Rah, Rah, Rah, Darling! Does coming from a council estate effect your chances of working in theatre?

James Baker, 2 October 2012

In reply to the report title, those in attendance were: James Baker (Myself), Porl Cooper, Francesca Waite, Fiona Darling, Gordon Miller, Matthew Austin, Mary Pearson, Marie Earley, John Roberts, Alice Robinson, Amber Knipe and Graeme Phillips. Others attended but were unregistered.

Class. What is it?

It emerged that actually the question proposed is less about being from a council estate and based more on a ‘person’ or a series of choices that we make in our mature lives. Whilst we do make choices, obviously some factors like background do/can effect us. Ultimately there comes a time when we must take responsibility for our own futures. Class, it was stated, is a ‘crumbling idea’. Yes, parents can help you succeed, but that doesn't mean that encouragement leads to success. The mixed-class group proved that; it's not a privileged upbringing that will guarantee success.

Most people in the group arrived into theatre from different backgrounds and all agreed that they faced barriers, irrelevant of their class. It emerged that actually you could flip the question and argue that more opportunities/funding are given to ‘working class’ because of their class status. A particular anecdote affected this logic; being middle class has meant the particular person had lost opportunities. He had gone from having an healthy supply of support, to being working in jobs that had no relevance to his career because he had to survive… his parents no longer could give him this support. As I have already stated, he had to take responsibility, irrelevant of his background, to make successful choices. It was highlighted that particular people in the group capitalised on their background. They took the philosophy that “If you don't ask, you don't get”. It was also clear that people felt community opportunities were greater for those from a working-class background.

How do we get in then? How do we get that elusive job? This led to a discussion on training or our education and the support this gave you in gaining employment. It was suggested that people need to “knock, and keep knocking”. This isn't about who you are, but rather your work ethics. It was also suggested that rejections should make us work harder and if at the return of no success, take responsibility and make the opportunity yourself. We should have ‘drive’. Rightly, don't make rejection personal and even more important, don't make assumptions. It was felt that this negative reaction would cause you to ‘give up’ and the by-product of this is that you become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was also made clear that success can be based on your training but mainly the chance to capalise on the opportunites. Take the chance to really show what you have; make your skill/ability become evident. Luck can play a part, but we need to take responsibility for ‘making things happen’. I wanted to advocate a fair chance. Shouldn't we give everyone a fair shot at an opportunity or audition? I suggested ethical auditioning but this was called ‘illogical’ or ‘irrational’.

Twitter emerged triumphant in our conversation. Twitter has helped to establish ‘connections’ or ‘relationships’ and broken down those walls or barriers that may have prohibited you from reaching a particular person. It also became an opportunity for some to gain work. They could finally ease themselves into the industry without feeling intimidated. Not everyone likes phoning a potential individual for work opportunities.

Twitter also acts an ‘ice-breaker’. This could also help answer the question, “Is it what you know, or who you know?”. Twitter has proven that making a success in theatre can be from making a connection or forging a relationship. This isn't nepotism, rather a person making an opportunity. Again, forming relationships can increase your chances of achieving a job. Twitter has given many individuals jobs; it certainly has me.

So then why do we find ourselves discussing class? And the reasons why exclusion/marginalisation may still exist? Historically, places like Eton, do produce more plays than the National Theatre and in turn it creates more opportunities for its students to nurture their craft. Also, historically, Drama Schools produced work that was being written in that period. With the increase of new writing and social drama's etc, it gave them a greater need to recruit a wider demographic of student. This has led to drama schools representing a fairer selection of the national portfolio of people.

It was pointed out that money still plays factors in our opportunities and this should be noted and the value of drama school training doesn't always support ability. Some schools maybe recruiting based on an applicants ability to self-fund.

So how does funding make a difference in regards to employment and personal growth? There was an important point mentioned in regards to funding. It was noted that just because a company has received funding for a particular piece of work, this does not guarantee repeat funding from funding bodies such as The Arts Council. In this instance it was suggested that the lack of investment and belief in a company or artist removes artistic growth and development. It could also force them to take less risks and to worry about making mistakes or working to popular consensus. It was also suggested that irrelevant of your beliefs, don't assume you know what will get funded.

Always send in your application. Let them decide, not you. From this, it was highlighted that the process of writing an application maybe an hardous and difficult one; do we all have the intellect or know how in order to complete the forms?. Most people said that support is offered, from individuals but also from institutes like The

Lowry or Unity Theatre. Maybe we need to allow video applications, to allow for a greater accessibility. We also need to ‘pay it forward’. We need to encourage skill-sharing and support but as people, we have to show an independence in our own practice… show a willingness.

I guess I'd like to end by saying you may feel like Billy Elliot, fighting in a class-war, but just like in the film, people do believe in you, irrelevant of your so-called class…?


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