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BLOG: Annemarie Lewis Thomas… Bored of Drama School Spin

Annemarie LewisSo it transpires that writing a blog is difficult but not for the reasons that you might imagine… I just have too many things that I want to discuss, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m loving the fact that people are now contacting me and suggesting topics for me to discuss but of course being the Principal of a college comes with some responsibility – I need to self edit a bit otherwise people will start taking it out on my students. One of my staff suggested that I should discuss in a bit more detail the fact that I was incensed last week that someone had naively tweeted the question (off the back of the Max Clifford conviction) whether or not the casting couch was still used today.

Now let’s be clear…we all know that it is – not in the way that you see it presented in films, but certainly in the form of either vulnerable young performers being wooed with the promise of meeting the ‘right people’, or indeed the other way (I’ve known of a particularly dull performer using what Spotlight must surely class as a ‘special skill’ on unsuspecting directors in order to build up quite a healthy looking CV). However my indignation was more the fact that the question was raised in a crusading type way (I had visions of us all doing the Les Mis walk down Shaftesbury Avenue waving our red flags, banners high, demanding that the vulnerable in our profession were looked after and the vultures were named and shamed.) Instead the original tweeter slowly crawled back under their shell taking their social conscience with them – in other words, they like me, knew that that particular fight needed an army from the outset, as however good intentioned that original tweet was… they were taking on the people that could employ them or their clients, or their friends or their dogs (I’m clearly trying to remain vague to protect their identity).

Note my subtle segue now from the disgraced PR guru Mr. Clifford…

We live in a world of spin doctoring… the media, each with their own bias tells us what we should think about the various situations going on in the world and indeed in the country. The majority of people believe their one source of news because let’s face it – a newspaper couldn’t just print a lie could it? Of course those of us working in a public eye profession know all to well that the newspapers can and indeed do pretty much write what they like and we choose what we believe. Clever celebrities use and manipulate the media to their own ends to create an image be it good or bad of what they want to portray to the public.

What’s this got to do with the world of the drama school I hear you cry? Well it transpires that even the closeted little world of drama training is also partial to a bit of spin doctoring. For some bizarre reason getting information out of some drama schools is a little bit like asking someone in the Masons to teach you a handshake… I discovered this when I was putting together my business plan and I had to established what fees my competitors were charging… now you’d think that would be so simple wouldn’t you? Well 6 years ago I felt like Sherlock Holmes cracking a case if I eventually found the answer. Even phoning up and saying the magic phrase “how much do you charge?” didn’t seem to open the door to discovery for some colleges. Now that has got a little bit easier in the interim years (although some do sneak in additional charges.)

Here’s a question that’s always baffled me? Why do colleges charge overseas students considerably more money that UK students? Now at my place we’ve always charged everyone the same as it doesn’t cost me any more to train them, I mean it’s not like I cover my students’ daily travel is it? Please feel free to tweet me your answers…as the only rational answer I’ve ever heard to date is ‘because we can’.

Anyway I digress (you see I said these blogs were hard to write)…The MTA has made a clear decision to never apply to join the ‘in crowd’ aka Drama UK. I’ll explain why at a later date… suffice as to say at this point instead to ‘prove’ our credentials I’ve opted for this radical approach of transparency, an approach in fact that The Stage has been advocating for, for quite some time now. To me it’s a no brainer, I’ll just regularly publish our statistics, which of course will fluctuate, but then if we publish often enough people can get a clear idea of our general trajectory. None of the other colleges will do this. instead spokespeople for the colleges start to ‘spin’ the reasons why this seemingly straight forward approach to transparency can’t happen.

The fact of the matter is not all of my students will be employed all of the time, I’m okay with that, my students are okay with that, I’m not embarrassed by it… it’s a fact of life for performers, I don’t need to spin that fact into some pseudo intellectual argument about what constitutes a performer working or not. It’s the same when you try to find out from a college how many of their graduating year group left with agent representation. Now so far we’ve had 3 years graduating and 100% of my students have left having secured representation. Clearly that won’t continue and that’s okay. I know that we’ve trained our students to be resourceful and to be proactive until such a time that they are signed. On the day that we drop our 100% record I won’t spin the fact… and I definitely won’t do what an increasing number of colleges are doing. Starting their own agencies and then making out that they’ve got 100% of their students signed. It’s a bit like the every increasing number of foundation colleges that are now starting up 3 year courses and equally putting out the PR spin that 100% of their students have been accepted onto a HE course(I mean if you’ve taken their money for a year on a foundation course they should at least be trained to the level to get onto your course right?)

Why don’t we just cut the crap and be honest – although saying that I’ve always fancied my own theatre company… so I might just start one up, employ my graduates and you can all be amazed when I start announcing that 100% of my graduates are always in work – Of course I’ll only be accepting overseas students at that point and charging them double too!

For more information on MTA you can follow them on Twitter @TheMTAOnline or via their website

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.