David Morrissey speaks obvious sense when he expresses concerns about the increasing difficulty of breaking into the acting profession for people from less-privileged backgrounds.
He identifies one of the key early-career challenges performers face: “It becomes about the bank of mum and dad. Early-career artists are asked to work for nothing for the first two to three years. You have to be supported and so it becomes a middle-class profession.”
Robert Lindsay, another actor who rose to the top of the profession from a working-class background, focuses on even earlier barriers. Describing how he receives more than 100 letters a year from young people looking for financial support, he says: “The letters are all from kids in Scunthorpe, Manchester, Liverpool and Exeter, saying: ‘My mum and dad can’t afford to get me to drama school, is there anyway you can help me?’. It’s heartbreaking.”
These anecdotal observations are backed by empirical evidence in the Sutton Trust report that shows how Britain’s top actors are six times more likely to have attended a private school as the general population.
It also highlights how the arts are being sidelined in education, as well as the high cost of vocational drama training.
The latter appears to be something drama schools are making a concerted effort to address, often with help from industry donors. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation has done much to fund scholarships at schools including ArtsEd, while LAMDA held a fundraising gala on Sunday, hosted by Benedict Cumberbatch, which generated £230,000 to help fund scholarships for students who would otherwise not be able to attend.
This is all great. But a key observation in the Sutton Trust’s report was: “Concerns have been raised about the application process for drama schools such as RADA and LAMDA. Many charge application fees of about £50 each to apply (though some offer fee waivers to those from disadvantaged backgrounds), and there is no centralised application process.”
A few schools have started to drop audition fees, others are clubbing together to offer joint auditions. But it is baffling to me that the fees exist at all. There are many barriers to entry the industry cannot address alone, but this is not one of them. A cross-industry move to drop audition fees would instantly remove a barrier to entry and send a message to prospective students (and parents) that vocational drama training is for everyone.