The west Leeds performing arts school taking centre stage

A PERFORMING arts school tucked away on a side street in a west Leeds town is rapidly earning a reputation as a training ground for future screen and stage stars.

Friday, 11th March 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 11th March 2016, 8:41 am
Matthew Lyons performing in Billy Elliot The Musical
Matthew Lyons performing in Billy Elliot The Musical

The Guiseley-based West Yorkshire School of Performing Arts (WYSPA), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, has schooled hundreds of talented youngsters since it opened in the late 1980s.

However, a more recent development has helped more talented young trainees from the Oxford Street school land starring roles.

Three years ago, the academy’s principal, Karen Fawcett, launched the WYSPA casting agency.

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Max Vento during filming for BBC drama 'The A Word'

Mrs Fawcett, 56, accompanies students to casting auditions and they have won roles in commercials, films, dramas, major musicals and numerous other projects.

Now two of her young proteges have secured starring roles that look set to propel them to major success.

Six years after his first dance lesson at WYSPA, Matthew Lyons, 11, of Yeadon, won a standing ovation following his debut performance as Billy in the first ever UK and Ireland tour of Billy Elliot the Musical.

And six-year-old Max Vento, of Guiseley, has a starring role in new six-part BBC drama ‘The A Word’, which will be aired later this year on BBC One.

Max Vento during filming for BBC drama 'The A Word'

Mrs Fawcett said: “I know each student personally and I know what their capabilities are, so I don’t put forward a child for a casting when I don’t think they have got a chance of getting the part.

“I took Max and Matthew to their auditions. It’s a full support we give to them. We have around 250 pupils and we are like one big family.

“The children are put at ease because they feel like it’s a family environment and we get the best from them.

“The other reason we are so successful is we have nine fantastic teachers. Every teacher at the school is fully qualified and very good at what they do.”

Matthew Lyons won a standing ovation when he performed as Billy for the first time when Billy Elliot the Musical opened at the Theatre Royal Plymouth last month.

Teachers at WYSPA recognised Matthew was talented at five-years-old when he attended a dance class with a friend. He was soon studying ballet, modern, tap and jazz.

Mrs Fawcett said Matthew worked long hours and often stayed behind after lessons because he was so keen to learn.

She said “Normally boys find it harder to follow the choreography than the girls do, but Matthew watches a routine and picks it up straight away and follows it.

Mrs Fawcett said Matthew’s story mirrors Billy’s in the musical, adding: “He has worked really hard to get to this stage.

“He is a boy from a working class family who came to a dance class and it has spiralled.

“To say we are proud of Matthew is an understatement.

“He has been on a massive journey but is now living his dream.” The Billy Elliot the Musical tour will take Matthew all round the UK and will be at Bradford Alhambra from May 10 to June 11.

Max Vento loves singing and dancing, but his parents had no idea he had a hidden talent for acting.

West Yorkshire School of Performing Arts pupil Max, of Guiseley, spent 14 weeks filming for new BBC drama ‘The A Word’ on location in the Lake District and Manchester.

He plays a boy diagnosed with autism in the show, which stars Christopher Eccleston and is set to be screened on BBC One later this year.

Max’s mother Sue Vento, 45, said: “Max has always loved singing and dancing, but we never realised he was a natural at acting. I was pinching myself when he got the role.

“Now he has had a taste of acting I personally feel he will want to carry on.”