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Paul Clayton: Jane Asher is wrong to call young actors ‘snooty’

The fragrant and cake-baking “stage and TV stalwart” Jane Asher has accused young actors of being “snooty” about what they choose to do early on in their careers. The Stage reported the actor’s comments [1] last week at the launch of the forthcoming musical An American in Paris in which Asher will be appearing, where she said: “A lot of young people I have met who are starting out say they will only do something like the Royal Shakespeare Company.”

I think this says more about about the sort of company Asher keeps, and makes me ask the question: “What planet is she on?”

Having worked with more than 1,200 drama school graduates over the past four years thanks to my involvement in the Alan Bates Award at the Actors Centre, I have gained a good idea of what faces the drama graduate of today and, believe me, they just want to work. They may well have aspirations for a season at Stratford, or a play at the National Theatre, but they are realists. They know the difference between aspirations and objectives.

Unlike Asher, they begin their careers saddled with debt. Many of them are struggling to even just stay in London where they have trained.

Young actors whom I know have spent this year doing corporate role-play, promotional work, computer game shoots, mannying, catering work, and long hours in a bar, just to stay in the profession they love. The idea of doing “an ad, or a radio” – Asher’s idea of a lowly job – is something they would jump at.

These new “snooty” young graduates are also creating their own work. Fringe work, which they support themselves, and short films, often funded on Kickstarter, and sometimes delivering amazing results. All done to try and get their name out there and get the spotlight to shine on them. Just to get noticed a little, something Asher achieved by an association with a certain young pop star called Paul McCartney. Not by doing adverts.

Today’s young actors are probably the hardest working and savviest yet. No easy life of repertory job after repertory job for them. They have to get out there and make it work. It’s good to have dreams and, for many, that’s all the Royal Shakespeare Company can be, but it’s also good to have objectives. Financial objectives, number of days worked objectives, area of work objectives. When they look back at the end of their first year, that is what will give them a feeling of success.

As an actor of a certain age, perhaps Asher doesn’t get to pick from a huge variety of job options. When she is lucky enough to be speaking about her work, and I am sure her performance in An American in Paris will be a delight, perhaps she should hold forth on something she knows about. She may have her head in the clouds, but I can assure her that today’s young actors have their feet firmly on the ground.