Most readers of Sardines will know a young person whose heart is set on training as a theatre/screen professional in acting, musical theatre, dance or as some form of theatre/film technician.
They are, happily, cutting their teeth in every school, youth theatre and amateur company. Many of these enthusiastic young thesps are probably themselves readers of this magazine too.
Everyone says, and knows, that young actors have it tough because there isn’t enough professional work to go round. Actually even the path into training is a very bumpy road and not at all easy for young people to access. Many don’t have appropriate careers advice – although there are plenty of people working in am-dram who have trained professionally themselves and can help keen youngsters in a way that their secondary teachers aren’t usually able to do.
There is no doubt, moreover, that application to vocational training organisations is an expensive minefield, The audition process is a barrier. So is the bewildering range of training available.
Some colleges operate within UCAS. Others don’t. Some are independent so most students have to self-fund. Others, including the ones which have been absorbed by universities, entitle students to student loans or, possibly Dance and Drama Awards (DaDA). Some schools operate through UCAS. Others do not. I have often written about these complexities in The Stage and elsewhere but nothing I can say makes any of it any easier to negotiate.
Wherever you apply you will almost certainly have to pay an audition fee (usually somewhere between £30 and £80) to each of the schools you apply to. That means, obviously, that less well off applicants can’t apply to as many as they should. So they are disadvantaged even before they start.
Typically a cash-strapped student who can afford to apply to only two will pick the two she or he has heard of – Central and RADA, say. Rejection follows, the student goes disconsolately away and starts a career in retail and the industry might – just might – have lost the next Lily James or Charlie Stemp. Not everyone shines at their first audition.
Enter Paul Taylor who thinks he has found a way round this. Paul trained at LAMDA as an actor but now runs a multi-media marketing company called Consider This. He works with lots of drama schools and other providers of vocational training.
“I’ve spent a year building a website, Perform This, which will enable schools to share auditions so that the candidate only has to pay once through a central application system – a sort of UCAS for performing arts,” he tells me a week or two after launching his site. Hang on a minute. I stop him. How this will work with UCAS itself through which many of the schools are already operating? He tells me it’s a good question and that he wants to sit down with UCAS soon and thrash it out.
Meanwhile he has listed over 100 schools – a much broader sweep than the well-known 20 which belong to Federation of Drama Schools – including all their details and courses. That, at the very least, makes the site a useful source of information all in one place.
“What I need now is for schools to come on board and list their auditions so that we can get schools working together,” he says, explaining that he is so keen to get this project going that although he already spent “the cost of a couple of Aston Martins” on it, he is offering it completely free to schools for the first year.
I suspect this could prove useful to the smaller schools. Many are offering fine training, (although there are some rogues, of course – caveat emptor or buyer beware) but sometimes struggle to get the number of applicants they want.
The big-name schools, on the other hand, enjoy prestige status and reputation so they get thousands of applicants. That enables them, quite wrongly in my view, to use the audition process as a source of income. It will be interesting, therefore, to see whether or not such schools are prepared to forgo that money in order to make things more inclusive for the candidate by using Perform This.
Those of us who dish out advice to wannabes – and I’ve done it for decades in columns and so on – usually suggest that applicants try to get the feel of the college they’re auditioning for while they’re there, as well as chatting to current students. You can’t do this if you’re being auditioned on “neutral” shared premises. And that’s where these shared auditions will have to take place. One unnamed principal cautiously told Taylor that he/she might be willing to consider his system but not if it meant using a competing school as the audition venue.
Maybe, therefore, there would have to be a completely new system of every offer being provisional until the student had visited the school in person – that way at least he or she would only have to travel to the school or schools which have already made it clear that there’s a place available if the student wants it.
Perform This seems a good idea in principle and I, like everyone else at Sardines, am watching with interest to see how it develops and/or takes off. Paul tells me that every school and college he has spoken to so far has reacted very positively.
Visit: performthis.com for more information.