Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl out. Boy and girl move to Copenhagen and, five years later, run a thriving and well-established group of performing arts centres for children. Classic story, isn’t it?
Meet Russell Collins, one half of the couple behind Scene Kunst Skoler, a successful establishment for kids interested in music, dance and theatre in Denmark. An Englishman, Collins moved to Copenhagen five years ago with his Danish wife, Christina Anthony, with two goals: to start a children’s theatre school and to start a family. Since then, Scene Kunst and two daughters have come into the world.
When Collins met Anthony, they were both students at the Academy of the Science of Acting and Directing in London, learning under Russian stage director Sam Kogan. “Christina was just graduating when I started, so I was very brave asking her out on a date,” Collins said. The two come from very different backgrounds, but “when you scrape away the surface, we’re like two peas in a pod.”
Idea in the rain
The idea to start a children’s performing arts school stemmed from the couple’s shared love for the arts, but the move to Copenhagen was more pragmatic. “London is a great city, but life can be very hectic and not well-suited to family life,” Collins observed. “And it is a very expensive city to live in at the best of times. We had been having a difficult time trying to make ends meet.”
As if by divine intervention, a clear image of what the school would look like came to Anthony while she was jogging in the rain. “The idea completely crystalised for her, and after that day, we were 100 percent certain about what we were going to do,” Collins said.
Collins and Anthony left London in February 2008 and moved to Copenhagen. A month later, they started Scene Kunst. But knowing exactly what they wanted to do was only one part of the equation; the other was a positive response. “We were unsure about how [the school] would be received in Denmark,” Collins admitted. “Especially since every Dane we knew was telling us it would never work.”
After running a handful of ads around town, the school was flooded with requests for a free trial class. After that, Collins and Anthony had enough students signed up to properly open their first school in Køge.
Half a decade later, the enterprise is entering its sixth year this month, having expanded from one school to eleven at locations in Køge, Hellerup and Roskilde. Collins is aware of just how fortunate he and his wife have been with Scene Kunst: “We have been very lucky in the sense that our schools have just kept on growing and getting better.”
Nine of the eleven schools are Danish and two are international. Altogether, the schools have over 350 full-time students, and all eleven schools have waiting lists. Classes take place on Saturdays for three hours, and the day is split evenly between dance, drama and singing, all taught by working professionals with a desire to inspire their pupils. Kids aged four through six go to ‘mini schools’, and the rest of the schools are for children between the ages of seven and 18. The backgrounds of the children vary greatly, and the only necessary requisite, Collins promises, is a desire to learn.
“All young people are full of creativity, talent and the potential to become whatever they dream of,” said Collins. “We can help them create the confidence and joy of life needed, and they can learn new skills, meet new friends and have fantastic experiences.”
Throughout the year, each school puts on one demo show and one big musical at a professional theatre, which they prepare for over six months of Saturdays. From ‘Oliver!’ to ‘Guys and Dolls’, the shows put on at the schools are full-scale musicals that tend to be international hits. About 50 students are involved in each performance, all in full costume and in front of full sets, and some shows even feature live bands.
Shyness not a problem
No student is forgotten in the performances; everyone has a part, whether it involves singing, dancing or acting – or a combination of the three. While Collins and Anthony support children who are serious about performing, even shy youngsters have a place at Scene Kunst. “[With nervous kids], we just take it very slowly and let them know they will not have to do anything they don’t want to,” Collins assures. “Some of our most inspiring moments have come from seeing students who were extremely shy when they joined us develop their skills and confidence and go on to perform leading roles to a packed theatre.”
Many students have gone on to perform professionally, from the lead in ‘Mary Poppins’ at Det Ny Theatre to integral roles in ‘Forbrydelsen III’ (‘The Killing 3’).
The success inspires to keep on expanding. They’ve just opened two summer schools, where students can take lessons in dancing, drama and singing for a full week, and another school is slated to open this August.
Some ‘me’ time
Nevertheless, they have made room for some ‘me’ time and are currently making final preparations for a play of their own. The four-actor drama will be co-produced by the Nordic Theatre Company and Rear View.
The play in question is ‘The Beach’, written by Peter Asmussen, who is best known as the writer of Lars von Trier’s ‘Breaking the Waves’. Written in Danish, the play has been translated into and will be performed in English. Collins will be both directing and performing, and Anthony will also be in the small cast alongside Danny Thykær (‘Skizo’) and Alexandra Ternstrøm, a former contestant in Mrs World.
He’s been keeping busy here, but Collins does find himself a bit wistful for London. “I miss the theatre scene in London, especially not getting to see my friends perform,” he said. “There are also so many smallscale productions going on that you have many more opportunities to keep working or putting on your own plays.”
But Copenhagen has brought much joy as well. “I suppose you could say we wanted to improve our quality of life,” he mused. “And thankfully we’ve done that.”
For more information on Scene Kunst Skoler, visit www.scenekunstskoler.dk. For ticket information regarding the forthcoming production of ‘The Beach’, visit www.billetten.dk and look out for our preview in InOut in two weeks’ time.