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Ian Court: Theatre in education needs to be embraced – by the industry as well as actors

When done well, TiE is vivid, visceral, complex and challenging – especially for the actors who perform it. Photo: Creatista/Shutterstock.com

Last year, Nottingham’s Pintsize Theatre delivered 182 performances to nearly 20,000 children and teenagers in the city and county; that’s three plays, entirely researched with vulnerable young people in the area, performed to audiences growing up in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK today.

Yet, although we are in the fortunate position of being able to offer rewarding, consistent, well-paid work to young, aspiring actors, we often struggle to find and retain their services.

Why? It doesn’t make sense in a profession that is hugely oversubscribed by graduates who can’t find work. Why do so many actors fight shy of working in theatre in education? Often they don’t apply for it, and if they do get a job in it, they exclude it from their professional CV.

There are so many reasons to admire what really good TiE achieves. Why wouldn’t a young person starting out in their career want to do it, or want to make it their vocation if regular, well-paid work is offered to them?

Well, after 20 years of running a TiE company, here’s my guess as to what they might be thinking:

1. ‘TiE is badly paid and of poor quality’

There has been some shockingly poor, badly paid work in TiE, but no more so than any other branch of the performing arts and there are many companies that work hard to offer Equity standards in pay and performance.

2. ‘TiE is not ‘proper’ theatre, because of where it happens and because it beats kids over the head with a ‘message’ ’

The TiE narratives that Pintsize (and companies like ours) create are about things that matter to disadvantaged young people, who seldom access ‘real’ theatre in established venues. They have a right to their voice. Just because theatre is purposeful, it doesn’t make it propaganda.

3. ‘It won’t challenge me as an actor’

This is theatre that is as far from naval gazing as is possible. When done well, it is vivid, visceral, complex and challenging – especially for the actors who perform it.

4. ‘I won’t be seen by any casting agents or anyone who might be able to help me into film, TV or mainstream theatre’

Here is the nub of the problem. Because, in this instance, people are probably right and this is something the establishment needs to take on.

Acting seems to be the only profession that, when linked with words such as ‘health’, ‘community’ and ‘education’, is cheapened and devalued by the association. Where on earth has this idea come from?

After 20 years of running a TiE company and making a living as a writer/director of many of the plays we have produced, I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and what I have achieved. I hope young actors reading this article will have pause to reflect, but so should the performing arts establishment.