My husband and I come from non-artistic backgrounds, but have always been supportive of our son, who has his heart set on becoming an actor.
We were delighted when, having auditioned for several top schools, he received an offer from the one he most wants to attend. We are not rich but did suspect we would be over the financial threshold for external help with fees, so we started saving several years ago.
What we didn’t predict was that both of our self-employed jobs would fall victim to Covid-19. One thing we do have in common with the creative industry is the lack of support for the self-employed sector. It has meant we’re now using our savings to stay afloat and we are considering approaches like crowdfunding to make up the shortfall, but I’m sceptical that drama school fees will be a priority given all the other pressing needs people are facing.
It’s so sad to know that, having worked so hard and made a lot of sacrifices as a family, our son’s acting prospects now look like they’re over before they’ve even had a chance to start.
While the reversal of fortune you and so many others are facing feels unprecedented, the challenges of funding drama school education are not new.
Despite several positive (and long overdue) developments in the recent past, such as the lowering or cancellation of audition fees, the figures, especially at the ‘prestige’ end of the scale, can be daunting and there will always be candidates who fall through the cracks.
If you do go down the crowdfunding road, remember that mounting an online fundraising campaign is no longer in itself a novelty as it might have been a few years ago. That said, a well thought out, highly personalised campaign can still make an impact, and since so many of us are looking at screens more than ever, there might be a greater chance than in ‘normal times’ that donations will follow.
While it is always good to be optimistic in such campaigns, it is important to be realistic too. Talk directly to the school you have the offer from to see if there is any flexibility with payments or help around finances. If it does turn out that your son can’t go to the ‘school of his dreams’, that is disappointing, but by no means the endgame scenario.
This is not a qualifications-based industry and actors build careers based on how well they can audition, how professionally they behave when they get a job, and on a wide variety of other factors, of which the drama school they attended is almost never the deciding one. That doesn’t mean a drama school environment isn’t a great place to focus on learning and practising all those skills for two or three years, but it is far from the only place.
I know many successful actors who trained via part-time courses or at university or who did go to drama school, but later in their careers, sometimes using those interim years to save for tuition, sometimes to gain practical experience via self-generated work.
Ultimately, an actor who is determined to succeed will do so, with or without a ‘top school’. Having a supportive family is already a huge bonus, particularly if you can support him in learning early on how to cope effectively with the inevitable ups and downs of an actor’s life.
Good luck with the fundraising campaign. Even if you don’t hit your target this time around, view that roadblock as a springboard to ongoing career development, rather than as a final curtain.