Monday, 26 September 2016

Is there a drama UK?

The news today that Drama UK have finally disbanded is clearly no surprise to anybody in the industry. The writing was on the wall the moment RADA, LAMDA and all jumped ship a few months ago. Or if you were to believe me...the writing was on the wall even further back.

For the three of you that follow my blogs you'll know that I have never been a fan of this organisation. I've been appalled with their lack of guidance and indeed interest over the ever increasing Mental Health difficulties facing our colleges (which eventually grew into our #time4change initiative).  I regularly put hand to keyboard to type my disgust at their latest initiatives e.g. going over to China to raise brand awareness for Drama UK? I mean what the hell was that about? Colleges paying a minimum of £6K a year for students to get a showcase in NY? That's right...because it's really easy for a UK resident to just break into the NY acting scene isn't it? Green card anyone?

In my blog the other day I noted how the drama colleges were taking in nearly three times the number of students than they had originally, yet the counselling provision in those colleges had remained the same. Where were Drama UK then? Why weren't they questioning the fact that a college could one day train 40 students, but the next day feel like they had the resources to train 120 students? Why weren't they limiting the number of courses colleges were running? Resources were getting diluted and Drama UK did NOTHING to stop it.  Instead they took their 'subs' and ran....seemingly to China and New York to 'make connections'.

There's another part to this story though that maybe not everyone is getting. Yes, all of 'us' knew that the writing was on the wall for Drama UK (literally everyone would mention it to me whenever accreditation came up)...but actually Joe Public and their parents, those same people who felt like getting their child into an accredited college was the Holy Grail of training, didn't have a clue.  Just last year I was challenged on a popular forum over the fact that we weren't accredited, and when I pointed out that we were vehemently against it, I was literally called a liar, and a 'parent' hypothesised that we must have tried but had been rejected.  It was beyond the realms of their thinking that we wouldn't be aspiring to join this disjointed organisation.

So what happens now? Has it levelled the playing field for a new college such as ours? Well of course it hasn't as we don't have a track record on our side. We don't have decades of training to 'prove' the quality of our graduates. Here's the rub though - do we really know what's going on in all of these well established colleges? We know that Lord whoever trained at the Royal Wherever in the Year whatever but do we know what happened to last year's graduates. . . and I mean ALL of them?

We all hear the sound bites of X, Y and Z who all left 'established college' to walk straight into a Broadway lead (no Green card problem in this fantasy world), but do we know what happened to the other 95% of the students that graduated that year?

The only available stats that we've ever been given by Drama UK was a survey based on the graduates of 2012, but even that was diluted as it lumped together their 5 'best colleges' (which at the time would have really given me the goat if I was the Principal of one of the 'lesser' accredited colleges not mentioned in the survey. A hierarchy amongst the hierarchy it would seem). That survey might have been really unfair to college 'A' which had outstanding percentages, as their stats were watered down by college 'D' that had had a difficult year. Of course, good news for college 'D' though who suddenly weren't doing that bad at all.

Has a college's success been diluted since increasing its numbers? How would we know without regular stats?

Our industry needs to be regulated, I don't know what that should look like. I would like mental health to be part of the regulation e.g. if you're not offering the appropriate pastoral support you're excluded from  'the club' until you do.
I'd like it to cap numbers of students training - because there are too many colleges, offering too many students a false dream. That false dream has a hefty price tag attached to it. Our industry is saturated as it is.  Controversial I know....but when have I ever said anything that wasn't ;-)

I would propose that we all start with transparency. Every year since we've had a graduating year group I've published our stats. That includes our industry 'drop out' rates. These stats are on our website for everyone to see.  Imagine if we all did this, so that we could finally get a true picture of what's going on out there?

I know that this won't happen - it's too costly to be that accountable to the industry, and indeed to their 'business'. However we all want to see rogue colleges closed down. . . and complete transparency as the norm would do this quicker than you could say "Drama UK".

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Come out for #time4change

Twitter was all of a flutter this morning, full of praise for the actress Beverley Callard, for opening up about her 'depression' on the popular ITV programme This Morning. However it was the wording of the praise that struck me. How brave she had been to speak out? Now of course I get it, and I sadly get the wording. However when someone speaks out about epilepsy for example - are they brave?
The Daily Mirror (don't shoot the messenger) headlined it as the actress ADMITTED that she might have Bipolar? Admitted? Throw me into the confessional booth as I admit to having asthma....quickly. Do we have to 'admit' to an illness these days?
Then there was the issue that most of the reporting kept talking about her depression...but she was talking about recently having been investigated for having Bipolar II. What a great opportunity to discuss OTHER mental health issues, but as usual they focussed on the 'D' word.

Then there was the shock that she'd considered taking her own life? Depression can do that folks. . . that's why it's a killer (literally). That's why we're attempting to help people BEFORE it gets to that stage. THAT'S why when people are busy telling you where to physically and geographically go for help they need to realise that you can't move in that moment. You're not thinking rationally. THAT'S why we want people to recognise symptoms earlier, be that in themselves, or in those around them.

Finally she said those all too familiar words (and I'm paraphrasing)...'people assume that I'm a confident person because I'm an actress'. How many more times do we, as an industry, have to hear this without acting on it? (no pun intended)
Very few performers are confident. . . FACT. Loads of performers can act confident. . . FACT
1 in 3 performers are known to have mental health issues.

We could debate all day the chicken/egg question of does the industry create the problem, or was the problem already there, and the industry was supposed to aid the problem? Everybody will take a view point on this. Personally I've always said that our industry attracts people that are susceptible to mental health issues because it's can be somebody else. You can get 'out of' your head.
Our industry embraces 'different'. So if you have some quirks - we love it. So of course we become an attractive career for people struggling and learning to cope.

A few days ago I blogged about the Evening Standard's reporting on the brilliant ArtsMind initiative and how I felt that it had been unhelpful when it was suggesting that it was lifestyle that was creating the issues. So many people these days work freelance and therefore have the same job insecurities as us. Hell in the current climate, you could even argue (a tiny bit), that people are being scrutinised all the time too, as companies adhere to the laws of the survival of the fittest.

Earlier I'd blogged about the ridiculous fuss that #Stageschool had created within the industry: how hypocritical we were all beginning to sound, acting out our annoyance for the world to see and hear.

Just the other morning I was tweeting my annoyance at the twitter coverage of the Emmy awards, and how all this public scrutiny of what people were wearing, what they were saying, is just crazy making. Who the hell wants to wake up and read that about themselves?

Over the past month you would have seen me retweeting several brave tweets by performers stating unequivocably that their drama college was the same as every other drama college, and not dealing with this issue adequately.  There is no doubt that drama colleges WANT to get this right, however they are still failing to see that they have to shift their position on it if they want to make a difference early on in a career.  I urge the other college Principals to question WHY so many production companies and agencies have signed the charter? If we were giving them 'healthy' performers would they be fighting now for things to change?

We should not have celebrities on TV 'admitting' to being ill, or 'speaking out' to help other sufferers, when as an industry we are not yet helping ourselves. Put the oxygen mask on yourself before trying to save everyone else (I believe that I'm quoting Oprah...but not sure)

It is brilliant and brave for anybody to say that they're dealing with mental health issues...but that does not make the statement correct.

Not that long ago LGBT performers were 'coming out', 'admitting' to being gay. Something so genetic, and yet still they had to 'admit' to it. Their stories designed to help others 'suffering the same fate'.  Sadly to some extent,  this is still the case BUT 'it's' becoming mainstream.  The gays are blending in. We're all just people, regardless of who we're sleeping with.
Well we're all just people, regardless of our mental health status too.
We need to stop the stigma.
We need to recognise that it's #time4change

Friday, 16 September 2016

Reactive not Proactive #time4change

Yup, another post about #time4change. . . but that's because it's REALLY important.

This week The Evening Standard wrote a great piece in support of the brilliant ArtsMind initiative set up by Equity, Spotlight, The Stage and BAPAM However the article seems to focus on the fact that the conditions of our self employed lifestyle and all the insecurities that that brings can almost 'create' a Mental illness.

The anonymous actress who bravely discusses her struggles with depression during drama school, might....just might, have had an underlying depression for years - but the expectations and pressures of drama school training exacerbated it, leading to a crises.

The article touches on the subject of self medicating, in this instance through alcohol, but what about the drug use, the sleeping around NOT because you're enjoying it (that's a whole different ball game(pun intended), and should be celebrated if that's your thing), but because you're looking for personal approval?

The article takes a rather back footed approach to the whole thing. Now let's be clear - any 'footed' approach is good. However there are so many other things going on. Is your depression reactive or chemical...or is it both? Why did you enter the arts in the first place? Do you already have symptoms that you just consider to be quirks of 'you'? What's your genetic loading regarding Mental Health?

What about if we took a front footed approach? What if we accept that Mental Health is a thing, and that we should be on our guard about it? What IF we could make our performers strong BEFORE they go out into the real world? What IF we could diagnose and treat Mental Illnesses BEFORE they became 'a thing'?
Actually all these things are possible.

I was in a meeting the other day, attempting, as ever to promote the #time4change Mental Health Charter. The debate started as to whether this was real, or whether people were simply jumping on the latest 'band wagon'?  Now admittedly some of the PD lot might be doing that. . . but even if they are. . . it's because that there's a bigger issue going on surely? Then I heard the most devastating and apt quote of all.  This person told me that at the moment it was "like a Tsunami of people coming through with mental health difficulties".  A Tsunami of people!

I have yet to speak to a college that hasn't confessed to being overwhelmed by the number of 'issues' that they are currently attempting to deal with. College counsellors are swamped by people needing to see them.  Why is this?

Well when you've upped your intake up from 40 to 120 a year, did you employ triple the number of counsellors? We have one counsellor for a max of 44 students, and she is booked up every week. Admittedly our Mental Health provision is rather more robust than the #time4change charter insists upon. Check it out here, however I'm constantly having to monitor it and check that it's doable. Especially with our college for life policy, which means that our ambassadors check in with her too. We have another mental health specialist on 'stand by' just incase we ever get that 'Tsunami'. Fortunately the way that it works at The MTA, the Tsunami is definitely there, but we manage to break it down throughout the year, making it just a strong torrent at the front.

I was asked again this week why other colleges aren't jumping on this initiative - and to tell the truth I'm not really sure. I think that some believe that they're doing everything that they can already, and therefore won't enter a discussion with us to see how they might be able to be more effective. When your students and graduates are literally begging you on social media to sign up, maybe you're not being as effective as you could be?

Some aren't joining because they believe it to be an initiative from The MTA - yet the charter is clearly an entity in itself now.  As I explained on twitter this week - someone has to start an initiative and in this instance it was us. Get past the politics (with a small 'p') and start thinking of your students.

One college told me that they don't have the funds to sign up? A college would need to buy in the services of a mental health specialist for a day to speak to the students, and to speak to the staff. Our consultant said that she'd donate her services to get this college signed up. The twitter conversation stopped. . . that college has still not signed up?

For those colleges that have directed me to the website of various organisations, which state their collective protocols etc. . . the question remains, are these intentions actually filtering down to the students? I would suggest that with so many agencies joining the initiative, the answer is no!

Signing the charter will pay you dividends in the long run - a happy company on tour, college statistics will improve, agents won't get called in the middle of the night due to some 'crises' or another. If you can't think of the short term gains for the individual, think of the long term gains for you.

The Tsunami is real - the question is now, where do we start dealing with it?
Please read #time4change then please email me at to find out how YOU can make a difference.

Monday, 5 September 2016

#time4change wk 8 Spread a little humiliation

Blimey week 8 in the battle to get our industry to recognise and accept really that 1 in 3 of 'us' are susceptible to Mental Health issues. It can't be any coincedence that everytime I speak to someone about the campaign they have a story to share about a performer or technician with mental health issues.  I am regularly fielding emails and telephone calls about some crises or another, with people wanting to check how to deal with certain situations, or people have come across someone that needs help and they don't know what to do.

Let's be clear - I'm  a musician not a mental health expert, so that's all I can do is signpost people to the real help, but it does go to show that there are many conversations to be had which people just don't know how to start.

I came up with the charter idea because I'm always amazed at how small our industry is. Befriend a cast member on FB and you instantly have 50 or more mutual friends.  We're not 6 degrees from people, we're practically next door!  However using that to our advantage, we could distribute the charter quickly, and people could hopefully start the conversations sooner rather than later.

I believe that we're a supportive industry.  I believe that we love an underdog and celebrate their success.  This year has been the year of the Understudy hasn't it? They've all suddenly blossomed in the wings and gone centre stage. As an industry we have loved these stories.

However there is the other side of 'us', the side that ironically can't wait to spread bad news too.  I blogged about this last year when Idina Menzel hit 'that' note during 'those' celebrations. Why were 'we' so quick to share, laugh, and judge? Have 'we' never made a mistake? Surely we were just lucky that our bum notes weren't filmed/recorded and shared around social media?

Which brings me to the 'share' of the moment....some You Tube clips that don't flatter the performer at all.  Cue performers all jumping on the 'how dare they cast them' band wagon, pointing out that someone else should have had 'that' job.  But why? Why do we take a pleasure in sharing something that's not good? Do we comment on the musicians playing so well behind the singer? Of course not. Yet they have to tolerate this clip being shared. People are popping up JPGs of the sheet music of that particular song as if that's going to make a difference.  Basically I'm asking why we feel the need to put somebody in the social media 'stocks'? Especially when we have substantial evidence that tells us that the performer in question is vulnerable?

We could discuss until the cows come home whose fault it is that the songs are being performed in this way? Is it the producer, the casting director, the director, the performer...the list goes on....but why are we so keen to spread humiliation? What are we getting out of it?

We're all entitled to an opinion, look at me blogging away spouting out my rubbish in a bid to make you think about mental health and encouraging systemic thinking as opposed to linear.

Next time you share 'that clip' haven't you just turned into the school ground bully?

My rule of thumb is only tweet or comment on a thing if you'd be prepared to sit down and discuss the issue with the person involved, using the exact same words as I've just written.  Would you sit with this performer and tell them how poor you think that they are, and tell them that you consider them worthless? Or would you sit with the producer and ask them what they were doing?

It's #time4change Mental Health matters. Remember we can all read your tweets. By 6 degrees of separation (and with a poor FB security setting ) we can also read your comments.  It's #time4change. Let's not be that industry eh? Please...

The Campaign: