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Editor’s View: The Stage Debut Awards remind us how hard it is to emerge in theatre – we must all help

The Stage Debut award winners, left to right: Gus Gowland, Akshay Sharan, Katy Rudd, Amara Okereke, Louis Gaunt, Khadjia Raza, Gemma Dobson and Andrew Thompson. Photo: Alex Brenner

The Stage Debut Awards, in association with Access Entertainment, are a joyous evening celebrating the future of theatre in this country. And, by the look of things [1], it is going to be very exciting indeed.

However, they are also a chastening reminder of how bloody hard it is to get a foothold and sustain a career in this industry.

As our host Cush Jumbo [2] observed, it’s hard enough just to get by in London – where most of the work is. “The idea of being a jobbing actor and going between jobs can be daunting, but it is also depressing when you realise how many jobs you have to work on the side to pay rent and to go to an audition that you can only get to if your boss lets you off waitressing.”

Or, as Olivier award-winning playwright James Graham [3] summed up succinctly: “Emerging is very, very hard.”

All our winners had similar stories. Writer Andrew Thompson spoke of the numerous letters he had written to directors and producers, thanking Michael Grandage for being one of the few who responded, twice.

Composer Gus Gowland gave up a career as an actor to pursue musical theatre writing: “I’ve struggled a bit, I’ve seen other writers up and coming that are much younger and that can be difficult, but you have to remember that everyone does things at their own pace.”

Designer Khadija Raza added: “Sometimes theatre can feel impossible, you work constantly and always try to get the next job, trying to make enough money to live, so it’s nice to be recognised and for someone to say ‘You’re doing a good job’.”

Breaking through has always been hard – and it probably always will be. But the safety nets and support structures that used to allow young people from all backgrounds to develop an interest in the arts are disappearing.

Award presenter Adrian Lester pointed out he was supported by a grant system that no longer exists. Meanwhile, arts subjects are being sidelined in education and local and national funding is being cut.

With less support from the government (in its various guises), the onus falls on the sector itself to grasp the nettle.

I am hugely proud of the difference The Stage Debut Awards [4] will make to the careers of both nominees and winners, and there are many in the industry doing even greater things to encourage and nurture new and existing talent, but we can all do more.

If you think we can do more together, we’d love to hear from you.