This year has seen the success of the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Harry Haddon-Paton and Harry Lloyd -all unquestionably talented and all from the same demographic – privately educated and middle-class. One could argue that the theatrical profession was ever thus, with many actors requiring financial support from drama school training to well after the “break-in years”. Even though many drama schools now offer foundation courses, two-year courses and one year MAs, the tuition fees are still punishingly high. Wealthy parents almost seem like a prerequisite to becoming a professional actor. However, there has been a movement within the industry to encourage its practitioners to come from all sectors of society.
David Morrissey and Julie Walters recently raised concerns that sky-high drama school fees and the disappearance of grants were consequently increasing the impossibility of working-class actors to train at drama school. Even the head of the Central School of Speech and Drama acknowledged that there was a risk of drama schools becoming a “repository for the privileged.” As a result, the eminent actress Clare Higgins, has announced plans to open her own drama school that will train actors for free.
“We cannot go on like this any longer where only rich people can afford to train in the arts, so we have to get out here and make it change now. I’m not going to get political about it, but all I am going to say is that there is a dearth of training for people who don’t have independent wealth or rich parents. We are aiming to stop that in its tracks.”
It is inevitable that the social background of drama school graduates will directly affect the type of plays that get put on. Lynn Gardner opined that “the Royal Court writing of the 60s would not have thrived without the influx of exciting actors from less privileged backgrounds coming out of drama schools.”
The view that theatre aims to reflect the human condition and effectively “hold a mirror up to nature” was disproved by one columnist in the Stage who questioned: “How can theatre reliably examine say, Cameron’s cabinet when there are more old-school ties among its members than on his front bench?”
Ultimately, professional training should not be an elitist privilege with opportunities to pursue a career in the arts open only to those with ample means. Yet drama schools are not the only places where training can be offered. Apart from private lessons, Audition Doctor offers group sessions from Meetup to Introduction to Acting and Acting- An In-Depth Approach where fees are reasonable and you don’t have to have a rich parent to receive peerless teaching.