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Curtain rises on friends’ theatre school dream

LIPA 4:19 has made friends Alison Gorton and Becci Francis’ dream of opening their own theatre school come true

Summary of Operation

The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) has set up a part-time performing arts academy franchise aimed at children aged four to 19. Franchise owners take a managerial role and oversee the running of the academy and can also teach some classes themselves (providing they have an appropriate qualification).

As teachers at LIPA 4:19 in Liverpool, Alison Gorton and Becci Francis already knew the advantages the performing arts school had over its competitors and when LIPA 4:19 launched its franchise, they decided that it would be the perfect way to open their own business.

Trained actress, singer and dancer Alison started teaching drama at the main LIPA 4:19 in Liverpool, in 2004, and was joined by professional dancer Becci two years later.

Seeing first-hand the success of the LIPA 4:19 franchise, the friends started researching suitable venues in Cheshire so they could become part of the performing arts school opportunity’s success.

“We realised that as we both shared the same ethos and passion for the performing arts, we could run our own theatre school together,” enthuses Alison who, along with Becci, continues to teach at the Liverpool academy on Saturdays.

“Becci and I didn’t launch our own LIPA 4:19 franchise for quite a while as we were very particular about finding the right premises in Cheshire,” explains Alison. “Earlier this year we found a fantastic place behind Knutsford Methodist Church, which has got everything we wanted including a sprung floor and key-card lockable doors.”

With a wealth of onstage and teaching experience behind them, Becci and Alison had firm foundations for establishing their own theatre school, while LIPA 4:19 helped them to fill in the gaps in their office-based skills.

“The training we received was great as it included dealing with tax, payroll, marketing and how to get new students,” says Alison.

To generate interest in their LIPA 4:19 academy in the Knutsford area, Becci and Alison came up with the idea of running a series of taster days during the summer holidays.

“The taster days helped children and parents to see what our academy is all about, find out what we do and gain a real understanding about LIPA 4:19,” adds Alison.

The taster days were so successful that the duo had 11 children sign up for the first term and are about to be featured in Cheshire Life and Little Tigers magazines.

In addition to a comprehensive training programme, the LIPA 4:19 franchise package includes everything its franchise owners need to run their academy successfully, including letterheads and a comprehensive operations manual.

“The operations manual is so good that whenever we call LIPA 4:19 Manager Kerry Watkins with questions, she also says we’ll find them in the manual – and she’s always right,” laughs Alison. “However, it gives Becci and I extra confidence that we can call Kerry and the rest of the head office team whenever we need to.”

Having successfully launched their LIPA 4:19 franchise on September 12, Alison and Becci plan to gradually grow their business so their theatre school will have 60 children by the start of their second year.

“Being our own boss gives us the freedom to do what we want to do, such as which shows to put on and what classes we hold,” says Alison. “At the moment, we are happy with gradually working towards making a profit, as we just love it. We cover the whole spectrum of classes on Monday evenings; with four to six year olds from 4:15pm-5:45pm and our seven to 19 year olds from 4:15pm-7.15pm. Like ourselves, all our staff have been trained at LIPA 4:19, so this will eventually allow us to add other classes – like tap, ballet, advanced singing and drama – on other nights.”

The LIPA 4:19 business opportunity is flexible, so its franchise owners can take on a joint managerial/operational role – provided they have appropriate teaching qualifications.

“If you have a background in theatre or some of the arts and a passion for teaching children, I would definitely recommend LIPA 4:19,” adds Alison.

Written by Fraser McKay