Thursday, 28 January 2016

Oh to have a grant to cut

So according to The Stage today 4 of the more established drama college Principals have taken a public viewpoint on the government's plans to scrap student maintenance grants: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2016/drama-schools-warn-grant-cuts-will-hit-poorest-students/?utm_content=buffer1a193&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

At the risk of being controversial (which I know is very unlike me), this Chicken Licken response to the news is, IMHO likely to do more harm than the scrapping of the grants in the first place.  Mountview, LAMDA, Rose Bruford and RADA Principals are now all on record practically telling the poorer students that it's now impossible.  Yet speaking as the Principal of a college that receives nothing by way of grants etc (our students are only eligible for a PCDL), I know that it is possible. Rose Bruford's Principal rightly comments on the hours that a drama student has to do, and mentions the difficulties of getting part time work around that.  Interestingly they mention the Drama UK 'standard' of 30 hours/week, yet our students do 40 hours a week and several of them have had to manage a full time job around the demands of the course.

Is that ideal, is it fair? Absolutely not.  However is it what they needed to do to survive and qualify...yes.  Have they gone on to have successful careers, we're on about 50/50 odds with that one, with one of them dangerously close to 'pushing' through the system to get quite a big break sooner rather than later. However regardless of their success right now (and I'll state really quickly that all have worked, my reticence on the subject is financially has it been worth it for them..yet), they are all determined to succeed.  That tenacity along with their talent will ensure that they're OK eventually.

Just to be clear I'm definitely NOT backing the government on this, however what I am saying is that every time they cut some arts funding or support, and we bleat about it, and point out to the world that the impossible has suddenly become harder, someone, somewhere will give up on their dream. So the government win.

I appreciate that we're in a very different position - we don't have anything that they can cut, but over the past 7 years I have written so many letters to so many organisations asking for just a little help so that we can help fund those students that are financially independent. Every time a letter comes back saying no.  The only difference in 7 years is that the letters of rejection have become nicer, acknowledging our success, but, for whatever reason, they have chosen not to support us.  Every time I receive one of those letters I get angry, because I think about the student who is working stupid hours to stay with us, and I get cross because we can't give them as much help as I want to, because not one person would help us.  I moan on FB (although I've been told off about that now), I moan at work and at home...but this year I finally realised that me moaning achieved nothing...except that I probably wasn't giving the best of myself to the college on that day, because I was cross with a faceless potential benefactor, who decided to give £££'s to one of the colleges moaning in The Stage today over giving a little bit everywhere else.  So I didn't take a wage for a bit longer, or we scraped through somehow together...and every one of those students graduated.

Today the colleges will moan, tomorrow a celeb will tell us that the working class actor and the working class theatre died a bit yesterday because of this news.  Yet isn't it time that we got real too? We don't get a 'get out of jail free' card because we're studying the arts.  How many other courses does this ruling have an impact on? The difference being of course that nobody cares about the lawyers/solicitors/surveyors etc who equally have to face the impact of less funding.  Yes they might work less hours so they can choose to work extra shifts after college - but then to be honest, why aren't those students bemoaning the ridiculous hours that they're at college studying? £27,000 to have 10 - 12 contact hours a week is surely something to protest about? Yet we hear nothing?

So to be clear...I marched in protest when Student Loans were about to be introduced, I took part in the college occupations of the late 80's (admittedly back then, not necessarily understanding the full impact of what was happening, but definitely understanding enough to camp down for a night or two), I willingly got frog marched out of a classroom a few years later when the next wave of cuts were coming in and the occupations started again (hell I even told the students who frogmarched me outside my studio, where the other staff would be...so I was practically a spy for the revolution).  I only got through college because I had a grant. Although even that annoyed me - seeing other students whose parents easily had a load of money, enjoying their termly jackpot, because their parents knew how to fill in that form, they knew how to 'present a truth', whereas my parents went for absolute honesty, resulting in me have around a tenth of some of my much wealthier contemporaries. I have said time and time again that I could not have been able to have afforded to go to my own college, had it existed then.  So politically don't be telling me that I haven't got a clue, or quoting Churchill and his infamous 'arts' speech to me.  I've been there and worn the T shirt.

However, having lived through that time, and seeing that it made no difference at all.  Everything that I protested against happened.  If I could rewind the clocks I'd protest again, but make the calling more vehement...but even then I know that we would have lost the case.  However we have NOT yet lost the young performer that can't afford to come to us.  Somehow we always will make it work.  Surely our job is to inspire the next generation and fight for them, not go on the record and tell their family and friends that they just as well give up now.

Please stop saying that it's tough for the working classes. It's tough for everyone that chooses to go into HE today. The arts are not the only ones that are impacted by this ruling.  So how about the headlines for the next wave of cuts (and goodness knows...there will be more to come)...is just a graphic...an international sign that states quite succinctly that we won't be beaten....regardless of what ever tactic they use. Slightly Brechtian I know...but a much more powerful message than rolling around the ground saying that the fight is over. Yes they would probably prefer less people to study the arts...so even more reason for us to make is possible for them.  Therein lies the power of the artist I think.


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