It was with considerable excitement that I read your recent vocal support for working class actors in The Stage. As we are so often talked about and not to, I wanted to share my experience with you.
I am a working class actor, you see – born in Barnsley, my father was a glazier and my mother was a saleswoman for new-build homes. They divorced when I was 7. I have no dynasty, no connections, not even a drama school credit from which to inherit some legitimacy. I’m just someone who has to do this, so I do.
I applied to Central the year the tuition fees were hiked. When the letter arrived, I was informed a two year course would cost me ~£18,000 a year in fees, not taking into account London living costs. Needless to say, drama school was not an option for me.
I’ve enrolled in as much training as I can afford over the years; I even earned enough to fund myself through Shakespeare and Screen Acting courses at LAMDA. It may have taken me five years instead of three, but I’m confident enough now to put myself on a level with drama school graduates.
But it sometimes feels like my doing what I can do instead of crying about what I can’t -clawing my way into more experience and training, producing my own work and committing to shows and short films for little or no pay- is meaningless to the industry, which still adopts a binary ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ attitude. As a result, I am one of many who are denied a rung on the ladder.
I appreciate those voices; it’s flattering in a way. The only problem is that such commentary generally expects someone else to do something about it.
I don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out who that will be, so I simply try to help myself as best I can.
And that’s why I enjoyed reading your sentiments in The Stage. I am in complete agreement; we must do something about it.
So Mark, what shall we do?
Opportunities for those not well connected, not well supported, come few and far between. Even then, these tend to be taken by those that are. With the best will in the world -I have no doubt you spent your time in the trenches paying dues- but you no longer have a dog in the race. I am the dog the in the race. Perhaps working together with people like me is a way to get started.
Perhaps we need to connect and support working class actors. We aren’t as hard to find as the Panda or the Rhino, for those willing to look. Robin Williams famously had a clause in his contract to employ a homeless person on his film sets. Perhaps you could have a clause to employ a working class actor or two in smaller roles?
Falling short of such noble idealism, perhaps a campaign underpinned by your rich, dulcet voice would help raise awareness, in the vein of My Theatre Matters? I’m ready to throw my hat in if you are.
p.s. Anyone with ideas as to what we can do, practically and without waiting for government legislation, to redress the balance and create a more supportive culture for working class actors, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.