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Train fewer actors and tell the truth

Actor and Equity president Malcolm Sinclair. Photo: Phil Adams
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Only one actor in 50 earns more than £20,000 a year from acting – according to the recent Casting Call Pro survey which also found that over three quarters of actors earn less than £5,000 a year from the trade they trained for.

Hardly surprising given the increasing number of “trained actors” which flood hopefully out of drama schools, large and small, every year is it? And yet when I dared to make this point here earlier in the year a number of commentators thought I should keep my observations to myself and stop demoralising young enthusiasts (by telling the obvious truth).

Equity President Malcolm Sinclair agrees with me and is prepared to say so openly.  He said, and it was quoted in The Independent:

Compared to when I started there are so many more drama schools, and university courses. There are far more young actors coming out and it feels like there is less work around. There are too many actors and too few jobs.

Yes, there it is again. That elephant in the room may be a big grey cliche but he’s beginning to trumpet so loudly that we are not going to be able to ignore him much longer.

It simply wouldn’t be tolerated in other professions. When I trained as a teacher we took it for granted that provided we worked hard, jumped through the right hoops and proved that we could do the job there would be work for us at the end of the course – and there was. Nobody embarks on medical training, an accountancy degree or business management training in the knowledge that she or he is highly unlikely ever to be able to make a living from it. It simply isn’t how training and work operates in a sensible world.

Of course, acting and the performing arts are always going to be a bit different because you really do need an oversupply to be able to select the right person for a role. On the other hand there is only a finite amount of work available and every time a college starts a new course, or expands an existing one the likelihood of any paying (and by golly, they do pay hand over fist these days) participant fulfilling his or her dream lessens.

I think colleges should be contracting not expanding. Tough, I know, for staff who would have less teaching work and very hard for the potential students, even more of whom would fail to gain places. On the other hand I’m for truth and fairness. Some of these students are effectively being conned by the numbers game. There is so little chance of their ever finding professional work, given the sheer volume of the competition, that it would have been better had they not been offered a training place in the first place. Bar work to pay the bills really isn’t much fun.


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