Is the tide finally turning against exorbitant drama school audition fees? Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for a long time one of a number of drama schools charging high fees, is the latest to announce a shake-up in the way it charges aspiring students.
It’s no coincidence that the changes at Guildhall and LAMDA – the other major drama school to have recently overhauled its charges – have happened since figures with experience outside the drama training sector have taken on senior roles at those institutions: Orla O’Loughlin and Sarah Frankcom, respectively.
For too long, the sector had its head in the sand. Looking through The Stage’s archives, we have highlighted this issue regularly since at least 1997. The schools’ response has been cloth-eared: the fees are not ‘profit centres’, but they could not afford to do as thorough a job at auditions without charging, and there are bursaries available if you can’t afford them.
The response from Robert Cannon, vice-principal of Rose Bruford, in 1997 was fairly typical: “The college auditions and interviews more than 4,000 students each year. Administratively, this involves three full-time staff in our registry, as well as reception and post who receive initial enquiries and dispatch prospectuses. Two full-time staff in marketing devote much of their time preparing materials for candidates, including handling websites and recruitment conferences. The auditions themselves involve more than 100 days’ work by tutorial staff, the principal and vice-principal all involved to ensure the most thorough and fair process for candidates.”
While some claims that audition fees were not generating a profit were simply untrue, the justifications overlooked that what the schools chose to regard as ‘extra costs’ should have been considered core expenditure – as recruitment is for most organisations. And while bursaries for audition fees are all well and good, the fact poorer students have to ask for them is a barrier in itself.
That LAMDA and Guildhall have begun to slash audition fees is very welcome – as is the fact that other schools are banding together on schemes such as group auditions to limit students’ potential outlay. But it does not reflect well on them that it has taken nearly a quarter of a century to start getting their house in order.
It was always the schools’ choice to structure their finances in a way that relied on these fees. The changes we are now seeing are long overdue and – as O’Loughlin sensibly acknowledges – there is still more to be done.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his weekly column at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith