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Roy Williams: Opportunities for working-class actors ‘will get worse and worse’

Playwright Roy Williams with director Marcus Romer Playwright Roy Williams (left) with director Marcus Romer
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Playwright Roy Williams has become the latest high-profile figure to bemoan the lack of opportunities for working-class actors, claiming the situation is going to get “worse and worse”.

Williams was speaking at an event called Cultural Question Time organised by the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, which also featured the venue’s artistic director James Dacre. Dacre agreed with Williams that the cost of drama training was prohibitive for people from working-class backgrounds.

At the event, Williams said he was “pissed and steamed” that the sector was currently heavily populated by actors from wealthier backgrounds such as Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch.

He joins figures including Julie Walters and David Morrissey in raising concerns about the lack of opportunity for people from working-class backgrounds.

Last year, a report found that actors from working-class backgrounds make up just 10% of the profession.

Williams was asked whether the industry had become the “preserve of publicly educated posh boys” and said: “Hell yeah, it’s true. It’s harder for people from working-class backgrounds, who can’t afford to go to drama schools. And it’s going to be the way it is and will get worse and worse and worse.“

He added: “I am steamed and pissed off that that status quo is remaining.”

Williams said youth theatres needed to be supported more and that playwrights should work with theatres’ outreach departments to inspire young people to consider working in the arts.

Dacre said it was “true” that there was “not as much access to the arts” as there once was.

He said this was in part “down to drama school fees being so expensive” and added that theatres needed to provide platforms locally that “offer an alternative to the tried and tested drama school routes”.

He highlighted a forthcoming production of The Tempest in Northampton, which will feature a cast of actors aged between 18 and 25.

“I suspect a great number of those will not be drama graduates,” he said.

The panel also discussed NT Live and whether or not cinema screenings of theatre productions could have a negative impact on theatre audience numbers.

Williams said NT Live was impressive but added: “Its not a patch on actually seeing live actors on stage.”

Dacre urged theatres to work in partnership with cinemas more, so they did not compete when audiences have to choose which show they will see at a venue.

He highlighted an incident in which a group planning to come to the Royal and Derngate opted to book for a Royal Shakespeare Company cinema broadcast instead, despite the fact the live Royal and Derngate show was created by the same team.

“Inevitably there is a limited amount of money to be spent by a school party – and when there is only one booking to be made, the live and digital do start to compete. Partnerships are a great opportunity,” he said.

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