Friday, 22 July 2016

Drama UK - it's #time4change

Wow what a difference a week makes.  Last week Mark Shenton kindly 'launched' the #time4change Mental Health charter in a nicely worded piece in The Stage: https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2016/mark-shenton-theatre-enough-protect-workers-mental-health/

Mark had visited The MTA a week earlier and as usual our discussion came around to Mental Health issues, as Mark has a well documented fight with depression, and he knows that I've been campaigning for a number of years to improve Mental Health education in drama colleges. In passing I had mentioned the Charter, and, given his history, was interested in his view on it.  So we arranged for me to send it onto him.  It was then a pleasant surprise when I found out that he was going to write about it in The Stage.

The Charter, as seen by Mark, needed a little bit of refining, so Angie Peake (www.counsellingforperformers.co.uk) who had written the document hurried on with the edits so that I could send it out to the various people who had already committed to sign up to it.

Like with the fund raising the year before I remembered how much I hated emailing people asking them to do something so public, however if the truth be told, I'm getting really tired of the fight to get this matter 'out there', so this became the final push to make a small difference. The final mile of my own personal marathon if you like.

Fast forward a week and we have 19 agencies all signed up, which means if they only had 30 clients each - 570 performers this week have received a document, highlighting Mental Health issues. 570 performers have discovered that their agents take Mental Health and the welfare of their clients seriously.  In addition to that we have the Theatre Royal Stratford East signed up...which means that every one of their visiting companies will have a Mental Health reference as part of their orientation package (including Well being/Mindfulness...as it's easy to think that the campaign is all about illness, as in reality it's about prevention).

6 production companies have signed up, meaning that everyone that works for them in future will receive the Charter, and will again be reassured that they're working for an employer who takes Mental Health seriously.

Finally, in the area where this whole bloody campaign started just one college has taken up the mantle.  Rose Bruford, which already had a robust Mental Health policy and pastoral care system, led by the rather amazing Pat O'Toole. Pat came to the conference and has stayed engaged with the process ever since. She instantly went back to work and implemented just some  suggestions that came up in the conference.  Regardless of whether or not they officially adopt the Charter - they have, via Pat, attempted to do something above and beyond, which after all is what this Charter is really about.

In an ideal world of course I would have presented the Charter to Drama UK and asked them to make it mandatory in all of their accredited colleges.  Sadly Drama UK has instead,  resolutely refused to sit down and discuss the Mental Health provision all of their colleges currently provide.  The creme de la creme colleges have no mandatory policies as dictated under the terms of their accreditation (which probably explains why the approach differs from college to college).

Once again back in 2014 I wrote about how I thought that the current system for accrediting colleges was outdated and irrelevant to today's industry http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomasa-stamp-of-approval/ Fast forward two years and 12 colleges have left (included the jewels in the drama college crown that are LAMDA, Bristol Old Vic and RADA) whilst the others limp home with the chocolate teapot that is Drama UK.

So how much longer do we all talk about accreditation in such glowing terms? How much longer before colleges get to throw away the shackles of accreditation and simply adopt a policy of transparency? How much longer do we pay for an antiquated system to dictate what is excellent in drama training in the UK? Those remaining colleges need to step out from the shadows, and declare exactly what it is they are providing, and what their results truly are.  Maybe, just maybe, they could also be accountable for their pastoral care too?

The #time4change Charter in essence takes on a life of its own now - it has got nothing more to do with The MTA, we're merely passing the relay baton if you like, in a bid to get everyone running at the same pace.  Why waste months debating policy....just adopt the charter...job done.  The colleges that pride themselves on getting this performer into the West End and that performer into film, at some point will be accountable for the care that they've provided ALL of their students with along the way. Anecdotally at best this is haphazard, at worse it's downright dangerous.  ALL staff need to be trained, cultures have to change to allow for curiosity to permeate throughout the seats of learning.

I have a handful of batons that I'm desperate to give out. Maybe a few more colleges could follow Rose Bruford's lead and realise that it's people that's important. . . not performers. Maybe they could also see that an addition to their policies could be a good thing, it doesn't say that they've got it wrong up until now - it just says that they want to be better from now on.

My idea? Save your Drama UK subs and put the the money you save into Mental Health ;-)


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