Home / Featured / OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – The Fighting Voice!

OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – The Fighting Voice!

Annemarie LewisA fortnight after my last blog and at least one of the debates that I spoke about back then rages on. Sadly the slight flicker of recognition that our industry has a serious issue with Mental Health has died away, save only for the dying embers of a random blog. No news on what Equity are actually going to do or indeed enforce to ensure that our colleagues susceptible to these difficulties are given the support that’s needed. Drama UK have returned into their cavern of denial… yet all the while ticking time bombs are training at their colleges. I await as ever the revolution that needs to take place to make a real difference… and my personal campaign is ever resolute.

So the debate that just won’t go away is the fear that we’re returning to an elitist age. Where are all the working class actors/writers? Why can’t our industry support everyone to follow their ‘dream’? This week the fear has shifted from the here and now to the tomorrow. The working classes have still got a voice… but only just… where will that voice come from tomorrow?

I noticed with envy the suggestion that a new drama college would be opening up, where the fees would be affordable to all, and it got me thinking once again about how I could reduce our fees. Here was my radical thought. What if all the people that are currently posting articles about the current elitism in the arts donated time every week to a college of their choice? A huge percentage of my budget goes to freelance staff, what if I could recoup this via charitable donations of time and expertise?

The money I saved could go directly into our Hardship Fund to ensure that no student was turned away because they couldn’t afford to study with us. In fact if I could fill my timetable with suitably qualified volunteers – I could slash my course fees overnight. All the creatives shouting about the situation, what if they all opted to do one drama college production for free every year? Again that would save me thousands of pounds in one easy budget slash without compromising our standard.

I get a number of emails/phone calls every week from colleagues telling me that they now realise that it’s time to ‘give back’, and therefore they’d like to come and work at the college, so do I have any job opportunities? Seemingly their ‘giving back’ always involves earning money for their own survival too?

You can’t even work at The MTA unless your CV is full of West End (or equivalent) credits. Indeed a large majority of my staff are currently working on shows in town. I don’t think that they’re working to ‘give back’ – they’re working to be able to pay their rent, as the current West End basic wage cannot support living and surviving in London (unless you’re in a lead and you have a good agent who managed to secure you a good deal).

My staff absolutely go above and beyond to ensure that my students are well trained and indeed cared for, and I have a strict policy of never asking them for any ‘favours’ of time. If I can’t afford to pay them, then they’re not permitted to come in. So they’re not being selfish when they invoice me at the end of a session, or indeed elitist…they are just trying to survive in this industry just like the rest of us are.

I read the other day that LAMDA are about to undertake a huge redevelopment project, and they had already raised in excess of 80% of the required £28.2 million that they were looking for. Just a few weeks prior to that I was reading how Mountview had had to shelve their latest plans to relocate as they couldn’t quite manage to raise the £19 million that they needed to make the move work for them (in spite of a large grant). Then of course it was only last year that Arts Ed had a £3.5 million donation from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation as a contribution towards the renovation of their old Chiswick building. It sort of put the £35,000 loan that we had to borrow when we moved into our current premises (with me as the guarantor) into perspective, and I realised once more that we had reduced our course fees as much as we possibly could already.

All the colleges mentioned above receive a percentage of government money in addition to the course fees, or course top up fees that their students are paying… that amount I should remind you is equivalent to what mine pay (and we manage to run with no additional government funding). My point? To be fair I don’t know, other than we are already working on a shoestring, and already ensuring that no student is turned away simply because of finance. We are already putting all of their fees into their training. We don’t have a ‘fund’ in reserve ready for a million pound renovation/relocation. Equally we don’t have any private benefactors helping us on our way. Yet we’re a good mix (I think) of all social classes, run by a highly opinionated working class girl from Swansea.

So my point… we(the working classes) will all still have a voice in years to come… just as we have in the years preceding this upcoming election, because we (the working classes) know how to fight to be heard. The arts should be about talent and determination… and to be honest I see that daily in all the echelons of society that I teach.

So that just leaves my other debate to return to doesn’t it?

About The Reviews Hub - Features

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.