A bursary from St Catherine’s Bramley helped me to follow my passion for the arts, says theatre producer Pietra Mello-Pittman MBE
What school did you go to and when?
I moved from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where I was born, and started at St Catherine’s Prep School in 1988 until 1999 when I left the Senior School after GCSEs.
What were your passions at school?
I loved Arts, Drama, Music, Languages and Science, especially Biology. I was in division 2 for Maths and Mr Friend became our new teacher in the last year of GSCE studies. He brought such an amazing energy (and patience) to the subject it became my new favourite and I got an ‘A’ in my final exams.
What A-levels did you choose?
While at The Royal Ballet Senior School in London I took three A-levels in French, Dance History plus Anatomy, and English Literature, and got an ‘A’ and two ‘B’s.
Did you find your idea for a career at school and how?
I took my first ever ballet class at St Catherine’s Prep School and it became a hobby from that moment. In Senior School it became a very serious hobby; the school and staff were very supportive. I loved all the Arts, Music and Drama on offer at the School. Now, as a full time Creative Producer and business owner where the capacity to multitask and juggle many issues at once is required daily, I think back at the amount of extra-curricular opportunities the school encouraged and think it played a significant role in shaping my ability to do that.
How did your school help you with that?
It was always made clear that we could and should have the ambition to achieve whatever we set our sights to and be ready to put in the work required. I found St Catherine’s such a supportive safe space during my 11 years there. I was also a bursary recipient and without that much needed support would not have had the incredible start and opportunities that have contributed to where I am today. The school’s commitment to providing financial assistance to students such as me allowed me to pursue my passions and dreams, regardless of my financial background.
Where did you go after school?
I attended the Royal Ballet Senior School in London and after two and a half years training, joined the Royal Ballet company in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, where I performed as a First Artist for 13 years from 2002-2015 performing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages. I started collaborating with different artists while in the company and when I met Ella Spira in 2009, we co-founded Sisters Grimm.
How did you develop your company?
Neither of us had any formal business training but sometimes, the best way to learn is through hands-on experience and navigating challenges as they arise. Ella said she could see when we met and began working together that I was a producer, but I didn’t know it could be my future career at the time. We have complementing skillsets; I focus on operational matters and overall management. We could see a gap to create new mainstream live shows of the highest artist disciplines that were feelgood memorable experiences that also celebrated cultural stories, maximised diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging – and addressed global and social concerns. We set about, conceived and produced a portfolio of ‘world shows’, all created in collaboration with the territories of each show and all with parallel social impact youth engagement programmes.
What have been your greatest achievements?
In 2021, we received MBEs from King Charles III at Windsor Castle for our services to International Trade and the Creative Industries, which was largely due to the global success and high social impact of our Grammy-nominated show INALA, a Zulu ballet. Having navigated the challenges of the pandemic, we are thrilled to be relaunching INALA next year as a permanent show in the West End. sisters-grimm.co.uk/inala-homecoming/
INALA was born from a desire to see more diversity on stage and in the audience, and it now has an astounding track record globally as a proven, critical and box office success, always playing to standing ovations from diverse audiences including Royalty on multiple occasions. Eight thousand young people – 93 percent of whom had not attended West End Theatre before – have benefitted from our outreach careers programme.
Have you been back to school since?
I was invited to give an End of Term talk about my career post St Catherine’s and loved going back to the school and seeing the new state-of-art facilities across all subjects but especially the incredible theatre, arts centre, and sports hall. I’ve also returned to run Dance Workshops for the girls.
What advice would you give anyone interested in your field?
It’s one thing to have ideas but to see them through to completion is another. I would advise people to take things step by step and surround yourself with champions who will support you and not block your ambition or knock your confidence. Things always take longer than desired or planned for, so I think bucket loads of tenacity or patience is required! And never give up.
Ex Royal Ballet Ballerina Pietra Mello-Pittman MBE set up Sisters Grimm, a theatrical production company with Grammy-nominated composer and painter Ella Spira MBE in 2009. sisters-grimm.co.uk productions/