Olivier-winning actor Michael Jibson is setting up a fund to enable young people from Hull and East Yorkshire to access drama-school training.
Hull-born Jibson, who played King George III in the original London cast of Hamilton, said the rising cost of drama school auditions, tuition fees and train fares meant performing arts training was “seen as being unattainable” for many people in the North East.
He has joined forces with Hull-based director and producer Andrew Pearson to create the Hull and East Yorkshire Arts and Culture Trust, which hopes to win philanthropic backing from the city’s business community to pay for audition fees and their associated costs.
“There’s so much money and industry in Hull. There’s a lot of money and a lot of poverty. On the back of City of Culture, we want to say: ‘You’ve invested in all these buildings, in all these things that happened in Hull – now let’s invest in the people,” Jibson told The Stage.
He said he had only been able to afford drama school after receiving a Dance and Drama Award, but warned that the cost of auditioning now “puts up a barrier” for young people from low-income backgrounds.
The vast majority of drama schools charge for attending auditions, with most costing around £50 and some up to £80.
While several offer fee waivers for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, Jibson said the issue played in to the industry-wide debate around diversity and representation.
“It’s massively part of this conversation that’s going on about the huge divide between the haves and the have nots,” he said.
Despite being in its infancy now, Jibson said he hoped that in five years’ time the trust, which uses the acronym HEYACT, would be able not only to support auditions financially but also to fund the entire training for one or more students.
He and Pearson also plan to run a mentoring scheme alongside the bursaries, in which established professionals hailing from the North East could become associates of the company and provide guidance to the young people it supports.
They also have long-term ambitions to replicate the model elsewhere.
“Eventually, wouldn’t it be great if this trust isn’t just for Hull and East Yorkshire, but someone in South Wales or Cornwall wants to set one up?,” Jibson said.
The cost of drama school training, and particularly audition fees, is being put increasingly under the spotlight, with some calling for the paid audition process to be scrapped.
It has also prompted the establishment of initiatives such as Open Door, which was founded in 2017 and helps prepare young people for drama school with free auditions, one-to-one tutoring and workshops.
It recently expanded its programme beyond London to the East Midlands, Essex, Sheffield and Rotherham.