, ,

Stop Charging Students For Virtual Drama School Auditions

WELL that didn’t take long, did it? Twelve days, 20 hours and a couple of minutes into the New Year and I think we already have a strong contender for the most absurd theatre related thing of the month.

It is ten months since theatres across Britain closed their doors – and most are still completely dark. Last year, final-year drama school students were unable to graduate.

Back in the dystopian present, I was disappointed to learn on Twitter that nearly all of our drama schools are still charging £35.00 for a zoom audition or self-tape, and some are charging as much as £55 in total.

A pox on everyone involved.

This puts unnecessary financial strain on young people from working-class backgrounds. In the last decade – and during this pandemic in particular – young people have been let down or forgotten. While many students acknowledge their institutions efforts to continue delivering their education, others are angry they are not getting the vocational experience they were promised.

Writer Ben Weatherill touched on this class divide in his terrific blog highlighting how these audition fees are shutting those with low-incomes out of the profession.

Like so much else in this current crisis, all UK drama schools had to migrate auditions online overnight. Reinventing entire courses that relied on physical contact was a significant challenge. Drama schools including Mountview and Guilford School of Acting responded by creating online showcases.

This week, PPA Academy’s spring term, which had been due to start on 11 January, will now run from February 15 to May 7 for BA acting and musical theatre courses,  to give their students as much face-to-face learning as possible, which is great and the right thing to do.

Now, I am not disputing that Drama Schools still have to pay for buildings, for teachers, insurance and accreditation and more.  I am also very well aware that many offer fee waivers for those from low-socio economic backgrounds.

But listen, young people have suffered enough during the COVID-19 crisis – the deepest recession in 300 years – and we are all aware that pandemic-hit businesses are scaling back graduate recruitment, leading to fears of a lost generation.

Added to this pressure are the anti-immigration messages coming from the wider debates around Brexit; the government allegedly recently dismissed an exemption for performers because it had not wanted to offer reciprocal benefits for EU artists working in the UK. Well done everyone.

Will there be jobs for drama school graduates when they graduate? Maybe. This is the same answer before the pandemic. Some will enter the industry and others will pursue other careers.

There has been a huge rise in online theatre and we have seen that theatre doesn’t have to be confined to the kind of people who can afford to go to see shows in the West End.

Now, though, UK Drama Schools must help show the way that the industry must operate in the 21st century not just for the benefit of a few but the many.

Scrap these colossal and unnecessary audition fees, or at least radically lower the cost of auditioning immediately to ensure those poorer students have an equal chance of success.

If these institutions don’t, we risk losing the next generation of talented performers and technicians and all that they contribute to our society and sector.

In fact, if performing arts schools do get rid of these financial barriers during this third lockdown, they can build a better and fairer future as we all recover from this crisis.

Update: I have set up a ‘Drama School Covid Relief Fund’ Crowdfunder for those in the sector who are able to pay it forward to those who are in need.  Every donation will help. Cheers!