I worry about many education issues in this industry but the one which probably concerns me most – and I make no apology for returning to it frequently – is the lack of consistent solid information about performing arts careers for school students. If you’re say, 16, someone at school – a careers adviser or teacher – might just tell you that you could pursue a good career in costume design and making or sound management. But the chances are they won’t.
Most adults working with young people try to put them off performance careers for all the usual old reasons about out-of-work actors but fail to alert them to the truth: for every performer you see on stage there are many more professionals out of sight indispensably contributing to the show. And amongst them are some very realistic career opportunities. Because I worry so much about this subject, as regular readers of these columns know, earlier this year I wrote a book about it to try and help school students and those who guide them. I’m pleased to note that So You Want to Work in Theatre? is selling well and not just because that’s good for my royalties. I hope that every copy sold is helping at least one young person somewhere to make an enlightened career decision.
I can’t, of course, write here on this subject without mentioning Creative Choices and Theatrecraft . The former is a series on events run with school students, colleges and local venues by Creative and Cultural Skills – intended to draw attention to the wealth of jobs there are in the creative industries including the performing arts. Theatrecraft is an annual careers fair about backstage opportunities. Run by Theatre Royal Haymarket’s StageCraft and partners, this year’s free event is at Royal Opera House on November 22. If only there were much, much more of these sorts of things.
I recently attended a Guildhall School of Music and Drama showcase focusing on the work of graduating technical theatre students. It was held at the Barbican in the generously proportioned art gallery space where each student had part of a sizeable room to demonstrate his or her specialism and achievements. I spend an interesting hour looking at costumes, props, sets, designs, lighting demos and much more – and talking to their talented creators.
Two things strike me about this. First, I’d like to see other drama schools finding imaginative ways of drawing attention to their technical theatre students. They deserve a bit of limelight of their own and it helps to raise the status of their work. Second, did GSMD invite school students to see the work of, and talk to, technical theatre graduates at the exhibition? It would be an excellent way of showing under 18s exactly what opportunities there are, and who better to share the information than slightly older young people who have already committed themselves to backstage careers?