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Paul Clayton: A campaign needs to be more than just a hashtag

McAvoy is funding a 10-year scholarship programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
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There’s a campaign afoot and I do like a good campaign. It can’t have escaped you if you’re a member of the Twitterati, and it goes by #actorsawareness.

Started by a young Mancunian, Tom Stocks, it aims to make people aware of the plight that many people have in following their ambition to be an actor.

It’s been vociferous in emphasising the need for diversity in actors and, in that, it has done a great job. Here in Britain we still produce many of the world’s finest actors. Whereas our rugby and football teams may no longer be the envy of the world, our actors still are, and the rich variety of backgrounds from which they come is to be celebrated. It would indeed be a great shame if we lost that.

I worry a little that it has promoted this need to maintain diversity as part of a class struggle. The phrase ‘working-class actor’ is often bandied about in tweets and articles. I’m not sure that this can be all put down to class.

Surely it is down to income and the ability to afford training. Since Blair removed the provision of state-funded tertiary education, it is a huge weight on any student trying to train for any profession: legal, medical, thespian, or whatever.

The #actorawareness campaign goes further, saying that drama schools are overcharging and the industry itself pushes out people with the cost of head shots, Spotlight and the like. This for me is where an otherwise excellent campaign falls apart.

Drama schools have to charge in order to survive. An increasing number of courses lead to accusations that they are putting too many people into the profession as a result, but they have to work as viable businesses. So do photographers and organisations such as Spotlight. They are all – to some extent – businesses.

RADA, which has just appointed that most erudite of working-class actors, Kenneth Branagh, as its new president, takes more than 40% of its intake from families with an income of £25,000 or less, and 57% of students have some form of aid or scholarship. The help is there, but it can be hard to find.

People need to be aware of the business they are entering. You don’t set up as a plumber if you can’t afford the tools. Perhaps we have to look to ourselves. We are told that only 5% of actors earn more than £20,000 from their acting work, but how many of those who do put something back?

It is easy to just tweet the relevant hashtag and support something. Well done to James McAvoy for his Scottish scholarship provision. Well done to Joseph Millson for his new bursary at the Actors Centre and to all who give back, many silently. More help is still needed.

Tom says many high-profile actors have tweeted his campaign but do no more. If it is to be more than just actors bemoaning the state of things, more practical help has to be given. Sometimes doing something takes more than just a hashtag.

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