After a long deliberation I have decided to continue with this blogging malarkey. To be honest it's because there's just so much say....and so little time to say it. So this way I get to waffle on and people get to chose when and what they listen to. Of course it also gives me the perfect procrastination tool whilst writing shows etc.
So this week The Stage ran this headline https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2015/uk-drama-training-faces-crisis-after-mass-exodus-from-accreditation-body/?utm_content=bufferb0bce&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=bufferwhich basically stated that the UK accreditation system for drama schools (run by Drama UK) was in crises. Why had it hit this point I hear you cry? Well quite simply they had, seemingly overnight lost their proverbial jewels in its crown. In other words...RADA, LAMDA, BOV had joined the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the RWCMD and had left 'the establishment'.
Now The MTA had always been very clear about wanting to stay independent - hell I'd even written a blog last year explaining our thinking: http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomasa-stamp-of-approval/ As you can see in that article I clearly named at the time that I could see no merit at all in paying all that money to essentially join a club. Silently lots of people applauded this decision, and agreed with the logic, but publicly our decision raised a lot of eyebrows. Just last week I found myself debating this choice on another website, where someone had inferred that we had made the decision to stay independent because we just weren't good enough to actually 'join the club'. The person debating the issue with me, felt that my clear statement of 'we have no interest in being part of that system', was in some form me 'fudging the real issue'. A strange standpoint given quite how much I shout about how inept I find the whole Drama UK scene, and a simple Google search would see countless articles by myself stating why we opted to remain independent.
However the fact remains that parents have been using the accreditation system as a guide to 'what are the good colleges' - so what happens now? RADA is still as amazing as it was a month or two ago before it jumped ship, similarly LAMDA is still offering a course of world class standing, but will those parents now think that these two vast institutions have suddenly slipped through a substandard net?
I'm aware that every time I challenge or question 'the establishment' I instantly get challenged for being negative against the other colleges. As soon as I say what The MTA's stance on a topic is, everybody else reads into that, translating it into saying that all the others have got it wrong. Strange that isn't it? This free world that we live in, seemingly doesn't allow us to make stand alone statements, or indeed challenging statements. I wonder why that is?
When I first made our viewpoint public about our feelings about Drama UK the onslaught was bewildering - yet nobody could tell me what Drama UK was actually contributing to the training of the students..other than maintaining a standard. Yet to this day, my fundamental question of 'did all the NCDT colleges get re-assessed in order to join Drama UK' has never been answered? I wonder why? What exactly is the 'standard' that they're maintaining.
The last set of statistics to come of Drama UK were based on a survey of their 2012 graduates (& I should add that wasn't a complete survey ie not every graduate has answered it). So how do we know what the standard really is?
Recently I've been banging heads with Drama UK over my campaign to get a professional Mental Health practitioner into every UK drama college as a key member of the faculty. Now again The MTA has always taken a unique response to Mental Health during training (best described here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-mental-health-education-starts-at-college/) then last December I started an active campaign to see if I could convince other colleges to join us in thinking a little bit differently about their approach to Mental Health matters during training (http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-support-each-other-in-2015/) If you've read any of my other articles/blogs this past year, you will be aware of my growing frustration as in spite of a few positive public tweets...not one college has actually approached us to discuss this model. Equity acknowledges that colleges should do more to help students' mental well being during training, The Stage acknowledges it...yet interestingly Drama UK the one organisation that could make a massive difference failed to even enter a meaningful dialogue over the issue. Instead they tweeted (so you can check this out for yourselves)...that they were not in a position to enforce a particular pastoral care package on any of their colleges (I am paraphrasing...so please feel free to check their exact wording), yet they were keen to point out that they took pastoral seriously.
So this 'almighty body'...the ONLY coherent organisation within the UK Drama college world, in reality had no powers to insist that students got a coherent, reflexive pastoral care package that included good mental health provision. A few people shouted from the rooftops that their colleges had a mental health policy, or had access to mental health resources...and hurrah for those pieces of paper that no doubt ticked a box. However in reality what did that mean?
We were campaigning for staff to be trained in mental health issues. We want the onus to be on the colleges to spot the problems and to have the resources to instantly deal with the issues, and yes, ideally we'd like mental health welfare to be at the centre of a training programme. In the end my desperation at the lack of movement within any of the powers that be resulted in us now running our own Mental Health Awareness day https://www.facebook.com/events/911328365625354/, where we're looking forward to not only discussing our model, but also listening to the other models that are genuinely operating out there. To their credit, Equity YMC and Spotlight have already agreed (in principle) to come and hear what we have to say...and indeed to add their take on proceedings. We've also had a dialogue from one of the still accredited colleges agreeing to come over and join in the discussion. Eventually even Drama UK said that they'd turn up (date permitting of course).
Publicly we've taken a lot of flak about this, with people slating us for daring to suggest that we have it right, whilst others have it wrong(which I should add we have never actually said...we have just challenged people to look at their current models to see if they can be improved upon). Those people that have entered a dialogue with us, have all clearly seen that this isn't our position at all...our position is that we're desperately trying to get it right...but let's get all of us together to see what more we can do. Privately the support has been overwhelming. The horror stories that I've been told in the last few weeks alone about how certain situations have been dealt with, within policies that seemingly met Drama UK's stringent standards have been terrifying. The amount of emails I've recently received from performers who don't even know me asking for help because they don't know where else to turn, is staggering.
I am not a Mental Health expert, however we have been able to guide all these people to the right resources in order for them to get help (in some cases urgently).
Drama UK charges their members around £6000/yr in order to stay as a part of their club. How about the rest of the colleges all jump ship and put that £6000/yr directly towards providing their students with a better mental health provision?
We definitely need our industry to be regulated (there are too many rubbish colleges both accredited and non accredited, taking money off people that the staff know will never work). There definitely needs to be 'a standard' that all decent colleges adhere to. A standard that is regularly spot checked to ensure that it's being maintained all year around, every year. My point all along though, is that part of that standard should comprise of an inclusive Mental Health policy, which attempts to head off future issues right from the start.
Us colleges are in the most unique place to transform lives. Many colleges ask for a physical assessment prior to accepting students, what if we could all offer the same level of support with our students' mental health too?
Let's face facts...we haven't got it right yet. Too many young performers are struggling with Mental Health issues, the stats prove it. This is not a UK problem, this is a worldwide problem in the arts. Why be dogmatic in our thinking that 'we already have it right'...why not remain curious that there's a better way to approach this, that could make a real difference to peoples' lives, and in turn a real difference to our industry.
The MTA still has a long way to go to 'get this right'...but at least we're acknowledging that.
So is drama training in the UK in crises? Actually I don't think that it is. I think that Drama UK is in crises, but that's a different matter altogether. Drama UK started working too closely with establishments and lost touch with the people that really mattered...the students. Some (definitely not all) colleges have made the same mistake, thinking that 'their name' was more important than 'their students'. However in every single one of those establishments there are a body of staff who care so much about their students, and are desperately trying to make it OK for them. They are fighting against the increase in numbers, they are fighting with the mounds of paperwork that prevent them from connecting with their students as much as they would like to, in order to deal with the red tape and various hoops that they suddenly have to jump through. Take away some of that admin, let the staff do what they do best (train students)...and just add a bit of mental health education along the way. What a difference that could make, and what an exciting place to start 2016 from.
Every college offers something so different, there is no competition. It's about what works for you...which method you think that you'll thrive in. However it would be amazing if the one 'constant' amongst us all, was a stringent Mental health policy.