So I appreciate that I usually only blog once a fortnight, however for the few of you that have followed my blogs over the past few years, you will know that I've had two rather loud bees in my tight fitting bonnet since opening The MTA back in 2009. The first one is the lack of Mental Health provision in drama colleges - which we're now doing something (hopefully proactive) about, in the form of running a sort of conference on March 16th https://www.facebook.com/events/911328365625354/ in a bid to get Mental Health higher up on the agenda of EVERY college. So the first bee has been swatted - and it's a huge congratulations to Actress Laura Darrall for her #itaffectsme campaign in a bid to raise awareness of mental illness and to raise some money at the same time for MIND. What's interesting is Laura's story (or at least what's known in the public domain)...and that is that she had a history of Mental illness (panic attacks, anxiety, OCD)..which sadly for Laura culminated in a breakdown last year. Now our campaign is. . . what if Laura's symptoms had been spotted and treated at college, would her story have been different? Now for all I know maybe they were, and the breakdown was heading towards her anyway as she had a susceptibility, that's for Laura to know actually not us, but somewhere in every drama college right now, there will be a Laura (or in our experience around 30% of Laura's). Suffering from an invisible but ever present illness at the more 'manageable' end of the scale, which our consultant is able to hit off at the pass before it builds up and up and heads towards a complete meltdown. In her blog Laura talks about the 'troop' that are now helping her fight the demons inside her head...but what if that troop had been on standby earlier, and had been able to diffuse the situation before it became a crises? What if there had been a class at college which had named some of the battles that were going on inside her head - maybe this would have allowed her to 'out' herself much quicker? So many what ifs, and all pointless because I don't know Laura - but here's a great what if...what if every college had Mental Health Awareness as a major topic throughout the course, one which was revisited after Freshers week, after you're told that 'we're here to listen to you', and 'what if' a Mental Health professional was so 'the norm' around the place, you instantly knew where to turn to when the battle was being fought? We are fighting for that 'what if'. With that in mind The MTA's approach is a little different. I won't bore you with it again...but here's a link that discusses what our take on it all is: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-mental-health-education-starts-at-college/
Our industry is slightly chicken and egg on this one. There's research that supports both the fact that the industry can hit on your susceptibility, and there's research that supports the fact that our industry particularly attracts the susceptible (as we have the elusive allure of escapism). Whichever it is, it doesn't matter - we need to raise awareness of Mental Health in education, so watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOMWvgYlj_M get yourself a post it note, write #itaffectsme on it, upload it, and knock yourself out and donate £3 to MIND. Then pop along to our discussion in March and lend your voice/support/argument...whatever it is, let's get the conversation started.
Then my other bee has forever been the organisation known as Drama UK. I first wrote this
http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomasa-stamp-of-approval/ which simply explained why The MTA was going to remain independent. I then wrote this: http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-who-regulates-the-regulators/ as I had been reading things that were beginning to make me question the organisation as a whole. However nothing could have prepared me for this: https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2016/susan-elkin-drama-uk-needs-to-sort-out-its-priorities-fast/ 18 months after I'd first blogged about it's value. Turns out some 6 months later they are down in their membership by just over 38%? What's even worse than that...they've lost their star players. RADA, LAMDA, Bristol Old Vic...and so it continues. Then it gets even more confusing, some players had left e.g. the RCS and RWCMD but they're no long accredited...but sort of on the side lines incase they're needed? I love how Drama UK always sends me into football analogies, yet the only thing that I know about the great sport is that it involves a round object and 2 nets (and be careful which pubs you go into on the Holloway Road on a match day).
Seemingly the problem is money? People aren't prepared to pay the joining fee and then the 'please keep me affiliated' fee. Well what a turn up? I've been talking about this for years? My favorite part of the article though (and keep in mind I've already made my opinion known about their U.S. showcases)...is seemingly now Drama UK is working hard to develop the brand in China? Now I am all about the 'one world' philosophy so maybe they should call themselves World Drama and be done with it?
So colleges are paying £6500 to stay in a club that barely has a local ground anymore - but instead you can watch them play in China?? I completely get the excitement of the Eastern market opening up for all aspects of the arts....but China? So those colleges still part of this organisation are what? Funding trips to China, or just the odd phone call? I have students working their finger's to the bone to be able to afford to train with me, I couldn't spend even one pence of their hard earned cash to support an organisation that wasn't working to support them directly (and efficiently). That said I wonder if Drama UK picked up the tab for the lunch...as I see my students coming in with their packed lunches, in a bid to save money, so once again I'd be uncomfortable asking them to fund my working lunch with a journalist...which seemingly culminates in a 'give us the answer' session (so maybe I'm being harsh, but then pay the journalist a consultancy fee on top of the lunch).
To tie all of this up nicely, I have been shouting rather loudly on social media for Drama UK to support out call for better mental health provisions in drama colleges. They told me that it was out of their remit to demand such a thing BUT they are supposed to be coming to the conference, along with Equity and Spotlight. So this year they might do something really positive for the UK drama student, then maybe they should also look to lower their fees, so that the colleges that are still affiliated to the organisation can put the 'saved money' towards the level of Mental Health provision we think is necessary in a contemporary drama college. Because Drama UK #itaffectsme/us not the 'brand' in China, which has got nothing to do with my students' training.
Now...go take a selfie. Mr Kellgren and Ms Tisdall....I shall be looking out for yours ;-)