In 2003, former West End performers Brian and Catherine Webster moved back to Guernsey, where Catherine grew up. Their dream was to create an inclusive dance and theatre school where they could pass on their decades of professional experience to the island’s budding stars.
Fast forward 20 years, and The Guernsey Academy of Theatrical Education (GATE) has nurtured thousands of talented youngsters, with many going on to pursue a career in the performing arts. With dozens of annual shows, Eisteddfods, Dance Festivals and Dance World Cup successes (including 2 Gold medals for Guernsey on the international stage) under its belt, the school is going from strength to strength.
‘It’s surpassed all our expectations,’ said Catherine (or “Miss Catherine” to her students).
‘We wanted to give local children the full experience of performing, from dancing to singing and acting, so anyone wishing to pursue the performing arts as a career have all the necessary skills, not just one. It was a world that Brian and I were fully immersed in, and we wanted our students to experience that same feeling performing can give you.
‘It’s amazing how much talent we have in such a small island. With fewer distractions and an active lifestyle, our students are in a fantastic position to put their energy into their passion.’
Brian and Catherine’s daughters, Maisie and Eliza, have grown up around the school, with invaluable help from Catherine’s mother, “Miss Jeanette”, who still runs the dancewear and equipment shop on a Saturday morning. Both girls are accomplished performers, with Maisie heading to study performing arts at Laine Theatre Arts in September. She follows a string of GATE alumni to have followed their dreams, and so many have gone on to achieve successful careers.
Cameron Ashplant, who took an academic route at university, has used his theatrical background to become an accomplished actor, screenwriter and director. He co-founder of Across The Channel Productions with which he produced the Amazon Prime series ‘The Balkans’ and Guernsey film ‘Marooned Awakening’. The latter secured a Los Angeles-based distribution deal. He’s acted opposite Steve Coogan, Andrew Scott, Paterson Joseph, Tilly Keeper, Tim McInnerny, Barry Keoghan and Mark Gatiss, and has also acted in scenes with Mads Mikkelsen, Harrison Ford and Austin Butler.
Pierce Rogan, who left GATE in 2014, is currently performing in South Pacific in the West End, having also starred in Fiddler on the Roof. Rachel MacDougall has also gone on to perform in The King and I which will end its UK tour in the West End in January.
Others, like Harry Giubileo, have gone on to secure TV acting roles and the lead in West End play Witness for the Prosecution, with a number pursuing dance teaching, singing and songwriting. Indi Phillips and Sam Ashcroft both perform on cruise ships, while Claudia Valentina has a successful singing career and almost a quarter of a million followers across Instagram and TikTok.
But it’s not all about fame, says Brian.
‘Arguably there’s no better feeling than performing before an audience and seeing the results from all the blood, sweat and tears,’ he said.
‘But also it’s about friendship, teamwork and creating rounded human beings. The camaraderie backstage at shows, the buzz in a dance studio at training and the laughter and excitement when we travel away for competitions. That’s what it’s all about. Seeing young people enjoy themselves and achieve what they had never dreamed they could, that’s the feeling that we strive to achieve, and there’s nothing like it.’
Catherine trained at the prestigious Elmhurst Ballet School, where upon leaving she performed professionally for 12 years.
Her credits include: Me and My Girl, Singin’ in the Rain, Calamity Jane, Oliver!, Hollywood and Broadway, West Side Story, Grease (Patty Simcox and Jan in the West End), Lautrec (West End) and the Ira Gershwin Gala (West End and televised). TV credits include The Bill, Talking Telephones, Watchdog and commercials. Catherine has worked with many stars such as John Barrowman, Shane Ritchie, Adam Garcia, Samantha Janus, Paul Nicholas, Wayne Sleep, Gary Wilmot, Hannah Waddingham and Bonny Langford and remains in contact with many working professionals, often bringing them over to teach GATE students.
Brian trained at both the Guildford School of Acting and West Street Ballet School. His professional credits include: Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story (Diesel), Grease (Roger and Sonny in the West End), The Movie of ‘Jesus Christ Super Star’, Stars of the West End (Malaysia Stadium Concert), Copacabana, Happy Days, Boogie Nights and professional pantomimes. TV credits include GMTV, TFI Friday (as one of the Massive Heads), The Clothes Show and Blue Peter. Brian has worked with many stars including Arlene Phillips, Shane Ritchie, Paul Nicholas, Tommy Steele, Wayne Sleep, Henry Winkler, Michael Praed and Leslie Grantham.
Actor/ film director – Marooned Awakening
TV actor – Casualty & Last Train to Christmas
Cruise ship dancer/ singer
Cruise ship vocalist