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Editor’s View: Reaction to #YesOrNo shows theatre must not take its future workforce for granted

Organisations that have committed to getting back to every actor who auditions include, clockwise from top left, the National Theatre (photo: Philip Vile), the Almeida in London (photo: Philafrenzy/Wiki), Bristol Old Vic and Leicester's Curve
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Last week’s front-page story about the National and other leading theatres signing up to the #YesOrNo campaign generated quite a response. A decade ago, we would have said The Stage’s letters bag was bulging. Today, this translates into emails, comments on our website and posts on social media.

Either way, it is clear that the absence of feedback after auditions is a bone of contention for many actors. As our columnist, the actor and writer Stephanie Street, observes: “Actors are often like machine gun ammunition, to be randomly sprayed at a role in the knowledge that one will eventually hit the target. Even if it is just five lines for a commercial, that’s a day of temp work sacrificed, or a babysitter who had to be organised at no notice. That effort, and the professionalism of the actor who turns up and waits patiently, dressed for the part, desperate to be the right fit, ready to be compliant with almost any piece of direction given, needs to be reciprocated. Actors are not a commodity and any perception that they are needs to stop.”

But it is not just actors who feel they are being taken for granted, as this letters page shows: writers are also sick of not hearing back from theatres to whom they submit scripts. “Could the same courtesy be extended to struggling playwrights?” asks Roisin Moriarty.

This feeling of being undervalued stretches beyond actors and writers to many working in theatre at the beginning of their careers, or in relatively junior roles. It is a symptom of a sector that has long had its pick of an oversupply of talent: historically more people have wanted to work in theatre than there have been jobs available.

But I’m not convinced this will always be the case. Already, there are areas in which theatre is struggling to find suitable talent, as UK Theatre’s workforce review has highlighted. With the sidelining of the arts in education this situation is only likely to get worse.

Arts GCSE entries fall another 10% as campaigners warn of impact on creative skills pipeline

It has also become much harder – mainly due to factors outside the industry’s control, such as increased cost of living – to support a career in theatre. Meanwhile, fuelled by the introduction of tuition fees and the more transactional approach to education this has engendered, graduates entering the workplace have higher expectations of how they will be treated than they once did.

If theatre continues to take its workforce for granted, it should not be surprised if that workforce starts to look elsewhere.

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