situations.
“They also develop communication skills and empathy so they can engage creatively with others. She adds: “Learning the art of performance needs discipline and sustained attention and I have to mention the talent and commitment of each of our teachers, along with our artistic director Peter Corry.
“They all work tirelessly with the students to help them, direct them and teach them complex new skills.
“I know the pupils also learn a lot from their BSPA teachers that goes way beyond their direct skills instructions.”
It’s never too early to start encouraging your little stars to use their imagination and explore their creativity through performance.
“It’s really important to introduce children to the power of their voice and to have confidence in their body. Even our youngest pupils, who are toddlers, love to sing and dance and act out nursery rhymes,” she explains.
“Early introduction to the joy of creative expression can be as simple as encouraging them to sing along to their favourite musical movies or energetically dance around the kitchen before going to school.
“Science has proved music makes us happy. It stimulates the release of serotonin, which stabilises mood and promotes feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Regardless of your age, that’s going to put you in the right frame of mind for the day ahead.
“Children of all ages understand the world through stories. They relate to the characters and get engrossed in the action. Performance allows them to become active participants in the narrative and be someone else as they create a character.
“This is a very powerful concept in any child’s intellectual development.”
To find out more about BSPA visit www.thebspa.co.uk