Sophie Boyce took a fleet of exceptional young performers and transformed them into YouTube stars – practically overnight – with London-based Spirit Young Performers Company
It’s no secret that Notting Hill and west London has some pretty talented people within its boundaries: Benedict Cumberbatch, Stella McCartney, and Jack Whitehall to name a few. But perhaps you didn’t know that it is home to some of the most talented children in the country, and a very gifted 23-year-old.
As I walk into a rehearsal for Urinetown, I’m greeted by a handful of these children and I feel like I’ve stepped into a dress-run on the West End.
Sophie Boyce is the brains behind this spectacle, as she came up with the idea of running an elite performing arts school a few years ago, but decided to professionally film the student’s efforts to make it a school like no other. Not only does she have a large proportion of children from the West End stage on her books, but it seems that she has tuned into a gap in the market and now, the YouTube channel for Spirit Young Performers Company has reached over 12m views.
Boyce has a plethora of accolades under her belt already. Having won a competition in her teens to write the script for the popular TV show Skins, she studied at the Met Film School and graduated as a scriptwriter for Channel 4. It was here though that she realised she wanted to refuel her passion for the stage, and she quickly went about setting up her dream school.
‘I’ve been in performing arts since I was four, but I never went anywhere all that good,’ says Boyce. ‘They were just franchises, so when I got to 12 and I really wanted to be in the West End, I had absolutely no idea how to go about it because I didn’t go to a school that set you up for it.’
What Boyce has honed into from here is not just any old drama school that trains and prepares children for careers in the arts, but a school that showcases the children and puts them out on a pedestal for people to see from an early age. ‘It’s about letting them gain a following, fans if you like.’
What is perhaps particularly impressive is how fast Boyce went about getting started with her plans. In 2012 the foundations of Spirit Young Performers were established, with Boyce knowing that she wanted to work with children like those within Matilda the Musical – a show that ultimately inspired the entire project. It seems that her ability to ignore the incredibly daunting aspects that comes with setting up your own business meant that Boyce was able to hit the ground running.
‘I think I now realise that it’s not normal to just start a school and start a business,’ she laughs. ‘People were always saying: “Woah, how were you brave enough to do that?” But I just didn’t think about it and got stuck in. I’m much more scared of doing things now,’ she adds.
She auditioned a first round of children and gained seven talented performers, and gradually the school grew from seven to 150 by doubling, nearly tripling her intake each year. Within a year of hitting a few thousand views on YouTube, it snowballed and shot to 1m by the next year. ‘It was always about the filming, and I think that’s what set me apart,’ she says.
And set apart it has. As an audition-entry school, the videos uploaded to the YouTube channel are top of the class. Not only do many of the pupils now have fan pages (some of the children have three fans coming across from Germany just to meet them soon), but they have Instagram pages and industry professionals watching and scouting from the YouTube channel.
‘We’ve had offers from NBC, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the children were on Keep it in the Family recently,’ says Boyce. ‘Plus we are like a Matilda graduation school here! Every boy we’ve had under 13 is in a professional show.’
The success is not surprising as the videos they broadcast are of impeccable standard, with many of them seeming as though they are taken straight out of a professional film. The children are prepared for the world of professional work from the outset here. As I watch in on the rehearsal, they are learning the professional system of a ‘swing map’, where every child knows each other’s track in case of emergency illness.
Amazingly, Boyce is not ready to hang up any shoes just yet and has plans to take Spirit even further, bigger and better. ‘In five years time I’d like to have a very successful web presence, where our films are managed by a crew so that we can go behind-the-scenes more and film the whole process,’ she says confidently.
‘We also have a dance school opening in September, so I would like to have a very successful dance troupe who tours the country,’ she continues. It seems to me that they are well and truly ready to take on the worldwide stage.
Check out this Spirit YPC video, “Nuvole Bianche” (Lyrical Dance) by the Petite Dance Troupe:
Find out more and how to subscribe to their YouTube channel at spiritypc.co.uk