Leading drama schools have defended their efforts to diversify the students that apply to their institutions, in the wake of a report that criticised “unjust and unfair” audition fee costs.
The report , the culmination of Labour’s Acting Up inquiry into the class barrier within the performing arts, highlighted the “sky-high” cost of auditioning for drama school as one of several key barriers to entry.
For example, Guildhall School of Music and Drama charges £64 for prospective students to audition for a place and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama demands £55. RADA charges early applicants – those applying before December – £46, however this jumps to £86 for those applying after the specified date.
Similarly, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s audition fee is £45 if applying before January and £65 after.
Others, such as the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, charge separate application and audition fees, of £24 and £47 respectively.
The report said that such a process was almost unique to drama schools, and referenced the fact that many other higher education institutions do not charge fees for interviews, even if candidates are housed and fed for multiple days during the process.
Combined with travel and accommodation costs, the report concluded that audition fees often make the application process “totally unaffordable for many students”.
To combat this, Labour is calling for reform of the drama school application process, introducing a centralised UCAS-style system where degree-awarding institutions charge a flat fee.
Responding, RADA director Edward Kemp said the increasing financial barriers were something the school was working to remove, but argued that its audition fee was “not a profit-making venture”.
He said: “RADA is a small institution and we audition every person who applies to our BA (hons) acting, which is usually around 3,500 applicants each year. The process takes nine months and involves significant numbers of staff. The majority of RADA’s audition panel are external professionals whom we endeavour to pay fairly.”
Kemp added that it offered fee waivers to applicants from low-income backgrounds as well as holding regional auditions. RWCMD also holds auditions away from its Cardiff base. Its head of actor training, Dave Bond, agreed that schools must be an active part of changing the status quo, but said the issue was “an industry challenge, not just for the schools”.
Jenny Stephens, artistic director of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, questioned whether the issues could be solved by something similar to the UCAS system used by universities, which requires institutions to reject applicants before seeing them based on exam results and a personal statement.
“It would do applicants a huge disservice to reject them before seeing them – but with many hundreds applying, this takes an enormous resource. It would be ironic if a UCAS-style system put in place to encourage diversity led to less opportunity for prospective students to be considered,” she said.
A statement from Guildhall School of Music and Drama said it welcomed the report and acknowledged that there was still progress to be made.
“To tackle this issue, the Guildhall School is employing staff specifically to help encourage applications from students whose backgrounds are under-represented in higher education, and to help make up for the lack of support in some schools for talented young people,” it said.
Those giving evidence to the inquiry also highlighted examples of racism and snobbishness within drama schools, where diverse students were subject to “exclusionary practices” such as being asked to suppress their regional accents or play stereotyped parts.
The report went on to demand better structures within drama schools to support and prepare diverse students for the industry, and for institutions to diversify their teaching bodies.