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Youngsters at Storytellers act out emotions from Inside Out (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Storytellers Performing Arts School recently completed its first term, offering classes combining acting, dancing, singing and music to children aged four to 12. AAH spoke to Jonny and Nicola Pike about their new venture…

What inspired you to launch Storytellers?

Nicola: We have thought about working together for some time and it seems a natural culmination of our journey. I trained at the Guildford School of Acting and have spent the past 20 years acting, presenting, writing and teaching. I’ve also worked as a children’s entertainer and continue to run Penguin’s Parties, while also teaching drama and dance at several schools, including Stagecoach. Before moving to Horsham, I taught drama at a private school in Surrey, where Jonny offered tuition on bass, guitar and the ukulele. We both adopt a holistic teaching style and this has been our approach to Storytellers, which is all about empowering creativity in young people.  

Why launch the business in Horsham?

Nicola: We moved to the town with our two children during lockdown. It wasn’t long before we were involved in Lifespring Church, based in Horsham. Jonny plays in the church band and we both became involved in youth work, writing and producing videos aimed at entertaining and engaging young families during the pandemic. While there are no religious aspects of Storytellers, our work with the church has provided us with ideas in terms of encouraging young people to be creative.

Where are classes held?

Nicola: Our inaugural class was held at All Saints CE Primary School in Horsham. We came together every Saturday morning for ten weeks and the feedback from parents has been very good, with 100% retention for next term. This has given us encouragement and hopefully if one or two children recommend it to a friend, we can grow class numbers. Each session incorporates music, singing, dancing and acting. But it’s important to adapt to the group, ensuring the children are engaged and continually connecting the dots. We try to teach them to understand how all of the exercises help tell a story and that becomes more important as the term progresses and we begin work on a finale.

Young Storytellers (©AAH/Alan Wright)


What was this term’s finale…

Nicola: For the final Saturday, we blend all the different components of the course into a particular scene. This term, it was all about emotions, inspired by the film Inside Out. It has been lovely to hear feedback from parents who have noticed a change in their children, who appear more confident. Some said it was nice watching the final performance, as the children were given the freedom to simply perform on stage, without the work having to be rehearsed until it was perfect! We handed out a Growth-in-Confidence award at the end for someone who I didn’t think would join in with the singing, but by the final week had oodles of confidence, which is what Storytellers is all about. 

And music is important too?

Jonny: From the outset, we wanted music theory to be part of Storytellers. Sometimes, schools can try to teach music in a way that isn’t enjoyable and it puts many children off something that should be very enjoyable. I find that the ukulele is a fantastic gateway instrument. It helps children to understand rhythm and grasp the basics of music theory. Within a short space of time, kids are able to sing along with fun tunes, and because they play standing up, they develop confidence singing with an instrument from the outset, rather than having to overcome that difficultly step later.

The sessions help boost confidence (©AAH/Alan Wright)


Are there other creative components you would like to introduce?

Jonny: Some children have a natural talent for performing, but others are more interested in other aspects of the creative process. Put them behind the camera and show them how they work and children can demonstrate creativity in other ways. So, we have already introduced elements of photography and filming into the course, with young people learning about focusing techniques and gaining a basic understanding of equipment like green screens. We found this really excited some children and hope to introduce other elements such as sound effects in future.

What are your ambitions for the business?

Nicola: We are already working on a plan for the next term of Storytellers. We will host our first pre-term workshop with the actor James Merry, best known for his role in Waffle the Wonder Dog on CBeebies. James will be sharing secrets of the filming and recording process and will help the kids present their own scenes, inspired by Waffle the Wonder Dog. We are hoping to call on other friends and colleagues in the future to provide more high-quality workshops as Storytellers grows. Our vision is to grow something that is sustainable, perhaps hosting classes at five schools in different locations. We’re helping to train people like Claudia Floodgate too, so they understand our holistic approach. That might give us the potential to grow in future, but for now, we’re still on our own journey of discovery!

Further information: www.storytellers-arts.co.uk


Article published in the January 2024 edition of AAH Magazine. Report by Ben Morris, with photography by Alan Wright for AAH