Performers including Giles Terera and Bonnie Langford have said there is still “snobbery” towards musical theatre, arguing that the genre is “almost looked down on as not being an art form”.
They were speaking at the launch of an alliance between leading drama schools including Arts Educational Schools and Urdang Academy, which has been set up to raise the profile of the genre.
Terera, who won an Olivier award for his performance in Hamilton, told The Stage: “There’s always snobbery [towards musical theatre].
“I think we’re compartmentalised here, whereas in America and New York they don’t really have that; different areas of theatre seem to get on a lot better than ours do. Anything that can be done to counter that is great.”
Performer Tyrone Huntley said: “I think there is a certain stigma around musical theatre and musical theatre performers that they are less than or not as talented as their straight actor counterparts, but I think that’s completely ridiculous when, as musical theatre performers, we train in three disciplines to such an incredibly high standard.”
Chris Hocking, principal of Arts Ed – which is part of the new Alliance of Musical Theatre Conservatoires – echoed these comments, saying the genre was “almost looked down on as not being an art form” compared to other areas such as ballet and opera.
Langford agreed, adding: “People still say to me to this day: ‘Have you ever thought about acting?’ What is musical theatre? It’s just an expression, it’s a way of expressing something in a different way.”
Solange Urdang, chief executive of London’s Urdang Academy, claimed that historical attitudes towards musical theatre meant it was “seen as the ‘other’ art form”. She suggested this may have led to a discrepancy in government funding for musical theatre training compared to straight acting training.
Specialist institution funding is provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to training providers that specialise in a particular area. It is intended to recognise the higher cost of providing such training.
One of the aims of the Alliance of Musical Theatre Conservatoires will be to lobby the government for more funding for musical theatre training institutions, with Hocking asserting that it is “really unfair” that musical theatre programmes do not receive this support, unlike straight acting courses.
He said: “None of us get that [extra money] in musical theatre, which is really unfair, because if you go and do straight acting or ballet or opera the government matches money or contributes to it, and musical theatre is more expensive because of the three skills you learn. What we’re asking for is a level playing field.”
Terera questioned why musical theatre courses were not in receipt of the funding, adding: “I would say change that and look at the amount musical theatre brings to our economy and brings to our industry. It’s a huge part of it, so why would you not fund it?”