Former soap actress Donnaleigh Bailey has created a school for young aspiring actors. Roz Laws met her.
In her four years spent playing a nurse in the BBC1 soap Doctors, Donnaleigh Bailey saw hundreds of guest stars pass through the Birmingham set.
And most of them came from outside the city.
So when she left the drama, the 28-year-old decided to set up a project to train young people in acting skills – and recreate the experience she was able to enjoy as child.
Donnaleigh was a regular at the Central Junior Television Workshop in the days when it was still operating in Birmingham. Other names to have benefited from its classes include Felicity Jones, Sarah Smart, Alison Hammond and Jacqueline Pirie.
It still exists in Nottingham as The Television Workshop but the Birmingham branch folded in 2008, although it has resurfaced as First Act Workshops.
“You were supposed to be 11 to join but I lied about my age and joined at nine,” remembers Donnaleigh, a proud born-and-bred Brummie.
“Growing up in Balsall Heath, options were limited, but the workshop really helped me. I was there for 10 years before going on to train at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, the ‘Fame’ school started by Sir Paul McCartney.
“I always wanted to act. When I was 10, I made a list of the three things I wanted to do when I grew up. They were to be an actress, to find a good husband and to take my kids to Disney World.
“I’m still working on the last two but one out of three isn’t bad!”
Donnaleigh has set up The Drama Place in King’s Heath, where she lives, offering classes three times a week for seven to 17-year-olds. They’re held at the Community Centre on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and classes normally cost £7.50 for a 90-minute session.
“I used to see all the guest actors coming up from London, playing Brummies with some really dodgy accents,” remembers the former pupil of Bishop Challoner School of her time playing nurse Michelle Corrigan in Doctors. “I thought that we have to have some talented youngsters here who could do it better. I’m passionate about acting and have so much to give to young people. I’m not a fan of the Glee-style schools, I prefer proper stage acting, in a fun environment but with a good work ethic.
“It’s about building confidence and the ability to communicate and helping people in their daily lives. These are useful skills to have, whatever you decide to do for a living. Of the friends I was at the TV Workshop with, I’m the only one who is still acting, but others have found success as teachers and lawyers.
“I’d like to invoke the spirit of the Workshop with my Drama Place. People came from all over the city to go there, from the extremes of Handsworth and Solihull.
“I have invested a bit of my own money that I saved up from Doctors, but the local community has been very helpful and supportive. And I’ve called in favours from contacts I have made during my time as an actress, especially on Doctors.”
Co-stars like Martha Howe-Douglas, who’s now in Horrible Histories, and Primeval and Ideal actress Naomi Bentley are taking workshops.
Earlier this year, the casting director of the Birmingham Rep came to The Drama Place to hold auditions for its production of The Wiz.
Rachel De-lahay, the Birmingham actress and writer at the Royal Court, is working with students on the forthcoming Our Play, Our Way project, in which they have one week to create and put on a production.
“They, like me, believe in Birmingham youth and want to harness the talent we have here,” says Donnaleigh, who’s of Jamaican and Irish descent and has also appeared in Dangerfield and Holby City.
“There’s certainly enough work to go around. People tend to go to the Nottingham workshop to find kids but they don’t need to when Birmingham has so much talent here. My aim is to be the go-to place in the Midlands that people come to when they want to cast young people.”
Other summer holiday courses include Tempest For Tots, aimed at five to seven-year-olds.
“We’ll try to put on The Tempest in a week. Attempting Shakespeare for kids so young will be a challenge, but we’ll see how they get on and if we can hold their attention for long enough!
“I’m also holding a three-day Acting For Television course. Doctors was such a learning curve for me, as I didn’t learn that much about acting for TV at drama school.
“We’ll be working with real scripts and will make a showreel at the end for pupils to show potential employers.”
* For more information go to www.thedramaplace.com