I have wanted to be a performer since I was young like thousands of people in the world. I have cried over parts and on stage, learnt lines at 3 am and walked into a west end theatre with dreams of one day being on the big stages that seemed so far away.
I have been involved in a few stage productions and have experience in front of a camera. This was made possible
with a lot of sacrifice and hard work from my parents and myself. However, I’ve realised in the last five years or so that all this dedication may be all for nothing because I am working class.
I come from a low-income family with a sick father and self-employed mother who have lived in central London for three generations in council housing and have always and continue to struggle in a society that is balanced towards the upper class. You can see the classism in England in many ways but I have experienced it personally in the acting world.
When I was four I started at a stage school called Kidz in the Biz which was the most amazing years of my life when this was closed, I took some time off before attending Stagecoach Theatre School. Both theatre schools were expensive and paid by my mother which was a huge financial burden but as a child, I was naive to the cost. I will forever be grateful that my mother continued for fourteen years to send me to these places, including trips that were held and equipment needed. I attended stagecoach for seven years and during that time I began to see the social differences between me and many of the other students.
Now these students were all lovely people and I made great friends but many students went to private schools, owned houses and were obviously more privilege than me.
When the time came to leave Stagecoach, I began to consider other options that could give me extra training away from my BTEC in acting that I was studying at the time.
The most popular youth theatre program in England is The National Youth Theatre. They offer summer courses separated by ages. I auditioned once for the program paying £46 pound for an all-day audition. I again found myself surrounded by upper-class children that made me feel out of place and less than I was. I was unsuccessful and was told that it can take up to five times to get into the course. Over that time, it would cost £230, money that would be difficult for me to get and I no longer felt comfortable to ask my mother for.
It is good I didn’t get in since once you’ve been excepted you must pay to take the course.
If I had been excepted into their junior course (13 years-17 years)it would have cost me £450. If you needed accommodation within London to attend these classes that would cost, you £450. The senior course (18years-21 years) which I would audition for now costs £650, accommodation £775. The Epic course (18 years-25 years) costs £950, accommodation £775. Courses are two – four weeks long.
These fees for someone from a situation like my own is devastating and would have filled me with so much guilt if my mother had paid for it.
They also offer short masterclasses that are just as expensive, charging; £299 for six days.
They offer free courses, with conditions, though. One course is only offered to those in the company (excepted onto one of the summer courses) which has a membership fee of £35 a year.
The another course is offered for 19 – 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. I don’t understand how these people are existing if not supported by their families or maybe benefits.
They do also offer bursaries to young people “facing financial hardship” (this phrase annoys me because it sounds like these problems are temporary when they mostly are not). Their website says they gave £98,000 to over 150 young people (there was no definition of “young person” on their website) however only a small pot of that is given to the course I applied for. They also offer a fundraising kit so you can beg for the money from strangers. Since I have social anxiety and anxiety about money, in general, this isn’t an option for me.
My mental health declined after this so my next step after getting my BTEC in Acting was Drama School. In the UK Drama Schools are privately funded and have thousands of applications each year. I’m going to speak about four of the most popular Drama schools in Britain.
RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), which I have not auditioned for, accepts 28 people each year and has alumni such as Tom Hiddleston, Richard Attenborough and Anthony Hopkins. An application is £46 before the 16th December and £86 afterwards including £1 processing fee just to really kick you in the teeth. There are four audition stages the preliminary is two speeches of no more than 3 mins. 100 audition fee waivers are available on first come first served for those with income less than £25,000, remember thousands of people audition each year. The overall fees are £9,000 a year.
LAMDA (London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art), which I have also not auditioned for, has an alumni Luke Treadaway (Best Actor for The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time), Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Brian Cox CBE (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Audition fee is £54 in the UK, Dublin and Paris, £85 in North America. The first audition is two monologues no longer than 3 minutes. Course fees are £9,250 per year.
GSA (Guilford School of Acting), which I have auditioned for, the audition fee is £55 for an all-day audition you may not need to go to a callback. Fees for the course are £9,000 per year. This is the only school on my list that has accommodation for its students. Alumni includes Brenda Blethyn OBE, Oliver James, Bill Nighy, Owen Teale.
Central School of Speech and Drama, which I have auditioned for, the audition fee is £55. They provide fee waivers but their criteria are disgusting to me.
I have copy and pasted this from the Central site as it is quite complicated and irritating;
We will be using government data on deprivation, which indicate areas where there are significant barriers to social mobility. Rather than focusing on hardship alone, we will employ a range of indices of deprivation to attempt to benefit a wider range of prospective students.
You can check whether you would qualify for an audition fee waiver by entering your home postcode. If your home postcode is listed as a number 1 or 2 in any of the following three columns, you will be eligible for an audition fee waiver:
Income (column H);
Education and Skills (column N);
IDACI: Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (column X).
Per this criterion, I do not qualify since I live in an area that you are either upper class or working class with no in-between. Even though I personally am from a low-income family and have a mental illness which is qualified as a disability.
A £500 deposit is required to accept your place at the school and the fees are £9,000 a year.
Not just privately funded Drama Schools ask for audition fees so will some university drama programs. I understand that they may have to pay teachers for their time or for the room but it is disgusting that they still take funding and these fees.
Profession actors have spoken out about the classism within acting.
Julie Walters gave an amazing interview in which she speaks of her sympathy for present aspiring actors. The 65-year-old actress of working class origin and who has portrayed many working-class characters spoke truthfully of her viewpoint on the growing expenses of acting training.
“People like me wouldn’t have been able to go to college today. I could because I got a full grant. I don’t know how you get into it now. Kids write to me all the time and I think: I don’t know what to tell you.” Julie Walters
Drama schools were quick to come back at critics with statistics about how many students they accepted from states schools (state schools are not all the same!) and pictures or statements of their “less fortunate” students of how accepted and un-poor they feel.
Basically, they brought out all their poor people and put them on display like when a mostly white school will round up all their minorities for their prospects so they don’t look racist.
Even after the extensive years of training you are very much not in any way going to get a job in performing. You are more likely to be unemployed than other graduates because you’re an actor.
Plus, the costs will continue; you will need a job that will allow you the flexibility to go to auditions and if in England London is the place you’ll need to be to be an actor and London is a whole other vortex of social prejudice that I will rant about one day.
It’s very depression to me someone who has dedicated most of their life to becoming a performer and the fact that I don’t have enough money or don’t speak with clipped T’s all the time I may not be able to get on the stepping stones that will help me.
I decided after my second time trying to apply to drama school that I would rather go to university and do a joint degree. I as someone with severe anxieties about my future am not comfortable as I once was putting all my hopes on acting. This makes me sad as a performer and a lover of acting. I don’t see an end to classism especially in London (I will blog post about this one day). The working class are being pushed out and the Victorian times seem to be returning in ways of the separation of class.
But don’t fret any actors or want to be actors reading this I’m crazy and filled with anxiety this could all be in my mind or you may have to sell a kidney to pay for Drama School.
Show me a great actor and I’ll show you a lousy husband. Show me a great actress, and you’ve seen the devil.
~ W. C. Fields
Thanks for Reading