Once again there is a flurry of activity around the fact that the 'working man' is getting lost in our industry. Times are changing and not for the better (they cry). Bring back rep (they cry). However isn't the current noise coming from the people that are the elite or at least have become the elite? The ones that have made it in our industry? Isn't it something like 2% of performers actually make a living out of being a performer? I mean great that they're shouting, and using their position to make some noise, but is that all it is? Noise?
What happened to the drama college that was going to be funded by actors, where all the fees were going to be covered by the professionals? That was 'launched' with panache and then fell by the wayside (unless I've missed something?)
Shall we start at the beginning of the cycle as opposed to jumping to the middle. The 'working man' can't even afford to go to the theatre to get inspired to even think of it as a career at the moment. So is this just the elite shouting to the elite anyway?
Since 2010 The MTA has run a scheme whereby any local children can come and watch our panto on a pay what you can arrangement. When we were at the Drill Hall, you won't be surprised to hear that the two schools that took us up on the deal, could pay a fair rate. In subsequent years we've been in less affluent areas so the pay what you can rate has gotten considerably lower. Then in 2014 we did our first panto in what was then going to be our 'new home' down at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham.
Thanks to the combined efforts of local schools, us and indeed BGAC, in the first year alone we played to over 1000 children. A lot of whom had NEVER been to the theatre before. It was the most humbling thing ever to watch their amazement at the 'magic' of a simple mirror ball. They didn't mind that we didn't have a fancy all singing, all dancing set...they loved just being entertained by the simple magic of theatre.
Last year we extended the scheme and played to over 1500 children. Again their faces were a joy to watch (in fact I had to work hard to remember that I was supposed to be watching the show, not watching the joy on the children's faces). After each show we arranged a meet and greet with the cast, and the children were ecstatic. Even the older 'cool kids' visually got excited by 'meeting the stars'. Let's keep it real here - the stars were just our 2nd years. . . having the time of their lives being idolised by all the kids, and learning themselves the importance that panto has not just for our industry, but also in our society.
The trouble is though, that shows and hiring theatres cost money. In a 2 week run we don't stand a chance of recouping our losses. However part of our students' fees go towards funding 4 shows a year for them, so in a way each show is subsidised. In a bid to extend the scheme even further this year we've started to fund raise. Obviously we're looking for commercial sponsors(so if you're a Tottenham based firm and fancy helping out this Christmas, please do get in touch). So we're trying a 'buy a child a seat' crowdfunding scheme https://www.gofundme.com/24vga64
I'm aware that something similar was tried recently for Dougal Irvine's The Busker's Opera down at The Park theatre, although I missed if they managed to raise the money or not. I hope so as it was a great idea.
I'd love to take the credit for the fund raiser, however it was our Health and Welfare Consultant, Angie Peake who thought of it and decided to give it a go. She did the usual sum of 'if all of my friends on FB sponsored just one seat we'd raise X amount of money' Of course in reality this just doesn't happen for a multitude of reasons I suspect. That said we've already funded 30 places, which is nearly a class coming to see the panto this year, that maybe wouldn't normally afford to even contemplate a theatre visit.
We're aiming to get 2000 children in this year...so the race is on to find the extra money that this will cost us. We'll do it though...because it's important.
Then what if one child loves what they see and decides to 'give it a go' themselves? What then? Well I hate to say it, but we're back in the realms of the haves and haves not. How do they afford to go to classes? What schemes are there in the local community to fund children slowly building aspirations?
The thing is though, we're not just talking about theatre, which let's face it has always been elite? Why are we pretending that this is new? When I was training it was elite...but the 'working classes' will always find a way to help their children out of their rut. That's just what we do! If your child wants to study ANYTHING in HE the working classes are priced out of the market. So who's going to build the social housing of the future? Will it be some upper class architect with a social conscience, trying to make amends for their own family's wealth? Shouldn't it be designed by the people who understand the needs of the community, the people that were brought up in that environment?
Of course architects don't generally 'have a public voice', so we don't keep reading in the papers what they're saying about the future of their industry. So we're back to so called celebrities, using their platform to voice their concerns and rattle a few cages.
My TL is engulfed with people Sharing or RT'ing' these worthy statements - but what do YOU do to change things? It's easy to click and 'share'. It's easy to write a rousing comment to go with the 'share', but what do you actually DO to make a difference?
The reality is, probably nothing. You want the answer to come from the government. It's THEIR fault that we're in this situation, so THEY should do something about it.
The trouble is....they won't.
Whichever government it is...they won't.
If socialism is ever to work as anything more than just some rabble rousing rhetoric, then each of us will have to make different choices. Don't have your Starbucks tomorrow and donate that money to a more worthy cause. Don't have that pint after the show, and donate the money to a worthy cause. The thing is, we could ALL do our bit but our apathy or introverted thinking means that we won't(and I'm not exempt from this argument. I could make different choices too).
So next time you click 'Share' or RT an amazing speech, hold up a mirror and ask yourself if you could do something different...just once? If you're not sure what to do...then do remember that this appeal will be running for months: https://www.gofundme.com/24vga64