ANNA FRIEND, 43, is founder and director of Quirky Bird Theatre, a theatre group for young people whose latest accolades were won at the Royal Wootton Bassett Arts Festival. She is married to Jonny, the director of science at a school in Marlborough. The couple have two children and live in Royal Wootton Bassett

ANNA Friend is annoyed when certain people dismiss theatre as some kind of bolt-on extra to life and education.

“I get very cross about this idea that it’s just drama. At one of my old schools that I used to work in they culled the drama department like it didn’t exist. I felt genuinely aggrieved and sad because I know, having worked there and worked with these children, how much they gained from doing drama as a subject. I’m not talking about performance skills; I’m talking about social skills and interaction and confidence.

“Currently I’ve got people who I work with in my little theatre school whose parents will say to me: ‘I can’t believe it – she doesn’t speak in class at all, but since she’s worked with you and with drama she’s now saying poems out loud, she’s talking to her friends, she’s a little bit feisty, she’s got a bit of fire now.

“That just wouldn’t happen without drama training.

“I think theatre as an experience is hugely formative for those people watching it and taking part.

“I really appreciate the digital age and everything that’s being brought to us via the internet, but I think seeing something happen live is very, very different and can bring about a reaction that can’t be done in any other way.

“There’s a connection and a sort of contract between yourselves and the actors. You’re sharing a space and it’s really special to see someone, maybe, creating emotion or creating laughter or putting something out there of themselves.

“Even comedians, people who are telling something, telling their own story, it’s very humbling to see someone do that.

“Also, there’s a huge amount of skill in all acting – film, television and theatre – but seeing it there live when you know there’s no chance to stop, no opportunity for them to do it again, do a second take, that they must get it right, for me personally that’s one of the greatest things I admire when I go and see amazing theatre performances.”

Anna, who was born in Portsmouth and grew up in Twyford, Brkshire, comes from creative stock.

Her mother ran a successful picture framing business and was a teacher. “She was very much around for us but also very much a working woman, so I suspect that’s very much where I’ve got my model for my own life from.”

Her father was a nuclear physicist but is also an expert silversmith and carpenter, while her brother, Matthew, is an interior architect whose projects included the prestigious London office building dubbed The Cheesegrater.

“I was the classic little precocious performer child; in all the school plays, lots of singing, lots of dancing. I then went on to do more serious plays when I became a teenager.”

At Middlesex University Anna discovered a vocation for the technical side of theatre, and studied Technical Drama.

She then worked for several years in Soho for a variety of video and film-making studios, and was involved in music videos by performers incluiding the Sugababes, Chemical Brothers and Eric Clapton.

Anna enjoyed film and video work but became tired of certain other aspects of her career.

“When I was about 29 I just suddenly felt rather tired of the lack of weight to the industry, to the work I was doing.

“I think it was something to do with sitting in meetings, talking about commercials and having this extensive conversation about the colour of the towels on the ironing board and what demographic that would speak to.”

Deciding the time had come for a change, she considered becoming a firefighter or paramedic but settled on teaching, which she loved.

Anna and her husband came to Swindon in 2012 when he secured his job in Marlborough. Anna, who had already set up and run other theatre companies, moved into theatre full time. Quirky Bird was set up last year; the name is a wry reference to herself.

Classes are kept deliberately small and material deliberately chosen to be challenging.

“For young people, and especially young people who are interested in acting or the arts, being able to see people perform, engage with it and see all the different aspects of it coming to life on the stage really informs their choices.

“If they are then able to go off and have the opportunity to experiment with those choices as an actor or a technician, a director or a creative, then that’s hugely important for their journey.”

Many of the people Anna has helped, including 18 of 25 from her first company in 2009, have gone on to work in the industry. She is deeply concerned by reductions in arts funding but determined to do her bit to keep interest in theatre alive.

“Obviously, I’m very passionate about the arts and I do find the current situation really worrying, with the amount of cuts.

“But what I do know about the theatre community is that we thrive. We make theatre happen. Even if we have nothing we will find a way of going forward and creating theatre.”

A recent joy was reading a social media comment by an audience member who said their entire perception of what youth theatre could be had been changed.

“That, for me was phenomenal because I’m sick of the ‘youth theatre’ tag – I think it’s really unhelpful when people think ‘It’s just kids’ or they say: ‘Didn’t they do well for children.’

“I have always striven for just theatre that involves young actors.”