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Paul Clayton: Gender should never be a barrier to success

Alan Bates Award finalists Calum Speed, John Rwoth-Omack, Luke Dale, Jeremy Ang Jones, Marcus Fraser, Ryan HayesHCKPhotography-1658 Paul Clayton (Chair of the Actors Centre and judge of the Alan Bates award), Lindsey Coulson (award presenter), Luke Dale (winner) and Janet Suzman (final round judge). Photo: Kit Shah
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I have the honour of being chairman of the board of the Actors Centre, that veritable institution to support working actors.

We have just finished the busiest time of our year and given the Alan Bates award. Held for the last 11 years in memory of former patron Alan Bates, one of the finest actors of his generation and a fervent supporter of young talent, the competition is probably the toughest graduate award around.

This year, we had a record number of entrants. Over 265 graduating drama students applied, and after three rounds, the well deserved winner was Luke Dale from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

A tall, immensely likeable Yorkshire lad who is undoubtedly an exceedingly fine actor. He has everything going for him and Bates himself would without doubt have approved. Oh, except that he’s male.

There have only been two female winners. Female runners-up aplenty. And yet far fewer female winners.

We can make changes. We can and will look at this. We could ensure that three places in the final are female and three male.

Yet would any actress want to be included just because of her gender. Surely we are looking for the best six, whatever race, gender or social demographic they come from. Black, white, working class, middle class – surely it’s first class that is most important.

So why is it that the girls seem to not step up to the mark when the heat is on?

I seem to remember that in school plays and youth theatre, there were always far more girls wanting to take part than boys. In Toad of Toad Hall, Ratty was played by the deputy head girl due to the lack of rugby team testosterone available to the drama group. An excellent job she did too.

My 1970s sojourn at drama school had a year of nine boys, and 14 girls. And this meant that the boys worked harder in better parts than the girls.

Perhaps we need to be ensuring that the girls are getting the chances in their training. And perhaps this might mean taking on a fairer balance of the sexes. We have far more girls using the Actors Centre than guys. Is that because they just can’t get the work, or because there are more of them out there? Hard to say.

At the Actors Centre, we are here to support young actors stepping out into the profession, regardless of class, race, or gender.

Our winner Luke will be off on a personal shopping expedition, thanks to Ted Baker. Hopefully next year, our winner will be heading to the womenswear department. Although perhaps that is no guarantee that the winner will be a woman.

In the words of another immensely likeable Yorkshire lad, Alan Bennett: “The gender of actors is in any case a fairly murky area, and they are often pretty vague about it themselves.”

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