2018 marks Stagecoach Performing Arts’ 30th anniversary year. Here’s how it all began…

When Stephanie Manuel first came up with the idea of Stagecoach schools, she never dreamed it would become as successful as it has. But, as a mum who ferried her son, Paul – now a successful actor and musical star – to various dance, singing and acting lessons, she knew that somewhere that combined all three disciplines in the same place would be a godsend.

Stephanie Manuel the Founder of Stagecoach Performing Arts

Her concept was a part-time school with small classes and three-hour sessions, giving equal attention to singing, dancing and acting. “I wanted proper training,” Stephanie says, “and I designed it as much for parents as for children.”
With a business partner, David Sprigg, she set up three schools in Richmond, Redhill and Woking, Surrey, in 1988, and signed up 80 youngsters via a newspaper ad and Stagecoach Performing Arts was born.
The idea took off immediately and with Stagecoach guidance and training, schools started to pop up all over. Now, 30 years on, Stagecoach is the largest performing arts network of its kind, with more than 700 schools training almost 45,000 students. Most are in the UK, but there are also schools in Canada, Germany, Australia, Gibraltar, Malta, South Africa, Spain and China.

Saracens vs Harlequins rugby match at the London Stadium in March 2018.

The Stagecoach Choir Festival taking place at the Birmingham Symphony Hall in 2012

The idea is now – as it was when it began – to help young people build confidence and life skills and, above all, have fun.
“The aim was very much to create something that didn’t look for stars,” says Stephanie. “I wanted to create something where everyone had the same fun, got a confidence boost and built self-esteem. It’s great that so many of today’s young stars got their start with Stagecoach, but that was never its main goal, which was to help every student develop.”

20th anniversary celebrations with Stagecoach patron  Phillip Schofield in 2008

Beauty & the Beast Premiere - Nathan from Stagecoach Chelmsford and the Stagecoach Talent Agency who got him the part in the Blockbuster movie. Left to right: Louise, Luke Evans, Nathan (Chip the Teacup) and Tarquin.

Schools are independently inspected to keep training standards high and class numbers are kept small. Teachers have plenty of experience, are talented and creative, and students are encouraged to be disciplined, punctual and committed. Stagecoach also runs national West End and regional events, plus Disney Dance the Dream and our annual Summer Showcase.

Cats was performed by over 3,000 students in 2013 at the Arena Birmingham to mark the 25th anniversary with over 10,000 people watching

Students Dance the Dream in the Pre-Parade down Main Street at Disneyland Paris in 2016. 

Although Stephanie bowed out of Stagecoach several years ago, she loved watching it grow and is incredibly proud of the organisation. “It was the time of my life,” she says. “It was hectic and hard work, but magical and every day was an adventure. “I‘m most proud to hear students say things like, ‘Stagecoach means everything to me’ and to see them make friends for life and feel they belong to something so important.”

In 2008, Stagecoach got the Guinness World record for the largest simultaneous performance of one show for its 20th anniversary, achieving 66 performances of Glad Rags across the UK, Ireland and Germany. We’re hoping to beat our own record for Beauty & the Beast Junior on 1 July 2018 across the UK, Germany and Canada!

No of schools: 700
No of students: 45,000
No of countries: 9

Stagecoach students performing at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002

Our students sang with Robbie Williams on his tour in 2014.