Drama school students preparing to graduate in 2020 have expressed their frustration and worry after showcases, exhibitions and final-year productions were put on ice indefinitely this week.
With many schools cancelling face-to-face teaching and public events in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, actors and creatives finishing their degrees this year face missing out on crucial opportunities to gain agent representation, and exposure to casting directors and influential industry figures.
Many students were already in rehearsals for public productions or showcases, which have now been postponed indefinitely or cancelled entirely.
Miles Griffin, a third-year acting student at London College of Music, who was two weeks away from performing in his final production, told The Stage: “It’s really scary because it’s like someone has gone: ‘You’re not having that help any more, you need to go on your own and find your own work.’
“For a new actor that’s just about to go into the industry, that is petrifying. We’ve done three years of hard work, for something to just take it away within days. It’s a horrible time, it’s scary.”
Isabelle Anderson, who graduates from Italia Conti this year, said that while some drama schools had scheduled their showcases prior to the coronavirus outbreak, she knew many students who had not yet performed at showcases they were relying on as a springboard into work.
“Certain agents have come to see our shows, but it feels like a lot of our interest would come from the showcase. That’s the big thing that most people get signed from,” she said.
Anderson added that many other opportunities for graduating actors, such as Shakespeare Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Festival and the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year competition, had also been cancelled.
“All of these incredible things we were supposed to have for third year have suddenly been snatched away,” she said.
Emma Tracey, a graduating student from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, had been due to perform in her final-year showcase on March 23. The Stage understands that the school’s BA Theatre Practice Exhibition – in which students studying design, stage management and technical courses showcase their work – had been due to take place in April.
Central is not planning on resuming face-to-face teaching until at least the end of the summer term, the school confirmed.
Tracey said: “For first and second years that means all their teaching would go online, but for third years it means we are all in limbo, [as] you can’t exactly do a public production online.
“It feels like we were on the cusp of it all, and then somebody’s gone: ‘Oh, not yet, you’re just going to have to wait a bit longer’, which is really frustrating.”
A statement from Central said: “We understand how disappointing this will be for our students, and particularly for those with forthcoming productions, exhibitions and showcases… It is with great pride that we are able to share their work with a wider audience including industry, and it is therefore with enormous regret that the decision to suspend these activities was reached.
“The health and well-being of our community is, however, our foremost concern. Given the circumstances, we simply could not take the chance of putting anyone’s health at risk. “
The school said it was in regular contact with staff and students about trying to make “alternate arrangements” where possible, and that it was exploring several options.
“These are exceptional days, and we are far from alone in combating these difficulties, but we will continue to explore every possible avenue by which to celebrate and share the work of our graduating students,” the statement added.
Agents and casting directors have been praised for making social media call-outs for digital showreels and spotlight links from graduating performers. However, students are fearful that it may prove difficult to reschedule invaluable live performances.
Anderson said: “It’s so fast moving, drama school. Before you’ve thought about it it’s on to the next year group, and we don’t want to be the forgotten year.”
In response, she began encouraging graduates to share their details on a dedicated Twitter hashtag – #uk2020grads – to help boost their profiles.
Talent agency Simon and How Associates is among those actively seeking out graduate performers on social media.
The company’s founder, agent Samantha How, said: “We’re in so much chaos at the moment that it’s never been more important to let them know that we’re here for them. We want to see them work and give them the opportunities they have worked for.
“It’s a case of the industry just rallying together and making sure that graduates are getting the shot they very much deserve.”
She added: “We want to get the message out there that nobody has been abandoned and nobody is going to be abandoned in the future.”