Drama schools fend off ‘rich only’ charge

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Principals from London’s leading drama schools, including RADA’s Edward Kemp, have defended themselves from claims that only “rich kids” can afford to train at their organisations.

This follows remarks made by actor Clare Higgins, reported in The Stage, who said there is a “dearth of training for people who don’t have independent wealth or rich parents”.

She cited LAMDA, where she trained, and RADA as schools at risk of being filled with wealthy students in the near future because of the lack of financial  support on offer to them, and revealed  she is setting up a free drama training  for people from low income families.

However, in contrast to Higgins’ comments, Kemp told The Stage that people from a “low income background” have grants and scholarships “more readily available” to them than students from families with a higher income.

The government currently offers  maintenance grants to help students with living costs, available to students whose household income is £42,600 or less.

Kemp said: “I would say it’s the children of parents who earn £44,000 – that sort of amount – who are in trouble, as there is a cut-off [for support] at £43,000. Each year the cut-off is reduced. If the combined parental income of a student is £45,000 – which if you live in London and have a couple of kids does not begin to go very far – then you have a problem.”

He added: “Working-class kids, to an extent, are looked after by the state. It’s when you shift beyond those bounds that, in a sense, there’s nothing.”

Kemp said a “substantial chunk" of money secured through the standard £9,000 annual fee per student RADA charges for its BA (hons) in acting has been used for “improving access” at the school. He added that during the tenure of RADA’s current registrar, no acting student had been “turned away because they couldn’t afford to come here”.

“We say, apply, and if we offer you a place, then it becomes our problem as well as yours,” he said. According to RADA, 40% of its student base comes from low income families, while 55% of students  on its BA (hons) in acting and foundation degree in technical theatre and stage management receive bursary support.

However, Kemp expressed concern that postgraduates do not have enough financial support to enable them to  pursue drama training.

He said there is “zero provision” for postgraduate training, and added: “My concern is for the brilliant actor  who has come from a working-class  background, who has a degree and then wants to train as an actor – then there  is a serious problem.”

Meanwhile, LAMDA principal Joanna Read welcomed Higgins’ comments, but highlighted how LAMDA’s scholarships and bursaries programmes raise up  to £250,000 annually for students who “might otherwise be unable to pursue vocational training”.

“We are committed to ensuring that students for our full-time acting, stage management and technical courses are recruited on talent alone. I would encourage more actors and industry professionals to lend their voices to the call for wider access to the arts. I also ask them not to forget the work that drama schools like LAMDA are doing to support this aim and ensure the industry remains robust,” she said.

Responding to Higgins’ comments, Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK, which champions drama training, warned that a fear of getting into debt can put people off applying to drama school.

He said that although there are student loans and Dance and Drama Awards, which give free scholarships to people on low incomes, “loans can be a disincentive”.

Kellgren said the call “should not be  for a new school for the ‘posh-less’, but  for equality of opportunity in the years before drama school training”, warning that fee-paying secondary schools have the facilities and time to encourage  students to explore acting.

“Drama mustn’t be a Cinderella  subject,” Kellgren added.

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