One of Belfast’s performing arts schools is celebrating it’s fifth year in business.

The Belfast School of Performing Arts (BSPA) is now expanding and growing despite budget cuts throughout the arts sector.

Catering for around 250-300 young people up to age 21 BSPA run four schools across the country and put on around 8-10 productions a year.

In the next few months the company will be presenting a number of shows such as Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Alice in Wonderland, Annie and Westside Story.

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Here are 3 rising stars of BSPA:

Cillian is Les Mis

Cillian in Les Mis

1. Cillian Donaghy

Cillian is a studying at the University of Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music. At just 20 years old he is already a part-time musical director both in Northern Ireland and Manchester.
Speaking about his career he said: “I played the role of Jean Valjean in the summer youth project Les Misérables which was an intensive two week project culminating with a big production in the Mac Theatre. Occasionally I have worked as an accompanist, vocal and drama coach for their Saturday morning classes.”
Cillian says working with BPSA has increased his experience in the industry.
“If there’s something BSPA do well it is productions, it gave me further experience in a full production with a top quality creative team, orchestra and just overall production” he said, adding: “My experience with BSPA left me with a deeper knowledge of how a large production is put together as well as how it is organised outside of the rehearsal room. From my teaching experience with BSPA it provided me with an outlet to test my flexibility of quickly teaching various age ranges and abilities.”
And next on the agenda for Cillian?
He said: “I hope to go into some sort of career in performing. Following my degree I hope to apply for a place on a post-graduate course studying Musical Directing and hopefully start career from there.”

Ellen Mawhinney

Ellen Mawhinney

2. Ellen Mawhinney

Ellen is currently in her first year studying at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland where she was offered a scholarship to study classical singing/opera under the tuition of Christina Dunwoodie.

She said: “I started off at BSPA in their 2013 summer production of Les Miserables at the mac theatre where I played the role of whore number one….
“But the next year in the summer youth project of 2014. I was lucky enough to get the part of Ellen in their production of Miss Saigon.”
Speaking about her career Ellen, 19, said: “I’ve played Christine (Phantom of the Opera), Maria (Sound of Music) and Emily (A Christmas Carol).”
And when it comes to BPSA Ellen also talks about the invaluable experience the company have given her in the industry” she said, adding: “I’ve gained so much experience through BSPA in different aspects of performance, such as stage presence and the importance of characterisation and collaboration in performance.
“BSPA gave me the opportunity to perform on a stage with a full production, including professional costume, makeup and a paying audience for 4 nights in a row. It wasn’t just a musical but a chance to express myself and to discover hidden talents that I would never have found if it weren’t for the opportunity that BSPA gave me.”
So what’s next for Ellen?
She said: “In the future I hope to continue studying opera to masters level, perform, teach and encourage others about performance and music.”

Connor and Ellen

Connor Carson

3. Connor Carson

Currently studying Musical Theatre at Guildford School of Acting, Connor has already starred as Chris in Miss Saigon.
Other roles he’s played in theatre include Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, Marius in Les Misérables, Danny Zuko in Grease, Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Nanki-Poo in The Mikado, John Kelly in The Boys in the Photograph, Magaldi in Evita, Freidrich in The Sound of Music and Francis Fryer in Calamity Jane.
Speaking of how BPSA has helped him Connor explained: “BSPA is the most professional youth company I’ve ever worked with.
“During the 2-week rehearsal period of the summer production of Miss Saigon I was made to feel completely welcome and at ease while also being pushed and challenged by the talented creative team.
“Working with Simon Bowman, the theatre legend who originated the role of Chris on the West End, was a particular highlight of the process and his advice and experience proved invaluable.
“BSPA is an engaging and exciting youth company to be a part of and the level of professionalism of the summer production of Miss Saigon felt like the perfect platform for starting drama school in October.”
And coming up next for Connor?
He said: “I’m currently nearing the end of my first year studying Musical Theatre at Guildford School of Acting, with the aim of working professionally in theatre in the future.
“Speaking to others at GSA about amateur productions they have been involved with has made me realise just how lucky I am to have been a member of somewhere like BSPA, especially in an area where the professional theatre scene isn’t as developed as in other parts of the UK.
“A company with such great creatives and resources truly is a rarity and an opportunity not to be passed up by young people in the local area.”

Pictured with Simon Bowman, West End superstar are James Huish (left), Ellen Whitehead and Connor Carson

Pictured with Simon Bowman, West End superstar are James Huish (left), Ellen Whitehead and Connor Carson

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