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Apprentice star returns to inspire students

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Published on 19 January 2023

Reece Donnelly with University of Sunderland Year 2 and 3 Performing Arts students
Reece Donnelly with University of Sunderland Year 2 and 3 Performing Arts students

A drama graduate-turned theatre entrepreneur, who is currently starring in the new series of the BBC’s The Apprentice, has visited the University of Sunderland to inspire the next generation of budding performers. 

Reece Donnelly, who is hoping to become Lord Alan Sugar’s next business partner, graduated at the Stadium of Light in 2017 with a University of Sunderland BA (Hons) in Drama – which he studied at West College Scotland, a former University TNE (Transnational Education) partner college. 

This week (Wednesday 18 January), the Glaswegian businessman returned to Wearside to check out the Performing Arts facilities at the University’s Priestman Building – where he was treated to a performance by Year 2 and 3 students, which was part of their rehearsals for their upcoming show Spring Awakening.

Reece then answered students’ questions about his career success and shared tips and advice on how to make it in the performing arts industry.  

Reece runs his own theatre school, has appeared on stage and screen, as well as having a massive Instagram following.

On being back on Sunderland soil, the 25-year-old said: “The University of Sunderland has been great. It has been so good to be back and see all the magic going on in the University’s Performing Arts discipline. 

“Watching the students perform was brilliant, I feel like I had stepped back in time to my time in training. They were great, fantastically talented – and I think you can see just how much the University’s modules and courses are shining through them.”

Reece has been acting since the age of six, with appearances in BBC drama Waterloo Road, adverts for S1 Jobs and T-Mobile, as well as a series of Nickelodeon voiceovers.

In 2017, at the age of 20, Reece founded the Theatre School of Scotland and Theatre College of Scotland – making him the youngest college owner in the UK, with many of his students landing roles with the BBC, CBeebies, CBBC, Disney and Netflix. 

Reece - who is also the director of children's talent agency, KR Management - made The Sunday Mail Young Scot Awards final in 2018. 

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, Senior Lecturer for Performing Arts and Screen Performance and Programme Leader for Screen Performance at the University of Sunderland, said: “We are really excited to have Reece with us at the University, inspiring the students about what is possible upon graduation. 

“Reece's Programme Leader at West College Scotland, Morven Pringle, enthused about Reece and her time in teaching him. We had a wonderful chat about how he was such a hard-working entrepreneur even as a student, an excellent actor, very switched on, a successful child actor, and extremely pro-active. 

“We feel very lucky to have Reece visit us and talk to the students about developing business skills, particularly relevant for the industry and when they move into graduation.”

So, what advice does Reece have for students hoping to follow in his career footsteps? 

“I would just say, go for it! You already have the skill set and the talent – all you need to do is find that drive inside you.

"Take that leap of faith and great things will come from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Reece is the first Scottish candidate on The Apprentice in eight years – but what drove him to apply? 

“The reason I went on the show is to change any stigma that performing arts isn’t a career; performing arts isn’t a business; performing arts isn’t a career you can have longevity in,” Reece explained.

“There is proof in the pudding that it’s actually a very, very rewarding career. 

“It’s rewarding in the benefits you receive financially, and, on top of that, it’s a job that you love. If you’re lucky enough to find a job in the performing arts, then I firmly believe you’re not working, you’re just going out there and enjoying yourself every day.”

The Apprentice, which features contestants battling it out to impress Lord Sugar with their sales skills and business acumen for a £250,000 investment in their company, airs every Thursday at 9pm on BBC One and is available to stream or by catch up on BBC iPlayer.

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