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OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – Putting The “News” Right

Annemarie LewisI’m not going to lie, I have found the various articles written about drama schools this year infuriating… and we’re only 29 days into the year.

There are now two big debates raging – firstly the various high profile performers banging on about the lack of opportunities for working class young people coming through in the arts sector. Last year the angle was that training had out priced the working class performer coming through. This year the angle appears to have evolved into the working class performer can’t sustain a career as the bank of mum and dad can’t support them post training…

Cue a whole load of Drama UK colleges proudly saying what percentage of their students came from state schools. So that’s okay then… College X takes 52% of state educated people… Sound the trumpets! Of course, I would suggest that a state educated person coming from a highly affluent area is very different to a state educated person coming from a socially deprived area – but what do I know? I am after all from one of the ‘poorer’ areas, and indeed run the gauntlet of being ‘educated out of my class’. In other words I’m working class through and through, but thanks to the sacrifices that my parents made (by working every hour under the sun), I would now be perceived as ‘middle class’.

Is it during the aftermath of training that people start to suffer? I would argue that coming from a very strong working class ethos I was able to support myself relatively quickly after leaving college. Predominantly as I had been brought up to respect money and to understand that if I wanted something I had to work for it. I wasn’t given an allowance, I had to graft in jobs from the age of 16. I think that there is an equal argument for those students who suddenly find themselves having to take a ‘crap’ job after college. Real life hits them really hard when they realise that they have to pay for things like electricity and food, and they might have to make a choice between a night out and week’s food bill.

The bottom line is that becoming a performer has never been easy, and never will be. It has always been an over subscribed profession, and it is a college’s responsibility to teach its students that from the very beginning of its course. We should be teaching our graduating year groups how to sustain another living besides their ‘acting’ careers.

People have rightly cited taking classes etc as an added expense, at The MTA we attempt to alleviate that by at the very least providing free classes, and audition prep for our students, ensuring that nobody is priced out of continuing with their career should they so wish.

Why is it only now that people are speaking out? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the upcoming elections would it? A particularly good time to lay your political cards on the table with emotive topics. Where were these same people when the drama colleges moved across to offer degree courses in a bid to secure government funding? Why didn’t they speak out for the people that struggled academically then? Why didn’t they shout then that training should be for the talented, not the people that could write a lovely essay? Where are the detractors to shout about the increase in class sizes, and the ever growing population of drama courses with a such a limited grasp on reality? Whether the students are rich or poor – there’s an awful lot of them getting ripped off.

Then today The Stage published this: http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2015/01/mental-health-issues-affect-20-showbiz-professional-survey/. Now this is a difficult one for me, as it feels like six years of campaigning has finally been vindicated. However it’s also extremely frustrating to note that six years and so many deaths and crises later people are finally sitting up and taking notice. The national average for people struggling with Mental Health issues is one in four, and while this survey states that one in five of our industry had actively sought help for Mental Health issues, the fact that 46% of the people surveyed described their Mental Health as poor or average is a real worry.

Louise Granger then goes onto say

“… general points raised by respondents included a desire for training to include more awareness about the stresses in the business. She said: “There seemed to be a real concern that younger people training today should know more about the emotional side of the industry. There is a feeling more should be done to prepare people for the up-and-down lifestyle of it all.”

Now I’m sorry but response really is ‘No Shit Sherlock’. Not the most grown up response I know… but I have been saying this for my entire career, and I opened a college on the very premise of this being a reality. I have been actively campaigning for the past year via this blog, for this to be acknowledged, and yet at every hurdle my cries for a discussion have been ignored. Just last month I challenged Drama UK to make our model a starting point for a discussion within their organisation, only to be brushed aside with a ridiculous comment of they could only watch their schools not tell them how to be.

Well here you all have it in black and white – please don’t treat it as ground breaking news, at least acknowledge that you might have heard a rumour… but more than anything else DO something about it. Every day you sit in meetings discussing it is a day that one other person is going into crises. So why don’t the working classes AND the middle/upper classes all get together and deal with this issue…as you actually might find that there’s a correlation between the drop out rates and mental health issues – although I also subscribe to the belief that vocational courses should only be training people that they 100% believe will earn a living from this industry…not just provide a living to a college tutor/Principal but maybe that will be the thrid band wagon that everyone could jump onto this year!

P.S. If someone publishes an expose over the next few months about the fact that colleges are charging overseas students considerably more to train in the UK I will spontaneously combust ;-)

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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.