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Surely we are training too many students?

Students in a class at LAMDA. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith/LAMDA
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Are we training too many students?

It’s the showcase season – and there are dozens and dozens of them. I see at least one a week and sometimes more at this time of year although I cover only a small section because The Stage has a team of people to review showcases.

The truth is, of course, that we are training far too many students to perform. Almost every time I attend a showcase some agent or casting director makes a muttered comment along the lines of “These poor kids. Many of them will never work in this industry. There just aren’t enough jobs for all these people.”

Well, nobody goes into the performance world expecting to work full-time. Everyone knows that for almost every actor, even a fine one, there will be gaps. The work will be spasmodic. On the other hand it is hardly fair to set up cruelly false expectations when it is quite obvious that some of these new graduates are unlikely to work at all. Ever. What is even worse is that they’re at least £27,000 poorer if they’ve just completed drama school.

Any showcase regular will tell you that the standard on display is perennially patchy. In some cases it is woefully obvious that the course was filled with some students for reasons other than acting potential and excellence. This often applies to males, especially if they have ethnic minority backgrounds because admitting them ticks inclusion boxes. It also, far too often applies, to overseas students.

So really, in a sensible, fair world, the schools would be reducing numbers and selecting against very rigorous criteria relating only to ability and potential.

But they’re not and instead many existing schools continue to expand and hopeful new schools start up all the time. Several of the big players run several slightly different parallel courses – foundation, undergraduate/diploma, postgraduate or whatever. And every year there are new ones. Why? Well, call me a cynic, but  I have to point out that every one of these students comes bearing, from one source or another, £9,000 and (helpfully for the school or college) usually more if they’re from overseas. Some schools have turned into big business.

Of course, I’m generalising to make a point. And it’s my job to be provocative. Some of the large schools – RADA, LAMDA and Bristol Old Vic for example – have fine records of alumni in employment. But given that there is only a finite number of job opportunities, it must be that there are even fewer chances for graduates of other courses. We are still training hundreds too many overall.

Actually, I think Britain’s actor training does a magnificent job in educating and developing articulate, thoughtful, competent people. A young man or woman who’s completed a two or three year course in a good drama school is likely to be employable at almost anything. But she or he didn’t choose to go to drama school in the first place with the intention of using those skills in, for instance, PR or teaching. We’re conning them and it’s time we stopped. It’s also time someone confronted this issue aloud.

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