Creating a song and dance

The Borders’ own performing arts school, Creative Stage, is proving one to watch, just like the pupils it teaches.

Two friends and professional performers Marie McCullough, 38, from Manchester and Katie Robinson, 24, from Oxton opened their “new and innovative” school in 2012 to pass on their expertise and passion. They now tour round the Border towns teaching classes for all ages in dancing, singing, acting and theatre.

Marie told us: “There’s nothing like it in the Borders, with all three of the performing arts together.

“When we started in September 2012, our Christmas show had 100 pupils. This year we had 250 students. It’s really taken off.”

Katie added: “We’ve been so lucky creating success so quickly. It’s been non-stop ever since.”

Everything the classes teach comes together in their biannual summer and Christmas shows, and the latest crop of students rehearsed for eight weeks before showcasing their talents in Cinderella at Selkirk’s Victoria Hall last week.

“Every single pupil was in it,” Marie said, and with more than 200 students to fit, “it was like trying to solve a big maths problem.”

In fact, Creative Stage attracted so many students, they had to split the school in two, performing with one cast on Monday, and a second on Tuesday. “We really love our job, and we hope the children feel it,” Marie explained, “that’s why we’ve got so many coming.”

Katie and Marie picked a ‘scholar’ class of 26 pupils aged 9-12 to play the principal parts, who were joined by their other classes, including Baby Ballet, tap dancing and street jazz for the over-16s.

The plot followed the same story as Cinderella, but instead of a ball, she goes to a concert, where she falls in love with a rockstar called Rocky.

“We wrote a lot of the lyrics and dialogue ourselves,” Marie added. “We do, and fund, everything ourselves. It’s a big scale production. We want it to be professional – a real wow factor for the parents. We’ve been eating and sleeping it for the last few months. It’s completely taken over our lives, but we do love it.”

Katie added: “We try to teach them life lessons, like you can’t just give up in life when things get hard.

“You’ve got to work to achieve things. You’ve got to fight for it. The parents see the changes in the children.”

Marie and Katie, who are both qualified teachers, want to build their pupils’ confidence and help them to feel comfortable and contented with who they are as individuals, their website says.

“The comments and feedback are wonderful, and you see the children grow,” Marie added. “Some of them, when they start, they can’t look you in the eye, or are too shy to speak to you, but it’s amazing to see them open up on stage. Parents come up and say to us: ‘I never knew she’d be able to do that, and speak on stage by herself.’ We tell them the most important thing on stage is the smile. It’s like a mirror: you’re reflecting it on to them.”

The pair have just opened their own agency for performing children, which helped 10-year-old Emily Balderstone from Jedburgh star in Irving Berlin’s musical White Christmas at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.

“We’ve got a lot of talented kids in the Borders,” said Katie.

So the question is: who else will they discover?