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Oliviers 2017: Winners lambast cuts to creative subjects at schools

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child director John Tiffany. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Olivier award winners have widely condemned “catastrophic” cuts to the arts in education.

Many said they would not be here today without having been encouraged at school.

Speaking at the awards in London, winners including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child director John Tiffany and Dreamgirls star Amber Riley argued for the importance of creative subjects in education.

Tiffany said: “Austerity has led us to a terrible philosophy where we think we’ve got to cut back on everything that’s ‘frippery’, like the arts.”

He said creative subjects such as art history were disappearing from state schools.

“That is catastrophic,” Tiffany added.

He went on to say that he “didn’t come from privilege” and would not be where he is now without free guitar lessons and a grant to attend university.

He added: “If I was graduating from high school now I certainly wouldn’t be holding this award, and I’m not being dramatic about it.”

Riley, who won best actress in a musical for Dreamgirls, and Tyrone Huntley, who was nominated for best actor in a musical for Jesus Christ Superstar, echoed Tiffany’s comments.

Riley said: “I’m living proof that if I didn’t have the arts when I was younger in school I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Huntley said: “Without the teachers who encouraged me when I was younger, I would never have taken it seriously as a career, so it’s really important that we encourage drama and music in schools from an early age.”

Lighting designer Neil Austin, who won for his work on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, claimed design and technical professions would be diversified only if more were done to encourage schoolchildren to take an interest.

“I go and talk at lots of the [theatre] colleges and I see a way-too-homogenous environment for those students looking at me. The colleges just aren’t getting the applicants, it’s before that, way back at school that we need to concentrate on,” he told The Stage.

He added: “If you’re not getting education in school about drama and theatre studies, or if you’re not being taken on school trips, you certainly might not realise that performing is an option, and if you don’t go to those things, you will never realise that there are all these other jobs.”

Opening the ceremony, Society of London Theatre president Caro Newling said those recognised at the Oliviers had benefited from theatre studies at school and grant-aided higher education, with many going on to cut their teeth in regional theatre.

She said: “Not so for the generation waiting to come through. If we allow that chain of encouragement and opportunity to break down, we are officially at risk.”

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