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Paul Clayton: We need to support the Actors Centre to keep it

The Actors Centre in London

The Actors Centre is an absolutely fantastic place. Ask any actor and they will tell you that. Ask any successful actor where it is and many of them will have a problem telling you. Because, although they recognise the value of such an organisation, they themselves have had no cause to use it.

That’s because they have been in work. They’ve been lucky to get enough work. I was exactly the same. Until joining the board of the Actors Centre in 2008, my one visit was for the read-through of a feature film in a studio there. I believed that walking out of the Actors Centre was a slightly less subtle way of announcing to the world that you were out of work than having it branded across your forehead.

The Actors Centre was set up for the continuing development of professional actors, which is something I personally have always had a little bit of a problem with. I believe that actors develop when they work, and that the main function of the Actors Centre should be to connect actors with the world of work. To me, there is little point in rolling around on the floor practising Meisner unless you have a place to apply it. A little bit like going out to take advanced driving lessons when you don’t have a car.

Over the last few years, the centre has increasingly focused on graduates and aimed at strengthening the bridge from the drama school haven into the world of work. In this, it has proved very successful. More drama school graduates than ever before have become members of the centre as they become actors. More agents and casting directors have come through the doors in the last 12 months than I would have thought possible. Practical sessions on skills to get work run alongside the more familiar voice, text, comedy, and audition skills workshops.

And yet do actors really want an actors centre? The building is old and needs work. Recently, a sponsored walk was held to raise money to start this. Out of more than 2,400 members, just five got sponsorship and walked. For the Actors Centre, as for many charities, times are hard. There are no big black tie supporters, just members. The centre works hard to keep the cost of workshops as low as possible, but perhaps it should charge more as it connects people with work more effectively. Perhaps relying on goodwill is not the way forward, and it should charge market rate.

Either way, it will continue to be the foremost support organisation for working professional actors in Britain. Working actors earn money. Earning money helps people pay back training loans, so it’s a win-win all round to get actors into work. Sometimes success, financial or other-wise, can come late in an actor’s career. Still being around when it knocks on the door is key. The Actors Centre is ensuring that more young graduates have longevity in their career. I’m proud to be part of that.