Having a successful long-term career in the theatre industry requires artists to diversify their skills. Performers with such a drive for their art find that there are many opportunities to use their creative talents to the full, and being passionate about performing can be extended to many professions, while continuing to be an active performer in the industry. We talked to Billy Cullum, British Choreographer and West End actor, about the challenges of opening his theatre school, KiPA, and his passion for theatre that has led to training the next generation of performers.


Billy Cullum has had a successful career in the West End as a performer, with credits including Matilda, RENT, Jesus Christ Superstar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Little Shop of Horrors, the World Premiere of ‘Leave to Remain’ and more. His passion for musical theatre is clear, and he explains to us that his inspiration for starting KiPA came from his own experiences as a child. ‘One of the main inspirations for opening my own theatre school was the fact that I, growing up in Kingston, didn’t have...an outlet where I could develop my skills and this passion,’ Billy then goes on to describe the ‘absolute passion for teaching,’ he had after leading workshops internationally and around the UK. Through combining his love for teaching with the hope to provide the next generation of performers with a place to develop their skills, Billy created KiPA, a Kingston-based theatre school for aspiring performers.


Billy also points out the difficulties in starting a theatre school - ‘The biggest challenge for setting up my theatre school was honestly finding the correct space. It was finding the space that I wanted these young people to come to that wasn’t a school, so it didn’t feel like they were going back to school, it felt like they were coming to this new, youth theatre hangout place.’ And he further mentions all the work required in order to set one up legally - ‘‘Getting the professional checks with all the staff, making sure you have all the safety training, the privacy guidelines, all the digital privacy guidelines, there’s a lot of work that happens before you actually open.’ Starting a theatre school evidently is not a walk in the park, and we can see all the hard work that has gone into creating such a space to help young performers. Billy finishes this statement with a definitive ‘It takes a lot of work, but it is so, so worth it.’


We also enquired about how different performing on the West End is, to teaching others to perform. Billy points out how when he’s performing, it comes quite instinctively, but being given the chance to teach means ‘the analytical and the technical side really comes out.’ He emphasises how teaching goes both ways. When he teaches his students technique, he also finds that ‘it...strengthens my own technique and understanding of what I do.’ Teaching also allows him to choreograph, which Billy finds is another creative outlet. Whereas there are more rigid rules to performing, Billy describes choreographing as being ‘your own boss’, and it allows him to ‘explore and experiment’ with his work. 


Finally, we asked Billy for his best piece of advice for aspiring young performers hoping to break into the industry. ‘The biggest advice I would give to young aspiring performers is to never stop working. Not in the sense of getting...jobs, but never stop developing your craft in whatever you want to do.’ 


Billy Cullum sets a great example of a passionate performer in the theatre industry who has used his talents and passions to better himself and others. Starting KiPA has not been easy, but it is clear it has been a successful endeavour and a place where the next generation of performers can develop and grow in their skills and love for theatre. In talking today with Billy we have seen how the determination to never stop working and developing your craft can lead to incredible results. 


Article by Josephine Shaw

For more information on KiPA: https://kipakingston.com