It was interesting to read about the performer sleeping under the bridge last week, but unfortunately for some of us closer to that particular coalface it was not surprising.
Cardboard Citizens tries whenever possible to work with actors with lived experience of homelessness. When we started some 27 years ago, this usually meant finding people who were homeless and training them to act – this is still a major source of talent for us – but alongside it, for some time, we have found ourselves employing actors who have travelled the journey in the opposite direction: those who were professional actors before they became homeless.
Perhaps the only comparatively unusual part of the previously mentioned story was that this individual was working in a West End show at the same time as sleeping rough – but even this is certainly not without precedent. Many homeless people manage to work at the same time as being homeless – a number of these work in shops in the West End and sleep at Heathrow, where a warm and safe environment is guaranteed.
Recently we put out an open call for actors who have experience of homelessness to attend a series of small workshop auditions, for the first time in our history. We stressed that homelessness encompasses far more than street homelessness, which is only the visible tip of a very large iceberg. We had well over 70 applications and ended up meeting more than 50 people. Those we met had all kinds of stories, from eviction by private landlords (very common) to living in temporary accommodation or hostels, with much sofa-surfing and some rough sleeping along the way. And of course the causes were as varied as the places people found themselves – not just the better-known catalogue of mental health or addiction issues, but many things in which the state, or an employer, could easily have played a preventative role.
It is good to see The Stage bringing this matter to wider public attention. The case reported on raised questions about wages and the industry we work in and the care we take, or don’t take, of our staff. But at the same time, obviously it raises issues about London and who can live there in the
current housing crisis – and finally, whether we can sustain the world-famous reputation for great theatre if our actors can’t afford to work in theatre.
Next time we are on our way to a West End show and we pass someone sitting in the street, we would do well to ask ourselves the question we often ask at the end of a Cardboard Citizens show: does it really have to be like that and what can each of us do about it?
Adrian Jackson MBE
Cardboard Citizens artistic director
Entering the Rose Theatre, the wooden floorboards and open concrete walls might appear, at first glance, to be unfinished: there is more to be done. This theatre is about the production, not the grandeur of theatregoing. Is it any wonder so many established actors and directors look to the Rose for theatre of a guaranteed standard? In February, Rose regular Ian McKellen brought his touring 80th birthday show, with all proceeds going towards the theatre. If one of our greatest living actors recognises and supports the Rose’s work, questions must be asked about Kingston Council’s proposal to cut funding.
Since it began, the importance of youth and community projects has been at the heart of the Rose, offering opportunities for all ages to explore “self-confidence, vocal, literacy and team skills”. Many Rose Youth Theatre alumni have gone to top drama schools, some appearing on our screens, while others are studying everything from English to Zoology at top universities. The Rose Theatre’s Learning and Participation Programme uses theatre as a platform for social development and cohesion. It is a credit to the public and creates ambassadors for change in the community.
At its core, the Rose Theatre’s work is about decreasing social isolation and promoting equality and respect. With tackling social problems rising on the NHS’ agenda, now is the time to promote groups such as the Rose.
Theatre is often said to be a coexistent force, alongside politics, culture and social change. In an era of political uncertainty, a theatre alone may not solve the world’s problems, but it can open audiences’ eyes to the truth.
The importance of the Rose’s community work should not be underestimated. Bringing together people across London and the South East, the Rose has become a hub of creative minds. It is an integral part of the community and invaluable to Kingston’s identity. Through the Rose Theatre’s partnership with Kingston University and local schools, it has rooted itself in the cultural heart of south-west London.
Rose Youth Theatre alumni
Great article (Anatomy of a fringe production) but no acknowledgement that Damsel Production’s director Hannah Hauer-King is the daughter of one of the wealthiest and most influential men in England (Jeremy King), and this has no doubt opened doors for her and enabled her to take risks.
The article states Hauer-King agreed to forego her fee – only an independently wealthy person could afford that. Our industry has to acknowledge that the fringe is often the preserve of the privileged. I understand the desire to downplay one’s family connections and make it on your own strength, but there is no point talking so openly and honestly about the murky financial underside of the industry, as Damsel has here, if theatremakers are not willing to be open about their own privilege.
“I was nobody from nowhere, who knew nothing and knew nobody – I was a labourer in a butter factory. But the man I was working with had a daughter who was a semi-professional singer. I said: ‘I want to be an actor but I don’t know how to do it.’ He said: ‘I know how to do it – I’ll tell you how. You go to the newsagent and you buy a newspaper called The Stage.’ That’s what I did.” Actor Michael Caine (BBC Radio 2)
“I was in the same class as Naomi Campbell and Amma Asante at Barbara Speake, so I grew up with them and we still talk to each other all the time. Kwame Kwei-Armah also went there, but he’s older than us, so we looked up to him. That school did teach you, as a black performer, that you would have less opportunity. So we’ve all diversified and done other things.” Actor Michelle Gayle (Metro)
“So I keep a lot of magazines, a lot of industry stuff. I do surprise a lot of my contemporaries, some of whom I met 20, 30 years ago. I just whip out a programme and go: ‘Guess what?’ I started collecting ticket stubs in 1986. I didn’t know why. But now if you come into my home, literally the doorway into my kitchen, you can’t see the paint. It’s all ticket stubs, and people go: ‘Where did you buy that?’ They think it’s wallpaper.” Actor Femi Elufowoju Jr (Guardian)
“I grew up in the theatre. I honestly remember the smell of greasepaint. My earliest memories are being babysat backstage while my mother was performing.” Actor Martha Plimpton (Telegraph)
Email your views to email@example.com. Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.