Making a Difference with Financial Stability

Apr 16, 2024 | Success Stories

Matt Dunn is transforming young performer’s lives.

Since stepping through the Drama Kids doors, Matt Dunn has wanted to use his passion for the performing arts to make a difference. After discovering his love for drama at high school, Matt was discouraged from pursuing drama academically yet went on to study Drama and Performance at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh obtaining a Bachelor of Arts with Honours. Whilst at university, Matt began teaching for the Drama Kids franchise based in the city, helping to build children’s self-confidence through drama – an unexpected opportunity which provided him with an insight into the transformative effects of drama. Now, at the age of just 29, Matt is a playwright, director, theatre youth worker and the principal of his very own Drama Kids academy.

“Drama was one of those things I was always really good at and really enjoyed. Drama at school really helped me to grow in confidence and so I knew the theatrical sphere was where I wanted to take my career in the future. I was fortunate to study a very diverse degree touching on all aspects of the theatre industry, eventually specialising in community theatre and playwriting. This led me to establishing my own company 3in1 Theatre which was the catalyst for my professional career and saw me writing, directing and producing a number of plays across Scotland.”

A Change of Scene

After graduating from university with a degree in Drama and Performance, Matt moved from his hometown of Lanarkshire, Scotland, to live in London.

“Although moving meant I had to temporarily leave the academy I was teaching at in Edinburgh, being fully immersed in the theatre scene at this time was incredible. I gained so much experience, but it also made me realise that there’s a huge gap in Scotland for young people who wanted to do drama. There didn’t seem to be a place for those who wanted to perform without the pressure of being part of a big establishment where they have to be the best. I learnt during my time in London that drama isn’t about being the next big star – it’s about self-development and enjoying yourself.

Upon returning to Lanarkshire, Matt was on a mission to improve the drama opportunities for Scottish children from all walks of life. He returned to his teaching role at Drama Kids Edinburgh whilst he began working as a drama practitioner for Regen:fx Youth Trust based in Hamilton – yet he quickly realised there was more to the job than he thought.

Drama Kids Student

“Although I applied to be a drama practitioner, I actually ended up being a drama practitioner and youth worker at the same time. This was an interesting time for me and involved me devising, developing and delivering a series of performances whilst working with the young people on the project to develop their core communication skills and confidence. Many of the young people on the project had been referred through South Lanarkshire Council partnerships – we delivered intense, targeted support to them, some of whom had chaotic lifestyles at home and school or were engaging in criminality. My role consisted of facilitating these young people’s stories into plays to give them a voice, whilst raising awareness of the very real issues they were facing. The plays were then performed twice weekly, over a period of six months to an audience of targeted young people who may be at risk of similar behaviours.

“During the same time, I began my work as a volunteer police officer with British Transport Police – where I now manage a group of 10 police officers between the Glasgow and Edinburgh policing posts in my capacity as a volunteer Police Sergeant. Back then, I would work in the evenings and weekends encountering many young people across Lanarkshire engaging in high-risk behaviours or criminality. Often, I would meet some of the young people from my theatre youth worker role in a policing capacity. Seeing them in a different light twice a week provided me with an insight into what their lives were really like under the surface – they had so much potential but were limited by the opportunities available to them.

Youth Theatre Drama Kids Students

“At this time, I was still working for Drama Kids and although I was a teacher and not a principal, I could see the difference drama was making to the students’ lives. When the owner of the Edinburgh franchise, who owned a large portion of Drama Kids’s Scottish franchises, offered me the opportunity to take over the Lanarkshire academy, I jumped at the chance – I knew this was the time to really home in on the difference I could make to children’s lives, whilst being the owner of my own business.”

The determination to make a difference

For over 40 years, Drama Kids has been helping children develop inside and outside the classroom through structured drama lessons. An art that incorporates more than just technique, drama supports children in developing social interaction skills and their self-esteem, helping them to become the best performer they can be. Our ethos of ‘Development through Drama’ means our franchisees, who operate in over 30 countries with over 225 academies, all work towards the same goal – to encourage students to be confident within themselves so they can excel in all aspects of their lives. This is just one of the reasons that over 100,000 children attend our classes across the globe each week.

“My previous experience has all tied into my role as a principal at Drama Kids – it’s made me a well-rounded practitioner with a unique perspective on how to best tailor our curriculum to the students. Some of our students are neuro-divergent – some come because they want to seriously develop their acting ability in a professional setting, but many come because they want to have fun in a safe space with their peers, advancing their communication skills and confidence. My previous work has really helped me to understand each individual student in my class and to quickly identify how I can adapt my lessons to ensure they get the most out of their time with us.

“I’m constantly coming up with ideas to help the students experience as much as possible outside the classroom. A year ago, I was the first franchisee in Drama Kids to take their students on a residential theatre trip. We took nine high school students to London – which was a massive step for the children of Lanarkshire! – for three days, and they absolutely loved it.”

“When I took over, our academy was largely focused on children between the ages of four and 11, the primary ages, but as a result of just this one trip we saw 56% business growth in our youth theatre offering and opened five youth theatre classes for high school kids.”

“Due to my experience in youth work, I’ve been able to connect with children and therefore increase the depth of business across all age groups of the academy. This is one of our major strengths at Drama Kids Lanarkshire. I’m proud that our students can now start with us at four years old and stay with us through to 18 years old. Many of our students have been in the academy for a considerable time and it’s a joy to watch them flourish over the years.”

Youth Theatre Drama Kids Students

Star-Studded Support

New franchisees are fully trained in all aspects of the teaching, marketing and administration of our programme, and are provided with curriculum content each term over a four-year period. Support includes training throughout the first year of post-launch, as well as regular visits and continued support from the training team in subsequent years.

Drama Kids’s proven structure allows franchisees to combine their passion for drama with a business in a secure role, creating a brighter future for students, local communities and the performing arts sector.

“The training was really informative, but it’s the support that has been stand-out for me. Becky, the Chief Operations Officer at Drama Kids, has always been so understanding of my passion to get the best outcome for our students. We have a very open dialogue and whenever I have a new, bold idea she is there to discuss it with me. Without the support from Drama Kids, we couldn’t provide our kids with the opportunities we do. Just last week we took 17 high school students to Edinburgh to see a play about feminism. Next week we are taking another 17 students to Glasgow to see a verbatim play about Scotland’s role in the Spanish Civil War and in December we are taking 70 students to a pantomime in Glasgow.

“I believe the key to growing a community at Drama Kids is by facilitating fun classes, creating an environment where each student’s voice is of equal importance and giving them opportunities outside of the classroom environment to experience new things and develop their interpersonal skills. I know Drama Kids share my vision of growing a student community of confident, connected young people who excel in all aspects of life. 

A Brighter Future for All

Looking to the future, Matt plans to continue in his role as principal, encouraging as many children as possible through his love of drama. Thanks to the flexibility of the franchise system, Matt has the ability to help as many people as he can in his spare time. “Through my work with my other company 3in1 Theatre, I’ve been able to publish a play all about men’s mental health which has been funded by Scotland’s biggest train operating company ScotRail, working in partnership with the Scottish Men’s Shed Association. The play focuses on preventing isolation and improving men’s mental health in an older male population – I feel it’s just as important to encourage the older generation as it is the younger. Thanks to the flexibility of the Drama Kids programme, I’ve been able to continue with my passions.

“Drama Kids has not only provided me with the opportunity to help people, but also with financial stability. This financial year we’re on target for real growth, due to the unique opportunities we are providing for our students. Whilst I have one other teacher working with me at the moment, I’m really enjoying teaching still and seeing the direct positive impact our classes have on our kids. I’m excited to grow our team with our student numbers – we have 150 students currently, but we’re aiming to get to 200 in the next few months and have opened another new class to help with this. My main goal is to reach the 300 mark and maintain it – I know with the help of head office we can make a difference to hundreds of lives.”

If, like Matt, you want to encourage children to be their best self through drama, find out more about our franchise opportunity by visiting our new franchising opportunities.

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