Charlotte Armitage of YAFTA
Charlotte Armitage, managing director of the Yorkshire Academy of Film and Television Acting (YAFTA), talks starring in corrie and starting her own acting academy...
What does your role involve?
I am responsible for the overall running of YAFTA - both the acting academy and talent agency. My day always focuses around the students, whether it is reviewing new student applications, meeting with students to assess their needs, progress and development or developing our new courses and creating the course curriculums.
I have an expert team of tutors in place, all with extensive industry experience. I regularly meet with my teaching team to ensure they are up to speed with module changes and the course programmes are on track. I set up YAFTA as somewhere I would want to learn to act so I ensure that the teaching standards are high so that our students are getting a the best experience.
In the other side of my role, heading up the talent agency, I work hard to help our actors secure roles in mainstream film and television by putting them forward for work and supporting them through the process.
As an actress myself I spend any few hours I can spare going to auditions and filming too.
What is it the company does?
YAFTA provides professional screen acting training for children, teenagers and adults for all ages and abilities. Founded in 2013, it delivers four acting diploma cohorts and 14 evening classes for around 200 budding actors. From February 2018 we are launching two additional cohorts for those wanting to develop as screenwriters or film and television production professionals. All classes are led by tutors with a wealth of TV and film credits to their name and YAFTA is one of the few acting agencies outside of London that is a member of the Personal Managers Association. Through the YAFTA talent agency we also places actors into mainstream film & TV work.
What were you doing prior to starting the business?
I started out working in occupational psychology for the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) before undertaking a degree in BSc (Hons) Psychology at University of Leeds. After graduating I went on to own a chain of hairdressing salons across Yorkshire. In the peak of the recession I was unable to sustain the business, so with nothing to lose, I decided to go to London to do an acting course and have never looked back.
I have had roles in Coronation Street and Happy Valley and decided to set up YAFTA to share my craft. The experience of assessment and selection that I had gleaned from my role at the NPIA was instrumental in aiding the growth of YAFTA. It enabled me to create a competency based structured syllabus which is objective but that also allows an element of subjectivity so not to stifle the creative aspect of the craft. It’s something I was unable to find anywhere else in the acting industry, so created it myself.
Where did you start, how did you move on?
For many years I had taken acting classes in the North of the UK. I found that many of them were very expensive and were taught by people with no academic background in acting. This just didn’t seem right to me, how can someone teach something without an academic understanding of it? So after a short stint in London I returned to the North to set up YAFTA. I wanted it to be an academy where I would want to learn to act, which meant that all tutors had to be; drama school trained, experienced in screen acting, experienced in teaching and DBS cleared. I believe it is because of these benchmarks that so many students from across the world have chosen YAFTA to train.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
You have to be innovative, personable and respectful of others. A good leader should be tenacious and resilient so that they are able to bounce back and inspire productivity during hard times.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The biggest challenge has been building the business whilst also having a young child. I set up YAFTA when I was seven months pregnant so I’ve gone through many stages of change such as working with a newborn baby, then a toddler and now working around school hours. Each part brings its own new challenges.
Having to file for bankruptcy when my salons closed has made its own challenges when starting a new business. I have been lucky to have had the support of my bank. They have of course been much more stringent, but it has challenged me to grow the business debt free – putting YAFTA in a much stronger position when our economy is still at a low.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
My favourite thing is to spend time with my daughter Lilia, who’s four. We go on holiday a lot. Work hard, holiday hard!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
My industry is incredibly competitive and you often come across people who will step on anyone to get to the top. I ensure YAFTA doesn’t have that culture, leading from the tutors I recruit. We encourage our students to work hard and focus on their own work, if they are keen to learn and develop and have drive and ambition, then success will come.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
In five years time I would like to have grown the brand nationwide through licensing and franchising. I would also like to see the main academy in Leeds offering additional cohorts of the diploma programmes that we currently offer.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
If you have an idea then you should go for it but remember that you are not invincible. Your idea is not guaranteed to work so tread carefully at first and don’t overstretch yourself. Don’t get complacent or take things for granted when it’s going well because this is when mistakes can happen.
You also can’t do everything yourself. Hire the right people and they will alleviate a lot of the stress and time consumed in managing people. Finally, appreciate and respect your team and the value that they bring to the organisation.
I know that my business is built on the strength of my team and I make sure that they know how grateful I am for their hard work and efforts.