I ran Tough Mudder Yorkshire 2013 on behalf of Open Minds Theatre Company, to create a Youth Arts Scholarship Fund to help children with outstanding creative ability get access to high quality, professional arts training.
When I was a child, I benefited from extra-curricular activities in the arts funded by the external bodies. These were necessary because there was little provision for arts and drama in my school. I was was lucky. Children today face a far worse fate: the arts forming no part of their education and upbringing. Unfortunately, this means that those children with a natural flare and passion for these subjects may never be able to nurture it.
Great actors from the North of England rose from their working class backgrounds to dominate modern pop culture- Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean and Brian Blessed to name a few. For those with a talent for it, it was an avenue through which people could excel and succeed.
The talent has always been here, and it still is. The difference is the cost it takes to develop that talent to a professional standard.
In the modern economic context, becoming a professional actor is becoming a rich man’s game. Don’t just take my word for it, it’s been an issue debated in the national press.
Every major British actor of the past five years to see breakout fame has been from an upper-middle or upper class background: Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Damian Lewis and Dominic West… the list goes on. It gets harder and harder to find working class names.
Those I referred to earlier established themselves through the now all but extinct repertory system, where regional talent traditionally cut their teeth. No alternative has arisen to take its place.
I want to try to begin to redress this divide, to provide access to high quality arts training and to ensure more children see the arts as part of their developmental experience.
This small scholarship program is a pilot scheme to help two exceptionally talented individuals to gain access to professional quality arts training. It will inform future efforts to expand the scheme to aid more children, and in more ways; hopefully with more financial support from institutions as it proves successful.
These talented individuals are to be identified by Open Minds Theatre Company during their annual Youth Shakespeare Festival, in which they meet with thousands of children from one of Yorkshire’s (and the country’s) most deprived areas and work with them to create thrilling and original interpretations of Shakespeare, performed for the public in Rotherham during the festival.
Please join with me in helping to provide the possibility of a future in the arts to the most gifted children I have had the privilege to work with.