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‘Savvy’ drama school graduates rejecting low-paid fringe work

Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK, which has carried out research into the career paths of drama graduates.
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Performers who graduated from drama school in 2013 took 30% fewer jobs in the fringe sector compared with the previous year. Industry figures claim the drop demonstrates “savvy” performers are moving away from low and unpaid work.

According to statistics collated by industry body Drama UK, which looked at the jobs graduates from three-year acting courses got in their first year after leaving drama school, there has been an increase in the number of graduates taking up roles in education and children’s theatre. There has also been a significant increase in the number of graduates landing jobs in the West End.

Although the fringe sector still accounts for the majority of graduates’ work, the statistics show that, of around 500 drama school students who graduated in 2013, 275 took jobs in the fringe sector, compared with 397 in 2012.

Elsewhere, 68 graduates leaving drama school in 2013 took jobs in children’s theatre or theatre in education, double the 34 in 2012.

Drama UK’s research also shows that more graduates are landing commercial tours after graduating, with 21 in 2013, compared with five the year before. In small-scale tours, the number of graduates taking jobs in the sector was up 20%, from 40 in 2012, compared with 48 in 2013.

The number of graduates taking work on site-specific shows – including with companies such as Secret Cinema –  doubled, from 29 in 2012 to 58 in 2013.  Of the 500 graduates surveyed in 2013, 19 landed jobs in the West End, compared with six in 2012.

Casting director Jane Deitch, who conducted the survey, said the results regarding the fringe sector showed  that performers “seem to be moving away from the low pay/no pay sector into more economically viable sectors”.

She said performers were “more  business savvy” and were taking shows on tour rather than putting on plays above pubs.

“It’s reflecting the wider issue  about low pay/no pay – and the work of companies highlighting the issue, such as Equity, are having an effect. Students are forming their own companies and finding gaps in the market, and diversifying and finding ways to grow and develop – and earn some money on the way,” she added.

Deitch added that the increase in West End jobs could be explained by  the number of productions in 2013 that featured young performers, including Mojo and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. “They may not have been main parts, but these graduates go in as understudies,” she said.

The Drama UK research also found there has been a slight shift towards graduates taking work on screen.

The number of graduates taking  jobs on projects arranged by film schools has increased, with 82 graduates in 2013, compared with 42 in 2012 –  something Deitch put down to more guidelines about working in the sector set out by Equity.

There has also been an increase in  the number of graduates taking work  on short films, with 207 in 2013, against 168 in 2012 – a 23% increase. Meanwhile, 109 graduates took work in commercials in 2013, compared with 89 in 2012 – an increase of 22%.

Deitch said: “It paints a positive picture, a shift in the right direction in terms of what is out there for graduates.”

Drama UK chief executive Ian Kellgren said the statistics would help drama schools understand where the work is for their students, and how the landscape is changing.

“Graduates are doing other things – they are not going straight into the West End, they are taking jobs in areas such as site-specific work,” he said, adding that the reduction in graduates working on the fringe showed performers are “getting more selective”.

The findings were unveiled this week as part of Actors: the Real Employment Landscape, a conference looking at the career paths of drama graduates.

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