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Dominic Cooke: Theatre workers starting life with ‘disastrous’ student debts

Dominic Cooke. Photo: Manuel Harlan Dominic Cooke has criticised the ‘liberal intelligentsia’ for being too elitist. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Director Dominic Cooke has lambasted the price of higher education, which he said is “punishing” young people coming into the theatre profession.

Cooke, who was speaking at the Victoria and Albert Museum, described the amount of student debt that young people take on at the start of their careers as disastrous.

“Psychologically, to start your life with tens of thousands of pounds of debt is punishing [young people] for wanting to grow and get better. It is already limiting the social profile of people coming into further and higher education and I think it’s a really terrible, disastrous idea,” he said.

Cooke added that the cost of living, particularly in London, was also having a negative impact on young people wanting to work in theatre.

He said: “I notice it on the contact sheets of young actors. When I first started you would get the name and address on a contact sheet and it would be zone 2 – Islington, Clapham, West Hampstead – and now it’s not London at all any more. How do young people with massive amounts of student debt manage to pay fares to come into London to work on low wages?”

The former Royal Court artistic director was speaking ahead of the release of his first television project, directing the forthcoming BBC series The Hollow Crown, which will be broadcast in May.

He went on to say that the reduction in local authority funding was “a real shame” for arts across the country.

“The fact is is that every penny the government puts in comes back. We know that. The economic impact of something like the Royal Shakespeare Company on the whole of that region is immense. It’s just a no-brainer, every penny comes back and it is a real asset to this country and we should be doing more to value that and notice that,” Cooke said.

Cooke’s other recent work includes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National Theatre, for which he collected the Olivier award for best revival on April 3.

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