As a corollary to Lyn Gardner’s excellent observation that ‘theatre needs more late starters’, it is alarming to see most university jobs for teaching theatre or media-related courses requiring their candidates to have a PhD. The consequence is that not only do courses mainly cater for the young but are taught by the young, who have had no industry experience, having spent their time achieving this pedagogical height.
One of our greatest living playwrights, Tom Stoppard, never went to university so today would not be selected as a candidate for a scriptwriting post. Actors Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton have Cambridge degrees in subjects unrelated to the industry they have succeeded in, but would find it difficult to teach in a recognised drama school (other than as a guest) without a PhD in a related subject. Thus, one of the most satisfying ways for creatives to supplement their income when ‘resting’ is denied – and students are denied a practitioner’s expertise.
Of course, honorary degrees are bestowed on a few high-achievers in the industry, but they are different. After having slogged as a mature student to gain a master’s degree, I was upstaged at the ceremony by Charles Dance receiving an honorary doctorate – much to the delight of my wife and daughter.
I also agree that the industry should “consider encouraging clearer pathways to late starters” – such as early retirees from lucrative jobs, who may have an abundance of leisure time that they find hard to fill. That, on top of a reasonable pension, could interest them in another career affording them training and providing another desperately needed extra income stream for higher education courses.
Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species at the age of 50. So, with evolutionary biology in mind, perhaps the entertainment industry could blaze a trail for an oldie generation of novice film-makers, theatremakers, actors, broadcasters and creatives
in all areas.
Buster Merryfield was a bank manager until he became an actor at 57. Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California at 56 and Ronald Reagan (also an actor) became 40th US president at 69. Ana Mary Robertson began painting at 78, selling one for $1.2 million dollars. So please, let’s put in place plenty of “development opportunities” for late starters.
When I returned to acting in 2016 after raising my family, I was advised that there was no point in trying, as the casting directors already had the lists of mature females they like – and that those women would always have the edge on me as they were the ones who chose a career over family (or managed to balance both).
It wasn’t an easy choice to give up my well-paid regular job. Three years on I can say I have worked solidly in fringe and touring theatre, but so far I haven’t been seen for any TV or film work apart from shorts. Except for commercials, that side of acting seems to be a closed book: I can’t get in the room – and even in touring theatre and the West End, the cut-off age generally seems to be about 35.
I’m a third-year drama undergraduate at the age of 58, having had a 35-year career in the NHS. I have never had any illusions about the focus on youth in the creative industries and am pursuing research into how the older body functions and is represented within contemporary theatre, alongside independent acting work and theatremaking.
Theatre reflects a society that not only privileges the younger body but places it in conflict with the old. We are not seeing much real challenge to this in contemporary work, which fails to acknowledge institutionalised ageism. I have sat through too many performances in which older people are harangued and vilified, perpetuating rather than challenging the old/young binary narrative that our social discourse is infected with.
May I also add agents to the discussion please? Trying to get an agent as an older writer is a nightmare: youth rules.
After a career in medical research and then, despite working for successful TV and radio shows, writing some (minor) award-winning plays and screenplays and having a bestselling novel in the US, I know that whenever I talk to agents they see the white hair first and stop being interested.
Sorry – I was busy trying to cure heart disease until my 50s.
With reference to recent correspondence about the ‘Royal’ National Theatre, I once had a rather unusual experience, that demonstrates the perils of opening up to fellow audience members.
I arrived late for an NT Platform talk, which necessitated the whole row getting up to let me in. As I sat down, I commented: “It’s Sod’s Law that someone always turns up at the last minute.” My neighbour replied: “Sod’s Law? Not at the Royal National Theatre,” to which I responded: “Well then, Murphy’s Law.” He snapped back: “Possibly at an Irish public house, but certainly not at the Royal National Theatre!”
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“I watch a lot of dance — I go to dance as much as I go to theatre. I think Pina Bausch is one of the few real creative geniuses. She has this capacity to stretch time and to sit in a moment far longer than anyone else would dare.” – Director Rebecca Frecknall (Financial Times)
“I have no confidence when it comes to singing, but I’d love to explore it. My singing voice is just at the disco, in the corner, mouthing the words, when it actually wants to get up and do a bit of headbanging.” – Actor Andrew Scott (Evening Standard)
“Now, this is going to sound fucking pretentious – I don’t want my audience to love me. I want them to believe me. Contemporary dramatists still don’t find women interesting. Where are the really good women’s parts? Not written yet. And that’s a bit depressing.” – actor Glenda Jackson (Sunday Times Magazine)
“We’re taking them [working-class actors] in, and we are training them. But there are questions about whether they are getting the work. There are also serious questions about how you survive, as an actor, in the early years without that support you might have if you come from a prosperous background.” – RADA director Edward Kemp (Times)
“If you’re a privileged (white/rich/educated/from London) theatremaker and you’re wondering how best to support others, you can start with being kind. The number of people I’ve met who wax lyrical about inclusion and opportunity but then are openly rude/ungenerous/cold in person.” – Producer Emily Davis (Twitter)
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