Once Upon a Time – UK Theatre School: Lizanne Lambie Thomson

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Lizanne Lambie Thomson’s hectic weekly work routine can border on something akin to a mix of scenes from movie classic, “Fame Academy”, a round of busy auditions for TV talent shows and a carefully crafted schedule of ensuring 700 pupils from the ages of four to 19 are guided in their pursuit of acting, dancing and singing fame.

As head of the Glasgow-based UK Theatre School, 46-year-old Lizanne has driven what was initially a part-time job emerging from a background in acting into a successful operation which has established a credible reputation for providing excellent part-time performing arts courses for young people from all over Scotland. Today ‘graduates’ from Lizanne’s school can be seen in some of the newest Hollywood blockbusters as well as a string of UK-produced movies and TV dramas. Other pupils will find their niche roles in parts closer to home, honing their skills on the high-profile stages of London’s West End or in amateur dramatic groups. The common aim for all the pupils is a desire to succeed in the performing arts. One of the pupils, 13-year-old Daniel Kerr, made history when he became the youngest-ever BAFTA winner – a very proud moment for Lizanne and her team.

Despite her focus on driving her young charges in the direction of the limelight, Lizanne is surprisingly coy about
her own business acumen. Lizanne said: “Even with my acting background, I’ve never been one to push myself forward in any way when it comes to chasing a personal profile. For me, it’s very much a case of head down and driving the school forward to ensure the ideal environment for our pupils. “We pride ourselves in preparing our students fully for the next step towards a performing arts career. We enable our pupils to realise their full potential and we give full guidance towards their goals.”

The school was first launched in 2001 after Lizanne recognised a need to offer a selection of professional performing arts – dancing, singing and acting lessons – all under the one roof in her home city of Glasgow.

She said: “I was teaching drama classes in Edinburgh at the time and suggested to the course organiser that it might be an idea to offer singing and dance classes as well. Effectively I was doing myself out of work because I suggested that instead of me teaching for three hours, I did one hour and he took on singing and dance tutors and they did the other two hours. That way it broadened the opportunities for the youngsters to learn more about the profession. “I’d approached what was then The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama – now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and enquired about hiring accommodation to offer classes for youngsters. There was nothing available at the time but several months later they contacted me to say had space – so I thought, let’s go for it.”

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The first set of auditions for Lizanne’s UK Theatre School generated 350 pupils – with a large focus on beginners’ classes. Over the last 13 years the roll has increased year on year with auditions usually resulting in lengthy queues in the street. Lizanne added: “It’s always wonderful to see the youngest pupils coming on board and being able to nurture talent that emerges.”

Seven years ago Lizanne and her 32-strong teaching and administration team – which, includes her husband, Stephen, and two teenage children – moved from their accommodation in the RCS into a purpose-designed suite of seven studios and classrooms in a Grade B Listed building on West Regent Street in Glasgow.

Visitors entering the first-floor premises are struck by the energy of the décor – particularly the dramatic floor design, created by Lizanne’s artist brother, Jim, a former Turner Prize nominee. Much of Lizanne’s drive for business is instilled in her from many years of working with her father, a successful business man who still runs a nationwide signage firm at the age of 72. “When I first started working I was immersed in my father’s businesses and I learned so much about the passion and commitment needed to make a business work.

Today the programme of courses devised by Lizanne and her team run four nights a week and every Saturday and Sunday. She said: “It’s a full-on, part-time programme and then we have a full-time support role, ensuring all the administration is in place. I’m fortunate in that I work in a sector I’ve had a lifelong passion for and I get to work with youngsters and young people who are so full of energy and passion.”

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