There are many alternative paths to a stage career (your views, February 7)
Drama school is not the only way
I was disappointed at the tone of Susan Elkin’s feature on foundation courses, which implies that drama school is the only route to professional acting for young creatives. It does not mention or consider alternative routes to the industry.
For years drama school was the only route to professional acting, and some people might continue to believe that to be the case. But the ever-increasing cost of tertiary education and over-subscription to limited places means that drama school will always be only one path to a diverse and varied industry that many will enter through alternative routes. Many iconic performers have enjoyed the benefits of a classical acting education, but for every Patrick Stewart there is an Olivia Cooke, Henry Cavill, Vicky McClure or Ian McKellen.
In a culture of increased austerity and financial uncertainty, it’s sad that the additional cost of a foundation course is posed to young creative talents without referencing any credible alternatives. Indeed, if the cost of tertiary education continues to climb, it isn’t feasible for drama school to remain the sole path to an active career in acting.
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There are plenty of other ways to prepare effectively for drama school without incurring the high fees for foundation courses.
Drama schools have identified a clever additional income stream for which there will always be applicants because too many young people want to act. Why should anyone take on a fourth year of training for which they can’t secure government loans?
It seems to be the case that students who fail to secure places on the main courses are ‘encouraged’ to think about a foundation course to prepare them for audition. It would be better for them to join an amateur company, form a troupe and put on a fringe show, apply to the national youth companies (who provide bursaries) or find a private coach for a few sessions to get audition-ready.
Directors and self-taping
Samuel West’s article on self-tape auditions is brilliant. It gives such an insight into a theatre director’s mind and approach to projects – especially the exploration of the play with the casting director and new, young actors. He should be directing on a much more regular basis.
Profiteering fringe venues
I have great sympathy with Ross Ericson, and agree with him when he says: “You have to play London, otherwise the industry doesn’t know you exist.”
However, perhaps looking for recognition from the metropolitan-based industry is a fickle route to travel. Having acted for more than 50 years, it seems to me that the theatre has as much to do with fashion, whim, self-interest and venality as with endeavour and excellence – and the London fringe world is no exception.
My production of Shackleton’s Carpenter toured very successfully last year, visiting 23 venues across the UK and Ireland. It played to capacity audiences, was received with standing ovations and made a living for my stage manager and me for three months.
For this year’s tour, 14 venues are already pencilled in and I am in discussions with another 20. Last year, we had a short run at the Old Sorting Office in Barnes and we hope to do the same this year. We did this on a straight box-office split and it was very successful for the theatre, ourselves and the capacity audience. However, we could tempt no critic to cover us, nor could we afford a PR guru. Our London showing led to no increased profile for the production. The industry doesn’t seem to know we exist.
This is in stark contrast to the prestige of playing at the Shackleton Autumn School in Athy, County Kildare (the biggest annual gathering of Antarctic scholars and historians in the world), where the play was rapturously received. Likewise, at other venues in England, Scotland and Ireland, we were made welcome and our production was genuinely valued.
Coriolanus reminds us that “there is a world elsewhere”. Perhaps we should all seek the areas where drama is still valued and leave the vagaries of the London fringe market to those who would never stray a mile north of Watford.
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Realistic career prospects
Thanks to Lyn Gardner for providing a sensible, nuanced response to an over-emotionalised debate.
Yes, the arts are valuable and provide a range of very useful skills to those who study and train in their disciplines. And we don’t need more of the kind of myopic cuts to arts education that diminish the richness and variation in our society’s future.
But many young people are being sold an absolute fantasy by arts training establishments, and Equity’s statistics on the abysmal employment rates for performers and technical experts in the performing arts starkly conveys this reality. Though there are far more secure administrative and teaching jobs in the arts, this is not the reason many train as performers, and educators must be open about the likelihood of the kind of stellar career young performers dream of.
Quotes of the week
“To the lady in the audience who shouted ‘f**k you’ at me during a very serious scene last night. While I’m so grateful that you believed in my character, I’d like to remind you that you were in a theatre, not watching TV. Please respect the actors and the audience. With kindness.” Actor Hayley Tamaddon, appearing in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End (Twitter)
“What I hear and what I witness at the curtain call [of Nine Night] is a true reflection of the city I grew up in, and it’s wonderful to hear the vocal responses from people who haven’t come to the theatre before.” Actor and playwright Natasha Gordon (speaking at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards)
“It’s amazing how many people can relate to the relationship [in Summer and Smoke], in terms of what your first crush might feel like or battling with being your true self in a world that might not accept it.” Actor Patsy Ferran (speaking at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards)
“Oh God, no! Oh, death. I want to be an actor, not a national treasure. I don’t really know what national treasure means.” Actor Roger Allam (Times)
“These two women redefined @AlmeidaTheatre. Both arrived as diary monkeys and house seat wranglers. One leaves for @youngvictheatre as a major producer, the other as a proper writer and true artist. It’s been a total privilege to work alongside them. Lucy and Emma, we will miss you!” Almeida Theatre artistic director Rupert Goold (Twitter)
“Don’t even know where to begin with the @rupertgoold tweet [above]. It sums up a lot that’s wrong with this industry. I hope his board demand an apology. I hope his current staff know he couldn’t make the work he does without them.” Derby Theatre artistic director Sarah Brigham (Twitter)
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