Drama school founder Anna Fiorentini refuses to segregate her pupils by ethnicity – even though she says it would make fundraising easier.
“I disgree with clubs that are just for black children,” says the Hackney resident. “We should be an inclusive society and from a young age we need to make sure they are not separated.”
The 43-year-old is celebrating 15 years since she set up the Anna Fiorentini Theatre and Film School which began in Hackney but now has branches in Docklands, Greenwich and north London.
From the start she wanted it to be somewhere that welcomed all children, whether they wanted professional training or just to act for fun.
“We have children who have awkward home lives and for them coming here is a respite. Others have been bullied and come to increase their confidence and others just have a natural talent for performing.”
The not-for-profit company relies on fees, grants and donations to help fund scholarships for less privileged children and Anna said their biggest challenge had been sticking to that ethos.
“When I do grant applications I’m often told that we look too professional and successful.
“It’s so frustrating because you see so many drama groups that get funding because they are doing knife or gun crime drama, which is important, but does stereotype people.
“When you are trying to get funding for professional training so these kids can have a chance against those from more affluent areas you can’t because it doesn’t tick the boxes. Because I don’t segregate it make it very difficult to get funding.”
Anna always wanted to be actress, inspired by her father Al who played Mohammed Al Fayed in the documentarymovie Diana, but growing up on the Clapton Estate there were no professional classes nearby.
After a degree in performing arts at Middlesex University she set up a drama club in St Paul’s Church in Hackney to help raise the £10,000 for a postgraduate course at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
It proved such a success that a few years later Anna gained funding from the Prince’s Trust to set up the first arm of her school, aiming to be more affordable than a full-time drama school and more professional than a community club.
It opened in the Wally Foster Community Centre and on the first day welcomed 70 children. Today is has 350 pupils who are mentored by professional teachers and West End performers.
Anna said: “The reward is when you see the transformation in a young person’s life within a matter of weeks from being so shy, to putting up their hands and begging to go first.”
The alumni of her school include EastEnders actors Belinda Owusu and Charlie Jones, The Voice UK 2014 winner Jermain Jackman and Jaden Oshenye, a scholarship pupil who is starring in The Bodyguard in the West End with Beverley Knight.
To mark the 15th anniversary Anna wants to expand the number of children she helps and has launched a campaign to raise £30,000 by Christmas to support 100 pupils per term for the next three years.
“I believe that young people need access to professional training if it is something they want to go into.”
She also hopes to build up membership of her adult school, Stage And The City, which runs in Canada Water Studios and Fredericks Place, as profits go towards scholarships. And she has started offering team building events for companies.
“I really hope to be here another 15 years. If we get the support behind us I don’t think it will be a problem.”
Follow The Wharf on Twitter @the_wharf
Keep up to date with all our articles on Facebook