The Houldsworth – The New Kid on the Cultural Block
Stepping into the new home for the Houldsworth School of Performing Arts is very much like tumbling down the rabbit hole into a world of infinite possibilities.
From the outside it looks just like any of the other industrial-age buildings which make up the Northern Quarter and finding it is a bit of a struggle (the new signs haven’t gone up yet). It’s position on Little Lever Street is reminiscent of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter; Central yet out-of-the-way, like a hidden gem.
I am rescued from the rain and ushered inside by Freya Marshall, one of the two enterprising young women who have set up the Houldsworth. The central rehearsal space is where we come to first.
A huge room which is largely empty save for the two giant armchairs in the corner, a blank canvas on which future performances and projects can be shaped.
Coming off this room is a kitchen and an office and there is also a smaller, self-contained space which
Freya hopes to use for one-on-one tuition in performance and writing, as well as renting it out during the day as an office.
A curious barn door in one of the walls leads to what is currently a parking space. “This is where we plan to have our Choir sessions” Freya informs me; “and it’s also where we held auditions for our up-coming show”. Indeed the room echoes fantastically and the atmosphere lends itself well to drama and performance.
Yet another door leads off the ‘Barn’ down to the basement- the main performance space. It can also be
accessed via a wrought iron spiral staircase which winds it’s way down through the floor of the main rehearsal room. The Houldsworth, it strikes me, is like a labyrinth; beckoning you to it’s centre.
After the grand tour Freya leads back up to the office and my suspicions that the building has a life of
it’s own are confirmed. To hear Freya talk about the project her and business partner Sally Lawton have embarked upon is almost like listening to a parent talk about their child. The Houldsworth is Freya and Sally’s baby and it is growing up fast.
Freya and Sally met 5 years ago while Sally was teaching an adult drama class. She needed a partner to
teach a children’s class and Freya fit the bill. Both women studied performing arts at university.
Freya at MMU and Sally at Salford- as well as going on to teach the subject (Freya has coached GCSE drama students) and teaching certainly seems to be something which comes naturally to both of them.
They moved their classes to the Cathlocke Centre in Hulme and then to the Zion Centre. It was here that
they worked on a version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which was staged at the Zion Centre and had an amazing reception from parents. Issues with space at the Zion Centre resulted in Freya moving her children’s group to Inspire in Levenshulme.
It was the performance of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which cinched it for Freya and Sally. They knew they had something special and this prompted them to begin renting their own
office space on Oxford Road. It was during this time, with Sally based at Oxford Road and Freya at Inspire that they staged their own version of Adrian Mole.
They also teamed up briefly with Elite Talent and became known as The Elite Talent Theatre School.
At this point the need for their own space big enough for all their classes and projects became a real issue.
“That’s when we found the Houldsworth” Freya explains. They began renting the property in March this year but applying for specific building permits meant that the big opening was delayed until May.
“It was a nightmare getting all the paperwork filled out” says Freya with a noticeable shudder at the memory; “A really nice guy from the council sat down with me and we got it all done”. Her relief and pride in having got over such a big obstacle is palpable.
During this time they parted ways with The Elite Talent Agency. “We (her and Sally) decided ‘Let’s do this
properly! New beginning, new building, new name’” and The Houldsworth School of Performing Arts was born.
Classes here are varied and there’s something for everyone; from beginner’s classes which encourage
confidence building and fun in a no-pressure environment, to one-to-one sessions coaching young people wanting to get into drama school on audition techniques and in-depth skills.
“And it’s all on a pay-as-you-go basis”explains Freya “so there’s no pressure to come every week if you can’t make it”and no huge term fees either, with prices at £6 a class or £5 for multiple classes.
The Houldsworth also encourages people of all ages to interact and work together.
Their recent staging of the Crucible involved performers aged from 13 to 55. “It’s great to
see them all working together and becoming friends” says Freya.
“They’ve all kept in touch and meet up outside of their classes. It’s great for the young people especially; it’s amazing seeing how much they grow from the first rehearsal to the final performance”.
The summer is a busy time for the Houldsworth. There are two summer schools, the first for ages 6-12 taking place between Monday 30th July and Friday 3rd August. The emphasis is on fun and confidence building and will end with a performance for parents and families of School Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Daisy and Ken Campbell.
The second is aimed at teenagers aged 13 and up and will end with a performance of 13 The Musical.
It takes place between 6th and 18th. Anyone can get involved but parts will be given out after
They are also staging their own version of Wuthering Heights from Wednesday 20th to Saturday 23rd
June. Tickets cost £7 (£5 concessions).
This will be their first show in which the actors and director will get
paid, marking a huge stepping stone in The Houldsworth’s development.
So what does the future hold for The Houldsworth? “We have another show lined up for the end of the summer” (Bouncers and Shakers by John Godber and Jane Thornton), “and we want to
encourage more people to come to the classes, as well as renting the space to
artists. We really want to create a place for the whole community”.
As Freya talks I can almost feel the building rumbling around us, as if in anticipation of things to come…
For information about classes, up-coming performances and prices visit The Houldsworth’s website on www.thehouldsworth.com.