Anna Scher: Legendary Islington theatre teacher (and one-time Gazette writer) looks back on half century of drama
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Anna Scher’s drama classes have been a pillar of Islington for 49 years. The one-time Gazette columnist reviews the highlights of a hugely influential career.
The Islington Gazette obviously knew Anna Scher was destined for great things.
Long before she became a household name, Anna penned a column for this newspaper, where she says the editor gave her “carte blanche” to cover whatever she wanted.
But journalism wasn’t her true calling. In 1968 Anna founded her now-legendary acting school at Ecclesbourne Primary, where she had just started as a teacher. Future Birds of a Feather stars Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson were in the first session.
You’d think Anna had earnt a bit of rest after half a century, but she tells the Gazette this week: “It’s important that my career now is as exciting as it was at the very beginning in 1968.”
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For 49 years, she has near enough churned out top actors, helping disadvantaged children from Islington’s council estates and beyond build confidence. Her alumni include Kathy Burke, Phil Daniels and Natalie Cassidy.
Something that sets Anna’s classes apart is that students don’t spend ages poring over scripts. “Improvisation is the core of my teaching,” she says, “because it’s a quick and effective way of learning, especially when classes are big.
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“Believability is important for improvisation. Once it’s believable, it’s worth it.”
Something else that’s important to Anna is social consciousness. She has run peace workshops on social issues such as children’s rights and AIDS awareness since 1979 and once taught in a bomb shelter with Jewish and Arab children – where she was “inspired to see no segregation”.
At the moment Anna is training up 100 budding actors at her theatre, in St Silas Church on Penton Street. A summer school is running until the end of August, where kids are working on themes such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s lives. She’s also doing poetry and singing sessions. “The experience is ever-changing,” she said. “I love teaching.”
It was a different story at the turn of the millennium. Anna had suffered from depression and was saddened to find herself no longer welcomed by her own board – among them people she had counted as friends for decades. She was forced to re-found the school under her own name a few years later.
But looking back, what stands out are the happy memories: “My greatest achievement is the MBE I received from the Queen.”