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The realities of taking a theatre arts school online

The realities of taking a theatre arts school online

Hayley Limpkin, founding principal of Razzamataz Medway, discusses the highs and lows and how her team has come together

Razzamataz Theatre Schools has been working with children for the last twenty years and has almost 50 schools across the UK, providing work for hundreds of teachers and a financially rewarding and creative business for franchisees.

In the lead up to lockdown, Razzamataz had already done a lot of groundwork to prepare for the inevitable school closures, resulting in the successful launch of Razzamataz Online. The well-considered and researched strategy has provided the students with high quality, teacher-led sessions on top of a whole range of activities via social media.

But what are the realities of taking a business that thrives on face-to-face contact online and how have the children adapted? Hayley Limpkin, founding principal of Razzamataz Medway, discusses the highs and lows and how the team has come together.

Background

Razzamataz Medway is celebrating ten years of business and at the time of school closures, had 587 students. The school is run by Hayley and co-owner and lead principal Emily Miller. In the first half of the term, 196 students were doing multiple online classes, with many more engaged in the social media content. The school is currently running 13 online classes across the week as well as various masterclasses and inspirational talks from professionals in the industry.

Adapting to the changes

“Since launching Razzamataz Online, we have had 800 bookings for different classes. This has taken a huge effort from our team in terms of ongoing communication with our customers via emails and text messages because we have noticed that customers are reacting rather than forward planning. In terms of our strategy, this means if there are any spaces in our classes, we will continue to remind customers daily because an individual’s situation is constantly in flux. In fact, every time we send out reminders we get more people booking in. We continue with our themes of celebration, information and motivation in our regular e-shots as well as reminding customers about additional workshops coming up. We’ve had lots already and are planning a Paw Patrol workshop and a casting agent from Matilda the Musical will be working with students. We found that customers that are booking classes tend to do multiple classes a week so in terms of keeping revenue coming in, the more opportunities we can offer, the better. We also speak to our seniors and ask what workshops they would like, many of them are for free too. We’ve had a casting agent from Cameron Mackintosh talk to students, plus, workshops with West End star Jennifer Tierney, currently in Come From Away, as well as Hamilton and Lion King workshops.”

Customer relationships

“It has been very time consuming but we felt that it was incredibly important to call every one of our parents and check in to see how they and their children are doing. We don’t really talk very much about Razzamataz, we are genuinely interested in knowing how they are and if there is anything we can do to make their situation better. The chat is definitely not a sales call but it has helped us to understand more about the situation of our customers. What we have learnt is that every situation is unique; some families are furloughed and loving spend time as a unit, others are still trying to work from home and juggle home-schooling while others have lost the majority of their income. Having this information has allowed us to create opportunities that all students can get involved with free of charge, allowing them to interact with their friends and us in an engaging way. So, things such as quizzes, games, kitchen discos and Senior’s Night In over Zoom.” 

Utilising social media

“Some of our customers are not in the position to spend money on any extras at this moment. We don’t want these children to miss out so there are loads of activities that they can get involved with on our social media channels. One of our students hasn’t been able to do the online classes but has got involved in every single one of our free activities on social media. This makes us really happy as a team to know that we are still able to interact with these students and they don’t feel like they’ve been abandoned. We’ve also taken the time to message our senior students via Instagram. We like to follow up with them after our Zoom chats, particularly if someone is feeling low. It’s really important that we maintain connection and social media allows us to do that.”

The benefits of being part of a franchise

“Head office has been incredible and has worked so hard for our whole network by finding out the latest information and sharing their learnings from other franchise networks. It’s been wonderful to share our ideas and discuss the things we are concerned about with our head office, the more eyes and ears on the problems, the better. It’s very reassuring that they are there to help with all the challenges that we face as theatre school owners. We’ve been involved in so many online meetings with them and it’s very reassuring to know that the advice we are given from our own contacts is in-line with the advice our head office is giving. Everyone has worked so hard to continue to support us all through the pandemic.”

The challenges

“I have a young family, but the challenge seems to be the same across the team. There’s never enough time! Having to balance everything we need to do has been challenging because we are a much smaller team now. Our assistant principal is teaching many of the classes, looking at the operational set up and content delivery, managing social media and overseeing many new areas. This has been a challenge but also a great opportunity to upskill. It’s also a challenge to understand the unique situation of all of our customers and for us to ensure that we are doing all we can to reach them. There’s a lot of physical and social pressure on families at the moment and we want to offer a little bit of light. I personally try to stay positive but I do have my wobbles and find it all really difficult. What I have learnt is that all I can do is control my thoughts so I get out for a walk or run, listen to a podcast and try to eat healthy and know that it is ok to find it too much at times. Like every business, we are taking it one step at a time while planning future strategies.”

The wins

“Being adaptable is one of our core values and the way our team and students have demonstrated this throughout lockdown has been incredible. Some of our students who have previously been very shy are shining through and showing such confidence on our social media channels. We are also so proud that a number of our students have gained places at prestigious performing arts colleges and a couple of students have been selected to work on a new musical production. Lead principal Emily has also stepped in to do a lot of the teaching, which the students absolutely love. Emily is a very experienced performer and teacher and her role as principal also allows her to keep communication high between students and parents, which has really helped to give constructive feedback and move the students along in their learning. Personally, having Emily as a business partner during this time has been lovely to keep up spirits and motivation as well as to continue to come up with new experiences for the students, which ultimately helps push our business forward.”

Learnings during lockdown

“We often want a solution to problems immediately but through lockdown, I’ve learnt that you can’t rush to make decisions. We have taken time to utilise all the resources around us so we can be more efficient with our time so that incudes using tech such as Trello Boards for organising and planning. We know we need to be even more focused moving forwards and there have also been some positives that we have taken from this, including the use of Zoom for private lessons, which we always struggled to make financially viable for everyone before. This is something that we will continue after lockdown is lifted.”

Image: (L-R) Emily Miller and Hayley Limpkin, Razzamataz Medway

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