Meet our longest-serving Little Voices tutor and find out why she’s stayed with us for so long!
Rachael Hayden/O’Connor has been a Little Voices tutor for 10 years, which makes her the longest-serving tutor in our whole company. She talked to our founder, Jane, about her background, her inspiration, and why she has stayed with usso long; and she also shared with us some of her top tips for life as a tutor, mum and working actress.
What first inspired your love of the performing arts?
Dance was my first love – I started when I was just 4 years old with ballet and modern, before progressing on to performances at primary school. I then became involved with the Youth Theatre in Preston (now known as The Players), under the guidance of the inspirational Debbie Carter, where performing in ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ made me fall in love with the acting world. GCSE Drama then followed, and around the same time I also joined an amateur dramatics group, the Broughton Club Players. Following completion of a BTEC in Performing Arts, I then went on to train at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the RSAMD).
You currently still work as an actress – tell us a bit more about that, and how that fits around your work as a Little Voices tutor?
Before I had my children, I had a number of good TV roles. Nowadays, I have an ongoing job as a ‘simulated patient’ for medical role players. This means I have to act as a real patient, replicating a wide range of symptoms or problems so that medical students can learn how to deal with them in a controlled environment. It involves a lot of acting and learning different scripts, which keeps me on my acting toes!
But since COVID-19, most of my work is now virtual and as I can no longer tour or commit to things for long periods of time, I tend to do mainly commercial casting auditions for ads. The evolution of the self-tape transformed everything as auditions are now also held virtually – which means no long train journeys for auditions in London, which saves both time, and money!
Being a Little Voices tutor was your first teaching role. How did you adjust? How did you find it?
Nerve wracking! Because I hadn’t taught before, everything about it was completely new to me. But Little Voices supported me through the whole process – and importantly, they trusted in me. I learned with the children and grew into the role over time. I drew on things I’d learned at drama school, and eventually my imposter syndrome faded and I learned to trust myself. It even gave me the confidence to do one-to-one teaching from home, which is another string to my bow.
Ultimately, I taught from a place of love. I wanted to teach in a way the children would enjoy; but it was also important to me to create a safe environment for them. I wanted my Little Voices lessons to be a place of trust, with no right or wrong way of doing things. For me, it’s important that children are allowed to make mistakes without worrying about what others will think of them. That’s how they learn to believe in themselves and they then blossom without even realising it!
For the older children, I wanted them to understand that at the end of the day, acting is just reacting to what’s been said to you, or what’s happening around you. It’s about really listening – which is a great skill to have, and one of the many benefits of our singing and drama lessons that young people can carry forward in all areas of their life.
What do you love about being a Little Voices tutor?
There’s so much to love. I love the fact that we only have a small number of pupils in each class, because that means nobody gets ‘lost’. Instead, I can really get to know each child and their unique characters, understand their limitations, and work out how I can help them be more self-confident. I love watching children join us as tiny 4-year-olds and progress through the Little Voices journey until they’re in their teens. I love the trust that I build up with each child. I love watching friendships grow outside of the classroom – lots of our pupils become friends for life. And I particularly love seeing the friendships between opposite personalities develop. The ones where one child loves being in the spotlight and dreams of becoming a superstar, and the other is shy, but learning to be more confident. It’s amazing to witness them supporting and encouraging each other.
Who inspires you today?
People with an infectious personality – like my principal, Haylie. Strong women – like you, Jane. Young people with so much confidence and self-belief, who are unapologetically themselves and learning as they go – like Rose Ayling-Ellis on Strictly Come Dancing. Fearless people.
Why have you stayed with Little Voices for so long?
For me, Little Voices feels like ‘home’. I love Clitheroe, which is where I teach. It’s a half hour journey from where I live, and that 30 minutes is precious thinking time for me. No matter what mood I’m in when I leave home, by the time I arrive I always feel brighter! Everyone knows that Wednesday afternoon is my Little Voices time and as such, it’s sacred for me. I work at Lancaster University, I have my role playing, I have my casting agent – and they all understand that whatever they need me to do has to fit around my time as a Little Voices tutor on Wednesdays!
What do you find challenging about being a Little Voices tutor?
It can be a bit of a challenge to find good scripts for 8 people. When pupils don’t turn up and we’re close to an exam – that can be a bit stressful. But I think that my biggest challenge is trusting that I’m always doing enough for the children who walk through my doors every Wednesday afternoon. Because for me, that’s what it’s all about.
How do you keep your lessons fresh each week?
Two heads are better than one, so I always make sure I have some planning time with my principal, Haylie. It’s easy to become complacent with your teaching style, so I like to shake things up a bit by looking online and at YouTube for inspiration. Having the right mix of children in each group is crucial, so I always sort them according to the children’s abilities and friendship groups. Something that can really change the group dynamic is having a focus – so for example, right now everything’s focused on Christmas, which naturally the children are very excited about! When we’re not working on exam repertoire, I find having a different theme for each group injects a renewed vibrancy and enthusiasm into lessons, so that’s something else I try to incorporate whenever I can.
What are your top tips on being a Little Voices tutor, mum and working actress?
- Don’t overwhelm yourself.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Be disciplined with your time – it’s your time, and it’s precious. Once you start making concessions, it’s a slippery slope!
- Don’t take rejection personally.
- Try and keep a positive mental attitude – what’s meant for you is meant for you.
- Above all else, it’s got to be fun or it’s not worth doing.