Prominent actors such as Julie Walters and Mark Strong have publicly protested the inaccessibility of drama school for those from under-privileged backgrounds. They frequently cite the £9,000 yearly fee as being a prohibitive barrier to pursuing an acting career. The Stage wrote a rebuttal that said “It shows concern, which is welcome, but actually comments like this are not very helpful.”
The increase in tuition fees was not particular to drama schools and while there is a lack of actors from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, The Stage argues that the problem isn’t funding.
“The difficulty seems to be that the training industry is struggling to find ways of getting the message to socio-economically deprived young people that yes, they can train vocationally if they have the talent and potential to benefit. They may belong to families for whom the idea of drama school seems derisively effete. No one locally knows much about professional performing arts training. The press continuously reports well-known actors inaccurately bemoaning the financial impossibility of it. And everyone focuses on actor unemployment. The messages are all negative.”
There is an assumption, especially during our “age of austerity”, that the arts are (to quote Sam West) “an add on” as evidenced by “the double squeeze of Arts Council cuts and local authority cuts.” Consequently, disadvantaged young people shy away from drama school training because they see themselves as acquiring loans and subsequent debt for an industry that is fast shrinking.
Many of Audition Doctor’s students have been successful drama school applicants and are able to fund their training through the audition waivers, free lunches, DaDA grants and bursaries that The Stage writes about. Drama schools understand the obstacles that their students face and have made concerted efforts to ease the financial strain on their students.
The other main contingent of Audition Doctor students are professional actors, many of whom have varied stories about how they entered the profession. Regardless of whether or not they went to/are going to drama school, all of Audition Doctor students approach their work with passion and a determination to unceasingly push their training to the next level. Those that come to Audition Doctor regularly as well as work on their speeches find that they do better at auditions and consequently decrease their chances of unemployment.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that even the best actors have had their doubts when it comes to the validity of their profession. When interviewed by James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio, Meryl Streep said: “When I was applying to law school and thinking that acting was a stupid way to make a living because it doesn’t do anything in the world, but I think it does, I think there’s a great worth in it. The worth is listening to people who maybe don’t even exist or who are voices in your past and through you, through the work you give them to other people. I think giving voice to characters that have no voice is the great worth of what we do because so much of acting is vanity. I mean, this feels so great to come out here and sit here and have everybody clap but the real thing that makes me feel so good is when I know I’ve said something for a soul, when I’ve presented a soul.”