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Dear West End Producer: ‘Does the same acceptance of gender/colour-blind casting apply to drama schools as auditions?’

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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Yes – in UK drama schools the same does apply. You can be black, white, short, tall, from places as diverse as Grimsby or Hull, or even ginger, and still play decent roles throughout your training. No matter what your background is, you still have a good chance of going to drama school and playing a good mixture of roles.

In fact, if drama schools don’t have a diverse mixture of students, they get severely whipped by local councils and funding bodies. However, the only people that seem to be less accepted at drama schools are people who have that rare condition known as ‘maturity’ on their side.

It appears – and has done for some time – that the only prejudice apparent in drama schools is towards people over the age of 30. It is very rare for these ancient, dribbling, Zimmer-frame-wielding specimens to be allowed to pass the sacred threshold of drama training.

Of course, when the human body develops beyond a certain age, it becomes incapable of such things as limbering up, gurning and line-learning. This is because the brain is basically dead and the thought of any additional information going alongside such important things as “I must remember to take my pills” and “Is it pension day?” is hard. I realise you didn’t specifically ask about OAP drama students, but I feel this is an important point.

The ironic thing about drama schools is that they often advise auditioning students to come back after they’ve had ‘life experience’ – particularly if they’re under the age of 18. It seems on the whole that drama schools prefer you to be 20 or 21 – after you’ve had a job, travelled, and can understand the difference between Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale (one is funny, one depressing, and one has sheep).

However, they rarely want you to have too much life experience. If you are older than 30, it suddenly becomes a lot harder for you to get in. Of course the theatrical business likes younger people who can build up their careers from a spritely age and play many roles. This is particularly true in musical theatre, where they want a triple threat: some teachers think that becoming a triple threat is impossible for a human older than 30 as they may have early-onset arthritis and won’t be able to do the splits.

A few MA courses are deemed more suitable for older students, but these simply don’t have the same clout in the business. Most agents are interested in graduates of three-year courses. You will get the odd one who attends MA showcases, but these will be operating out of their garage and their most successful clients will be doing a theatre in education tour of Syria.

Anyway, I hope this institutionalised pensioner prejudice will one day be alleviated. But at least we can celebrate the diverse range and roles played by everyone else at UK drama schools, and for that I am grateful.

Small steps, my dears – particularly if you are over the age of 30 (because big steps will be too hazardous for you).

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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