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Letters of the week

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Skills gap boils down to supply and demand

At last someone is telling it like it is. Simon Lovelace mentions some pertinent and important facts (How to narrow the teaching skills gap, May 2, page 29), summed up in the words, “My plea is for greater cooperation between course leaders, heads of school and the administrative and infrastructure departmental heads within colleges”.

Sadly, some, or all, of the above educational staff have different agendas to work to. A departmental head in a further education college will be answerable to the college management. The section head will be answerable to the department head. The department head must balance the books. There rests the dichotomy.

Having worked in stage management, project management and now teaching – technical theatre as well as the technical apprenticeship – it occurs to me that there is no natural link between the needs of education and industry. Ever since Mrs Thatcher gave colleges the wherewithal to acquire their own funding based on students’ achievements, any link between education and industry disappeared. It is a fact that if enough students want to do a course, ie the course is commercially viable, it will run. If not, it won’t. Industry’s needs play no part in whether a course will run or not. Teachers such as myself are well aware of industry needs – after all, we still work in it. College managements respond to fiscal needs, not creative industry needs.

A student achieving a diploma will gain the college approximately £7,000 in funding over the two years of the course. Note the ‘achieving’. If the student does not achieve, there is no funding. Hence managements will not allow a student to fail. Tutors are made well aware of this. If there are not enough £7,000s, the course will not run. Simple economics. Elasticity of demand and supply.

Specialising, as Simon advocates, is a sensible, pragmatic and cost-effective solution. Sadly, it does not rest within the current educational domain, whereby colleges compete for money by touting for students. This means taking on students who should not be there but have to be enrolled to allow the course to be financially viable.

A level 3 qualification at the present time needs to be seen as exactly that – a general introduction to the performing arts, with a bias towards production. Until colleges can rid themselves of the burden of having to be financially complicit, the link between technical theatre within education and technical theatre in the real world will remain not just at arm’s length, but barely within reach.

Jeremy Holloway
Transient Theatre
Email address supplied


Venues must foot overhead bills

Would somebody please explain to me the moral and legal position of taking customers’ money to restore what are company assets?

Would you eat in a restaurant that charges 50p a head to ‘restore’ their kitchen? Would you drink in a pub where you are surcharged 50p because they need roof repairs? I think not.

Would the Ambassador Theatre Group sell you a ticket if you refused to pay its £1 restoration levy?

It’s high time those in the theatre industry woke up to the fact that they are running a business, and not expect the public to subsidise them.

Paul Michaelson
Email address supplied


PFA kicks up a fuss over nothing

It is outrageous that a trade union – the Professional Footballers’ Association – should demand that Reginald D Hunter hand back his fee because they did not like the content of his act at its annual awards evening.

Anyone who has seen Hunter appear on Have I Got News for You? knows what his act is all about. It is built on talking about racial issues, and while it is considered unacceptable for white comics to use the ‘n’ word, it has never been unacceptable for African-American comics to use it in their acts for comic effect.

I accept that the PFA has been working hard to ‘kick racism out of football’, and rightly so. But there is a big difference between racism on the soccer pitch and Reggie talking about racism in his act.

I could quite understand anyone booking him thinking he might be the ideal comic for the PFA awards, and it is just unfortunate his comedy misfired on the night.

Perhaps those in showbusiness who are football fans should start demanding that soccer players hand back their fees whenever we are not satisfied with their performance.

I wonder what the PFA would have to say about that?

Tom Laughton
Harrington Crescent


European project seeks volunteers

EDERED is a Europe-wide youth drama organisation and an international non-government organisation of the Council of Europe. Every summer since 1979, it has created an ‘encounter’ in a different European city.

Briefly, each country sends eight young people aged 15-16 to work together through drama. In the second week, a piece of theatre emerges that is performed in the host city.

This year it is the turn of the UK. The host town will be Ipswich, and the venue the Royal Hospital School. We are seeking volunteers based in East Anglia aged between 18-24 who would be keen to work on this project.

Kevin Dowsett


Kinder words were warranted

I was most distressed by your obituary for Mary-Jane Burcher (May 2, page 45).

I first met Mary-Jane in 1980 when I was Evelyn Laye’s musical director. At that time Mary-Jane showed little sign of the terrible multiple sclerosis that was to blight her for the rest of her life. Evelyn confided to me the facts about the Max Bygraves case but, with her typical magnanimity and using her own judgement, she engaged Mary-Jane, as your obituary says, as her personal assistant, a task she lovingly fulfilled in spite of her own failing health, until Evelyn’s death in 1996. Since then, she was always a great support to me.

Prior to this, of course, Mary-Jane had worked for Bygraves, who left her in charge of his finances when he spent winters in Australia.

From what I heard, Mary-Jane, who loved the theatre, was persuaded to lend a considerable sum of money to a third party. With the promise that it would be returned soon, she very unwisely withdrew the money from Bygraves’ account. Of course, the money was never returned, leaving Mary-Jane to face the consequences.

Poor Mary-Jane paid dearly for her folly. Apart from the cruel prison sentence, which I believe Bygraves deeply regretted, I am sure the shock and shame of it caused or exacerbated the dreadful disease that would gradually eat away her life.

She kept working until she was reduced to a mere shadow of her former self. And, yes, she kept smiling until she could smile no more.

Mary-Jane was a warm and loyal friend. For that, I shall always remember her.

John Dalby
Email address supplied


Common sense must prevail

I read with interest the letter from Marc Sinden regarding the word ‘actress’ (Stage Talk, March 28, page 9).

I was very pleased to see that I am not alone in believing that the word should be used regarding women performers. I hope Mr Sinden was as smug as I was when the awards were read out at the recent Oliviers – they couldn’t avoid the use of the word.

I rest our case.

Joy Cooper
Email address supplied


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