Guildhall School of Music and Drama has slashed audition fees for its acting courses by almost 50%, in a move aimed at levelling the playing field for aspiring performers and boosting diversity.
Charges will be reduced from the current £66 to £35. This will come into effect from September, meaning applicants for its 2021 intake will pay what has been described as the lowest single fee of all the major drama schools.
Guildhall has also announced a substantial increase in the number of areas outside London where it will audition prospective students. Previously it has only held additional auditions in Newcastle, but will now also hold them in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds and Nottingham, with the first two rounds of its nationwide auditions on the same day. It said the move was designed to keep travel costs for applicants to a minimum.
The change comes as drama schools face increasing pressure to reduce or abolish audition fees completely, with critics claiming the cost prohibits aspiring performers from applying to leading organisations. Guildhall’s reduction follows a similar move from LAMDA, where Sarah Frankcom last year revealed she was reducing audition fees to £12 for first-round applicants, with anyone recalled paying a further £48.
Guildhall’s £35 fee covers all three rounds of its audition process.
Orla O’Loughlin, who became Guildhall’s director of drama in January last year, said the school had a “responsibility to ensure our world-class acting training is accessible to as many potential students as possible”.
“This was something I wanted to get working on from when I arrived,” she told The Stage. “It’s about ensuring equality of opportunity and that we have as representative a cohort as possible, ensuring the doors feel open. The mixture of geographic reach and lowering of the application fee feels like a tangible gesture in ensuring that is how things are.”
O’Loughlin said that, despite the increase in audition locations and the added cost of putting them on, there would be no “cuts anywhere, in or around the audition process”.
“It shows the will of the institution, from board level and executive team onwards, that this is something that is too important and that we have to find the money for,” she said.
O’Loughlin added that she believed “education is a human right” and that ideally it would be free for everybody “at any level and at any time of your life”.
“It has to be one step at a time for institutions of this size and complexity but, sure, the dreamer in me would be ambitious for there not to be a fee,” she said, adding: “The practical reality is we are taking it step by step and changing the direction of travel around this.”
Former students Jodie Whittaker and Paapa Essiedu welcomed the reduction, with Whittaker describing it as “vital” that the industry encourages anyone to audition.
Essiedu said the move would provide opportunities to prospective students who would otherwise have been “priced out”.
Equity president Maureen Beattie added that the reduction would “bring the first rung of the ladder so much closer to the ground for everyone who dreams of making a career in the entertainment industry”.