* Photo by Sirkka Huish. Acting up: Warwick Academy drama teacher Matthew McGowan, second right, works with some of his students as they rehearse their latest production.
* Photo by Sirkka Huish. Acting up: Warwick Academy drama teacher Matthew McGowan, second right, works with some of his students as they rehearse their latest production.
When it comes to perfecting students' acting skills, Warwick Academy has hit the jackpot. Its drama G.C.S.E. classes have trebled in size in just two years and pupils are wowing crowds with their productions. Sirkka Huish talks to Matthew McGowan, the drama teacher everyone is talking about.

Teacher Matthew McGowan proudly talks about his students as if they were his own children.

The drama teacher at Warwick Academy works around the clock to hone their acting skills. With firsthand experience on the stage in the U.K., the 30-year-old shares everything he knows with young thespians.

His hard work is paying off - in just two-and-a-half years he has transformed the drama department.

When he joined the school in September 2007, just 11 students opted to take drama G.C.S.E. Numbers have now more than trebled to 37 G.S.C.E students in two classes.

The students are full of praise for Mr. McGowan, saying he is bursting with energy and enthusiasm.

The modest teacher said: "We're very lucky to have boosted the numbers so hugely. I'd like to think I have a good relationship with the kids and that they like me.

"We rub along very well together, we are like a big family."

Mr. McGowan teaches G.C.S.E's to years 10 and 11 and the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme to years 12 and 13.

He was initially the school's only drama teacher but there are now three part-time drama teachers.

Mr. McGowan loves getting the students excited about drama and dismisses assumptions it's an "easy subject or soft option".

He says his students would describe him as "light-hearted, energetic, enthusiastic and realistic". He "definitely isn't an ogre" but students "know not to cross the line".

His job is made easier by the "incredible acting talent" at the school, with "some of the most talented kids I've ever seen".

With a strong background in state education, Mr. McGowan never imagined he would teach in a private school. But he has loved every minute of it and "wouldn't have it any other way".

In the U.K. he said he was lucky if "kids got a few G.C.S.E.s". But Warwick Academy has taught him the "big impact" he can have on children's lives.

He said: "Now my success is measured by getting students into top universities or drama schools.

"I can teach more quickly here - in my first year I got through all my schemes of work before Easter.

"The students' behaviour and attention is better, they are much more focused and driven. Competition for jobs in Bermuda is fierce - students know they have to do their best or they will get left behind."

In his early days at the school, there was "nothing in the pot for productions" but over time fundraising has helped set up a budget.

The former assembly hall has been turned into a state-of-the-art drama studio with the help of benefactor Pam Ferreira, the CEO of MarketPlace.

Mr. McGowan "inherited" Sleeping Beauty as his first production, having arrived at the school after the cast had been selected.

He then went on to wow the crowds with Henry V, Little Shop of Horrors, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Blood Brothers.

On Saturday, students will perform Tam O' Shanter for the Caledonian Society's Burns Night celebration.

Mr. McGowan said: "People say they have never seen school plays like this so I just keep going for it.

"The productions have really launched Warwick Academy into the public eye. I couldn't be happier."

Mr. McGowan says a production "takes over your entire life for three months", with evening and weekend rehearsals. It is "hugely stressful" but "I do it because I love it".

He added: "I wake up at 4am and think, 'Oh God, I haven't done this or that.' There's a lot of pressure as it's so public. If it's bad, everyone knows. There's always that fear of failure and embarrassment."

Mr. McGowan praised the "fantastic team" at the school, adding it is getting "harder and harder" to cast students.

He said: "Our reputation is growing so we have to raise the bar with every production. We are trying to go bigger and better each year, although it's not getting any easier for the kids as they know my standards and have a lot to live up to."

Mr. McGowan was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, and raised in Chepstow, South Wales.

As a child he was "very dramatic" and "a complete show-off" who put on shows for his neighbours.

He got his first taste of life on the stage in the chorus of the musical The Boy Friend while at Chepstow Comprehensive School. He got the acting bug and started to take on lead roles in school productions.

As a 15-year-old he joined Gwent Young People's Theatre and decided that "whatever I do in life it has to involve drama".

He gained "invaluable practical experience" working with professional directors at the council-run theatre school for three years. He had roles in a variety of productions, including the Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz, Mickey in Blood Brothers and Benjamin the donkey in Animal Farm.

Mr. McGowan said: "No one in my family is in the theatre - they don't like the spotlight. But we all share the same work ethic as we all throw ourselves into our work."

Mr. McGowan did a three-year drama degree at St. Mary's University College in London. He specialised in Shakespeare and physical theatre and loved how plays could "challenge people" and "audiences felt real emotions".

University stage credits includes Mr. Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby and Len in Edward Bond's Saved, while his "big moment" was shaving his head like a monk for the lead role in The Strangeness of Others.

Mr. McGowan liked the "healthy competition" and being encouraged to "push to the limit and take risks". But it was at university Mr. McGowan realized how difficult being an actor is as friends struggled to pay the bills while auditioning.

He was lead singer with indie-rock band Chaplin before heading to Japan to teach English for two years. While living in Tokyo he got involved with the technical side of theatre but realised he "had to go home to do this".

A day before the deadline he applied and got accepted for a specialist drama teaching training course at Devon Secondary Teacher Training Group.

Mr. McGowan said: "I had to do something productive with my life. I loved being with kids, I knew I was doing the right thing."

Mr. McGowan's first teaching job was at his old school, Chepstow Comprehensive. Having his former teachers as colleagues "took a bit of getting used to". At the school he directed Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables and Oliver!

But Mr. McGowan got "itchy feet" and stumbled across the drama teacher post at Warwick Academy.

He said: "I applied just because, no other reason. I got an interview and before I knew it, I was here."

His arrival in Bermuda was "love at first sight" as he could see the sea from his bedroom.

As for the future, Mr. McGowan wants to get back on stage and hopes to work with amateur dramatic groups BMDS and the Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

He said: "I have to start practicing what I preach. I want to show the students I still have it."