Gentleman Jack, Peaky Blinders, All Creatures Great and Small, Ackley Bridge, Last Tango in Halifax, The Railway Children Return … all are just a few of the film and TV productions that have found talented actors and supporting artists with the help of Yorkshire-based drama school and casting agency Articulate.
It was founded in 2013 by Stacey Burrows, its principal, as an after-school club to teach children confidence through public speaking. Born and brought up in Ilkley, she went to Guiseley School and studied law at Durham University, then trained as a barrister and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in London, after which she began working as a lawyer across the UK.
But Stacey, now 32, soon found she had another calling. “At school I used to have a little fear of public speaking,” she says. “I didn’t like reading out in class in case I stumbled over my words. When I did drama classes, I gained in confidence and when I did the bar course, where you have to stand up and practise speaking out to audiences and arguing your point, that’s where I really gained confidence.”
Stacey decided that children in her community could benefit from similar training and started teaching after-school classes in Ilkley. “There were only a few students to begin with, but it grew quite quickly,” she says. “The kids did public speaking competitions and we added a bit of drama and then I started getting enquiries from people in London who had found the website. And then CBBC got in touch.”
The producers of CBBC’s Hank Zipster, starring Henry Winkler and based on his books, asked Stacey to help some of the child actors with diction and public speaking while it was filmed in Halifax. She asked if she could bring in some of her young students to work as extras. “I briefed them beforehand,” she says. “I said, this is what you have got to do – you’ve got to be enthusiastic. The kids did a really good job and it grew from there.”
Now Articulate has more than 1,000 actors and supporting artists on its books, of all ages, from babies to senior citizens. “We only take on people for work if we feel we can get work for them,” Stacey says.
The office is in Baildon, with four full-time staff, and a team of 10 teachers taking drama, performing arts and public speaking classes at venues in Ilkley, Baildon, Bingley and Birstall, with more soon to open in Rotherham and beyond.
Stacey’s law training comes in handy for negotiating contracts, and organisational skills are paramount, keeping track of dozens of clients on set across the UK at any one time.
“We have a daily diary that tells us everything that is happening that day and the day after as well, so that we can prep people and make sure everybody is going to the right filming locations,” she says.
Adult drama classes take place on Thursday evenings (online at the moment), attended by established actors and absolute beginners. There is no need to audition and it costs £29.50 a month.
When it comes to casting extras – supporting artists, as they are more properly known – flexibility and enthusiasm are key. “You are not suitable to be an extra if you have a nine to five job, or you are busy Monday to Friday,” says Stacey. “You also have to have a get-up-and-go attitude. Call times can be as early as 5.30 in the morning, if it is a big period drama and everybody is going on camera at 8 o’clock.
“The pay is not amazing. At the moment, the standard is about £110 for the day but you get overtime and little extras. If you get a haircut or something else, you get paid extra, and if it is really bad weather, they will add a bit. You don’t really know what you will get paid until the end of the day.”
Children must have a performance licence from their local authority. Like the adults, child supporting artists need enthusiasm and the ability to follow direction. A child actor needs strong reading skills and a good memory. Auditions might come with a day’s notice. “You don’t have a script in your hand, so children who can memorise vast amounts of dialogue are really good, and children who have a love of acting and are able to be natural with it and not too theatrical – that’s a big thing at the moment,” Stacey says.
Rising stars include nine-year-old Owen Phillips, from Rotherham, who will appear in the next series of Gentleman Jack, Tilly Kaye – from Leeds, who plays Biff in a new adaptation of Biff and Chip, and 12-year-old Austin Haynes, from Leeds, who has just finished a six-week shoot starring in The Railway Children Return, due for cinema release in April next year.
Stacey says: “We are incredibly proud of Austin. Proud beyond words. Shooting a film like this with so much dialogue is incredibly hard work. He’s risen to the challenge and we are all in absolute awe.”
Nine-year-old Owen Phillips, from Rotherham, has appeared in Hollyoaks, The Syndicate, Tracy Beaker and a major Euros TV ad campaign, and will soon be seen on screen in Gentleman Jack, All Creatures Great and Small and Traces.
Owen’s mum, Cheryl Cornall, is a nurse and his father, Nick Phillips, is a driving instructor. He has been with Articulate for about 18 months, following a suggestion by The Voice judges will.i.am and Sir Tom Jones who were at the studios in Manchester where Owen and his friend Harris Kiiza were filming a Judge Rinder Christmas Kids Court ITV special, which the young lads had applied for, to settle a dispute over a broken iPad.
“I got a free iPad and then my dad saw will.i.am and Tom Jones,” says Owen. “They were in the corridor. They said that we would be really good actors.”
Thankfully, Owen and Harris are still friends and both play for Barnsley Football Academy. And acting is becoming quite the family career, with Owen’s mum occasionally working as a supporting artist (she pushed him on a swing in The Syndicate) and his granddad, David Cornall, starring alongside him in a recent TV advert. “That was his first one and he’s starting to like it now,” says Owen. The rising star says he never gets bored on set. His school sends work for him to do. “They are really supportive,” says Cheryl.
He studies with LAMDA and recently achieved 96 per cent in his public speaking exam. He wants to continue as an actor when he grows up. “Most definitely, but I do want to succeed in football as well,” he says.
He is quite used to auditions now. “I just go for it. I try my best and practise loads,” he says. “I got shortlisted for a Danny Boyle film and he called me the mini Leonardo DiCaprio, and I really loved that.”
Anne and Tom Russell
Anne and Tom Russell, from Baildon, both work as supporting artists, often as a couple. Anne says: “Our granddaughter had been a member of Articulate for some time when, as a joke, her mum forwarded an email from the company recruiting ‘adult or older’ people to join. We are still not sure who was more surprised, our granddaughter or ourselves, when we took up the challenge.
“On retirement, we had decided to always say yes (at least once) to any new experience, and this is one that we have been glad to repeat as often as possible. Our work so far has encompassed Still Open All Hours, Ackley Bridge, Last Tango in Halifax and now All Creatures Great and Small, which included the fun of working alongside a live duck and cat and various other animals.
“The work is erratic, the hours long and tiring and the pay isn’t going to make you rich. So why do we, as a husband-and-wife team, do it? It’s basically fun and you get to step into a different world.
“You need a sense of fun and a sense of the ridiculous.”
Articulate Speech, Drama & Casting is at articulatedc.com.