Shadow Culture Minister, Chris Bryant recently expressed delight that Eddie Redmayne had won a Golden Globe, adding that we can’t just have a culture dominated by Redmayne and James Blunt “and their ilk”. Blunt has now entered into a public spat with Bryant accusing him, basically, of posh bashing.
Leaving their squabble aside, it is undeniably much, much harder for those without personal funding to have access to the kind of training I was privileged to have.
If you were good enough to convince the interview panel at a drama school that you were more worthy of a place than the other several hundred hopeful applicants, grants were readily available to pay fees and subsistence.
I was lucky. Today I wouldn’t have had a chance, I suspect. My father was a permanent invalid and my mother cared for him. There were no funds to help me. As it was, I had to get several part-time jobs to afford to survive, but not to the extent that would pertain today.
With student loans terrifying young people, even if they can get them, and arts funding dwindling steadily into a black hole, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people of talent to enjoy a career in the arts unless they have financial backing or connections. And when they move into the workplace, salaries are very low except for the very successful few.
Eddie Redmayne, Damian Lewis, Dominic West and Benedict Cumberbatch (Eton and Harrow all) are superb and rightly acclaimed actors, but increasingly the people who are able to pursue a career in acting are those who can afford to, and they will therefore tend to come from more affluent backgrounds.
Added to that, public schools have superb drama facilities, denied to most state schools.
Drama schools typically charge between £35 and £85 for auditions. Given that most would-be performers apply to half a dozen or more schools, they have to invest several hundred pounds to be seen; and few are accepted first time round. Nowadays thousands apply for around 30 places per school per annum.
Drama used to be an area where real talent could always find a way through. But as the artistic director of The Globe, Patrick Dromgoole says, “It’s becoming harder and harder for children and young actors without means to get into drama school. I think that’s an enormous shame.”
I can only agree.