We were delighted when Bold Girl Bethany Gavin accepted our offer to return to Burgess Hill Girls and speak at our Spring Open Day on February 1st 2020. With the pupils giving a preview of our 2020 production of the Chicago on the day it was fitting to hear from Bethany as she was heavily involved in productions at Burgess Hill Girls before going on to pursue a career as a Theatre Agent.
Here follows a transcript of her speech:
“Good afternoon to you all. I am really thrilled to have been invited back to Burgess Hill Girls by Mrs Laybourn to talk to you this afternoon.
To introduce myself, I joined Burgess Hill Girls in 2000 in Year 2 aged 7 and I remained at the school until I finished my A-Levels at 18, leaving in 2011.
I went straight on to University where I graduated with a 1st in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies from Roehampton. Since then I have been working for the last five years as a Theatre Agent in the West End where I represent actors and creatives within theatre, television and film. Alongside this, I am Principal of a Drama Academy for students aged 4 to 19 in Steyning as part of Ariel Company Theatre. That is just a very quick timeline up to this point.
It’s quite a daunting prospect to try and do justice to the wonderful memories I have of this school within a short speech so I decided to go back to beginning, so I asked my parents “what was it about the open days you attended at Burgess Hill Girls? How did you know it was the right school for me?” My mum replied immediately, “I just had such a strong sense of happiness from everyone.” She then paused – bearing in mind I’m now asking her to cast her mind back over 20 years – “it was something that Mrs Brown (the Primary School Deputy Head at the time) said which was – whatever your daughter has a talent for, we will bring it out and we will nurture it.”
That really resonated with me, and as I’m sure you may have guessed from my introduction, my ‘thing’, my ‘talent’ was Drama. I’d always loved performing but there was a gear shift when I joined Burgess Hill Girls, especially when I entered the Senior School and I was introduced to the Drama Department which was and still is led by the wonderful Mrs Cassim. My eyes were opened and my passion was fuelled.
The opportunities available went beyond a timetabled drama lesson – you’ve already seen a taster of the standard of our full-scale school productions. But within this, we were able to learn stage management, costume, set, make-up and hair design. We were taught how to plot and operate a lighting and sound desk – this became a very useful skill when I was at University. I suddenly became everyone’s best friend around production time when the in-house technician was too busy to help us all – I was equipped to offer my services!
I will always fondly remember Inter-House performing arts days, an annual competition which involves students from Years 7 to Upper Sixth, in which the Lower Sixth are tasked with creating an original script that includes songs, dances and music. The house entries are performed in front of the rest of the school and an external adjudicator. This was my favourite day of the year because not only did it showcase the amazing talent within our student body but it created opportunities to form relationships with students outside of our year group by placing team spirit, healthy competition, leadership roles, organisation but most importantly fun and creativity at its heart.
As part of my role now as Principal of a Drama Academy, I have to organise an annual showcase at The Hawth Theatre in Crawley. This involves leading a large team of tutors, technicians and 150 students. I often refer back to the skills I learnt during Inter-House Performing Arts.
Another very special aspect of my school life were the trips available to us. Whether it was participating in workshops and seeing shows on Broadway, to skiing in Austria, exploring ruins and ancient amphitheatres in Greece or hiking up mountains and volunteering in orphanages in Poland – all of these experiences not only provided me with memories I’ll have forever but also instilled a need within me to always push myself out of my comfort zone and to always be open to new opportunities.
What makes Burgess Hill Girls such an extraordinary place to be is the care and dedication of the teachers. There is such a strong sense that they are always cheering you on – even long after you’ve left. That encouragement is infectious.
I will never forget on my GCSE results day, my maths teacher saw me from across the room, took me by the hand and said she would like to open my results envelope with. I instantly had a sinking feeling – “oh no, I’ve not got the grade we were hoping for and she wants to be here to console me.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. She wanted to be by my side as I opened my results to celebrate with me as I had got the grade we’d both worked so hard to achieve. Whenever I think about this moment, I remember how much this meant to her and years down the line how much it still means to me.
The intimate class sizes create a strong student/teacher dynamic which gives students the room to be who they are within lessons in a safe and supportive learning environment. The teaching staff really know who you are and therefore can give the most accurate advice – whether it be career guidance or university options. I will be forever thankful for the advice Mrs Cassim gave me when it came for me to make these choices.
Hearing the current students speak this afternoon, I am reminded of how the school works hard to create a sense of identity within every student. That’s not something that can be taught from a textbook but is developed through richness of a well-rounded education. I never felt pressure to pretend to be something I wasn’t whilst at school – I was accepted for who I was – my weaknesses were supported and my strengths were celebrated and nurtured.
I hold this at the centre of my success during job applications and now in my career as a Theatre Agent – I am comfortable with who I am and my clients, colleagues and employers can see and trust that.
I will be forever grateful for the education I received at Burgess Hill Girls – it’s a place where I formed life-long friendships, equipped me with the tools to deal with both personal and professional challenges, it instilled in me a strong work ethic, a sense of self-belief and helped me discover my passion for the arts which I now work in today. I’m proud to be a Bold Girl – there’s a reason we all keep coming back! Thank you.”