Gemma Bradley, the founder and principal of Premier Drama Academy in Fulwood, Preston tells a story which encapsulates what makes her job so worthwhile.
“We’ve got one boy whose mum calls the academy his ‘happy place’,” says Gemma. “It’s amazing to hear that form a parent: you know you’re doing what you should be doing [when you get feedback like that].”
A drama, dance, and musical theatre school established in 2014, Premier Drama Academy’s avowed purpose is to not only empower students to learn new skills, form friendships, and showcase their budding talents, but also to improve their confidence - a boon which stays with children for the rest of their lives.
“[Performing] is really important for children’s confidence,” said Gemma, 37, who comes from Fulwood. “The academy works wonders and that confidence stays with them. And the friendships which are formed: you get those bonds in performing arts because of how you have to work together as a team on stage. Those are crucial social skills.
“It’s great for behaviour, it’s great for letting off steam and it’s amazing to see the change in kids when they come,” Gemma continued. “They might come in crying but you see them flourish, they get a massive boost in confidence, and they’re so welcoming and friendly.
“The children we have are wonderful,” she said.
An experienced London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)-accredited tutor who honed her lifelong passion for the stage as a child by appearing in musicals and plays such as Singing in the Rain, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Steel Magnolias, Gemma went on to be awarded a place at the prestigious National Youth Theatre in London at 16 and also trained at Trinity College.
Having earned a degree in performing arts and a PGCE in English, Drama, and Media, Gemma went on to appear in programmes such as Hollyoaks and Jonathan Creek and set up the academy following the birth of her first daughter.
“I’ve always been in the theatre - that’s my love - and I’ve always wanted to work in drama and have my own school,” said Gemma, who used to work as an English teacher and saw first-hand the impact a lack of confidence had on students afraid to read aloud in class.
“Being able to teach kids the performance side of things is great,” she explained. “I’ve got experience as a teacher and I’ve got experience in the theatre, so I feel like I’ve got a good rapport with the children.”
Having moved to a new studio on Red Scar industrial estate in January of this year, Premier Drama Academy now has around 40 students whose exams contribute Ucas points towards their further education and are looking at offering private drama, singing, and dancing tutoring as well as classes for dance and drama festivals.
Thankfully, Gemma has a couple of seriously talented colleagues to help.
Jodie Hambler of Homefires, My Mad Fat Diary, Shameless, and Coronation Street fame is the academy’s musical theatre teacher, while Eilish Pymer, formerly of the Suffolk-based Saxtead School of Dance, is the dance teacher.
A professional performer for more than a decade, Jodie trained and taught at Carol Godby’s Theatre Workshop while Eilish studied at Preston College, earning her Diploma in Dance Education in ballet and modern, amongst other qualifications.
Together, they make quite the triumvirate.
“We work well as a trio; it’s great because we’ve got our own fortes, our own experiences,” said Gemma. “We all come from professional backgrounds and we’re all perfectionists so we make a good team.
“Our main thing is not only for the kids to enjoy it, but get something out of it and improve their confidence as well,” she added.