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Paul Clayton: Actor Awareness has blossomed from a simple hashtag

Actor Awareness founder Tom Stocks (right) with Maxine Peake Actor Awareness founder Tom Stocks (right) with Maxine Peake
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Having been on a highly successful diet, and garnering many compliments on my new waistline, I am not in the mood for eating a large slice of humble pie.

Still, here goes. In October 2015, I used this column to comment on the #actorawareness campaign (“A campaign has to be more than just a hashtag”, October 2015). Founded by the pugnacious Tom Stocks, in support of more opportunities for working-class actors, it soon had the Twitterati aflame with indignation. And yet, other than stamping their hashtag commitment, nobody was doing anything.

How nice then to catch up with young Master Stocks to find out that he has moved things forward. Significantly. His own financial inability to take up a drama school course was the starting point for what has turned into an enterprise providing opportunities for many.

“When I started, I was just a bit bitter,” he told me, and this was reflected in how the campaign set out its argument. It produced a short film, The Industry, which featured four young actors – working-class, one presumes – sitting in a flat moaning about their lack of opportunities. It had all the power, and professional ability, of a particularly weak episode of Hollyoaks. It could so easily have made the campaign a laughable, personal affair.

But Stocks has moved it on. Actor Awareness now stages regular scratch nights in conjunction with Spotlight in its new hub.

“You get some good ones and you get some bad ones, but four shows have been taken up professionally,” Stocks told me. That has to be good: actors getting together and creating opportunities for themselves rather than moaning that they should be given them. Spotlight says it “wants to continue to provide opportunities for performers from all backgrounds to establish careers in the industry, which is why a relationship with Actor Awareness is such a natural fit”.

For many actors attending, Spotlight’s near monopoly and restrictions on how it circulates casting information makes finding work harder.

The scratch nights, though, are not a meeting of the hard-left, working-class fraternity. The campaign’s working-class theme seems to have taken a backseat – I suspect a few more liberal, middle-class members of the thespian community have sneaked in. Actors will do anything for work, which includes changing their politics, appearance, beliefs and, I’m told, their gender, too, if need be.

Stocks himself has done well out of the campaign, having garnered an agent, a role in an independent feature film and two television commercials. The main thing is, he found an alternative to the tried and tested route of going to drama school. He turned his disappointment into a challenge and an opportunity that he has now shared with many.

The good thing for me, although perhaps not my waistline, is that he got on and did something. Something that has given a lot of opportunities to many young actors. And that, surely, is a campaign worth shouting about.

actorawareness.co.uk

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