So this week has seen another set of articles bemoaning the lack of opportunities for working class actors. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: ‘I believe that it’s important we find a way to give more access to working class aspirant actors to proper training.’
Now of course, I am not going to disagree with this. But what I am going to disagree with is the nature of the problem. Training is expensive, yes. But most of the 3 year acting courses at drama school are now degree courses which means you can get a student loan.
Whether or not you agree with charging students to go to university (I don’t but that’s a separate issue) a student loan does not work in the same way as a bank loan. You don’t have to pay back a penny until you are earning over £21,000 a year. Once you are earning that you then pay back 6% of your earnings over that amount every year.
As an actor from a working class background myself, this is how I financed my training. Six years after graduating I have not had to pay back a penny and it does not affect my credit rating. In fact as I got a Saturday job during my training I left drama school with a first class BA (hons) and £3,000 in my bank account. Most of the people on my course were also from lower or middle income backgrounds. It is not training more working class actors that is the big problem. It is giving them the opportunities after graduation.
At the start of your career you spend more time pursuing work than you do actually working. I myself did a little tally up of my audition to jobs ratio last year and it was very disappointing.
In 2015 I applied for 207 acting jobs.
I was offered 12 auditions (9 of which I was able to attend)
I got 2 jobs.
The arts being what they are, there are not very many permanent jobs available. It tends to be a day here and a day there so applying for 207 jobs was actually not that many. I wasn’t trying particularly hard. I spent most of last year performing in an entertainment attraction, which was poorly paid, but at least I was doing what I trained to do. After a hard days work, scouring the internet looking for castings which want you to be in London the following day or writing letters to casting directors which almost never get a response was not my idea of a fun evening. Just imagine how many jobs I could have applied for, or networking events I could have gone to if I didn’t have to work to keep a roof over my head.
And this is a problem my fellow actors know only too well. The thing that is holding our careers back is that those who are well off and don’t have to work in a pub to pay their rent have the time to put in all of the hard work and relentless chasing of work that is required to forge a career.
I feel we have created a two tier system of actors. One tier which has recognisable faces earning lots of money making work about other people who have lots of money and another which is people you don’t know who are juggling medical role play with a bit part on Corrie while trying to rehearse for a piece of new writing on the fringe.
Which is the reason I have set up a crowdfunder for our next project The Stars are Made of Concrete to cover the production costs so that any box office takings can be used to pay the actors wages. You can see more here
So, yes there are fewer opportunities for working class actors, but what the people with the power to change that haven’t seemed to notice is that we are busy creating our own opportunities. We are here, Julian. Come and see us! You really haven’t been looking hard enough.