To create an exceptional, professional theatre company of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. To be considered a successful, affordable alternative to drama school training that opens up the industry to those for whom it is currently inaccessible and the preserve of the privileged. To redefine the concept of repertory theatre into a vehicle for training and experimentation as well as addressing the current imperative to create your own work and be masters of your own career.
There has been a huge amount of work done recently, and much publicity, on the subject of the lack of diversity within the performing arts and the creative sector more widely. Predominantly this has been around the issues of racial diversity in theatre, from top actors and venues to Parliamentary discussions, but only relatively recently has there been a push to combat the growing socio-economic disparity in the industry – the same faces are in the same places as work is largely programmed by, for and starring the privileged elite.
A figure of 91.8% of those working in theatre come from the middle classes, a statistic that has recently been published by the DCMS. Research by the Sutton Trust found that despite just 7% of British kids attending private schools, 42% of British BAFTA winners attended a fee-paying school. Extremely high drama school fees, even simply to audition, or the alternative of unpaid fringe work to establish one’s CV are impossible routes into the industry for the UK’s less privileged. This needs to be combatted by a successful alternative that is well respected and championed by the leading figures in the field.
Tom Watson from the Labour Party commissioned a report – Acting Up – looking in to this issue with the following statements:
People from all socio-economic backgrounds and from all regions, people of colour, those with disabilities, those of all ages, of all sexualities and all gender identities should be represented on screen and stage and behind them.
For many good reasons, and in part because they are laid down in law, discussion about diversity has often focused on protected characteristics. Each of these have different and complex related barriers.
But one word is often missing. The C Word: class.
Class, or socio-economic background, is not a protected characteristic in law, but it is a powerful indicator of life chances and it intersects strongly with other characteristics such as race and disability. But it’s often absent from the debate and from the statistics.
This isn’t about creating a hierarchy of diversity but about recognising what’s missing.
In an industry where perception and wealth are so important, recognising and understanding the role class plays is crucial. But at the moment there’s a big C shaped hole.
The Government’s asinine introduction of the EBacc will only serve to damage this even further. This replacement of GCSEs will require students to be graded in English, a language, maths, science and history or geography with no provision for creative subjects. The uptake of creative subjects at Key Stage 4 is dropping at an alarming rate. Schools, particularly in the State sector, are having to justify the existence of any creative departments when there is a shortage of funds, teachers, resources and then – to add insult to injury – no rewarding of those subjects. Creative subjects are not included in the measure and therefore good performance in these subjects does not contribute to Government’s view of how well a school is doing. All that matters is those core academic subjects.
One issue with addressing this problem is tackling the perception of the performing arts. Many people view it as an unsustainable career and as such the take-up at all educational levels is lower. Sadly, this view is based in reality: exorbitant drama school fees, audition fees, cost of living, lack of pay once in the industry etc. It is a major challenge.
We believe that our theatre company could help address this issue. It serves almost as an acting apprenticeship, like the old repertory companies used to be where people could learn their craft on the job with a wage and develop their skills by doing.
As Paul Roseby OBE, the head of the National Youth Theatre, said, “Drama is not about paper qualifications, it’s about vocation. The National Youth Theatre is about providing a route into a career other than drama school and huge debts.” We would like to provide a similar service that not only benefits its performers but also creates exciting, bold work of a professional standard for our audiences.
what we do.
We create a season of work in which we draw on the old repertory model. As such, we engage a cast of six 18-30 year olds to rehearse three plays over a fourteen week period, each play performed for a three-week run. In addition, we support the R&D of a new play and provide workshops on being a freelancer, knowing your rights, mental health and creating your own work. There are multiple benefits to this approach, namely:
- Garnering the experience of working in a professional rehearsal room under commercial pressures.
- Experience in workshopping new material.
- Working with top professional directors.
- Recognising and cultivating the need to create your own work.
This follows the model of the Texel Foundation, our financial backers, who support causes which address the following criteria:
- Health – physical and mental
- Social mobility.
We firmly believe that our theatre company will positively affect all three categories. The lack of socioeconomic diversity is linked greatly, as aforementioned, to the state of education. Research shows that young people are increasingly less likely to be able to go to the theatre. As such, our workshop and devising periods will be open to school visits in partnership with Mousetrap Theatre Projects and will facilitate young people being able to witness the possibility of earning a fair wage doing theatre.