Saturday, 14 January 2017

Whatever happened to class?

Now as we all know, I am not one to rant and rave <ahem>  I patiently sit on the fence, pulling out the splinters waiting (and hoping) for the world to change around me.

Oh OK...I'm a ranter.  I admit it.  I get infuriated by things and either bore my other half with my latest bugbear or I come here to blog..and go on (and on)....(and on)...about it.  So this time I thought that I'd save my other half (as she hears the same moan year after year)...and bring it officially out into the open.

Yesterday The MTA started it's audition 'season'. We joined the multitude of colleges, filtering through the same group of people, looking to find the ones that 'fitted us'.  We have always done it a bit differently

  • We do the whole thing in a day, audition and decision by midnight
  • We automatically give every applicant written feedback. Feedback which has the subjective opinion of my entire senior faculty on it (so not just a general 'be better'. . . but good, constructive things that we've noticed, with the disclaimer that it's just our opinion)
  • We audition in really small groups - usually a max of around 15 these days, so that we can really get a sense of who the people are that we're auditioning.  
  • My entire senior faculty are there, so that we can decide collectively if we believe that we can get that person industry-ready within our unique 2 year structure.
I believe that I can confidently say, given that 100% of my students have graduated having secured independent agent representation, that our audition process works.  Generally speaking we choose the right people.  Of 144 students that have passed through our doors, only 5 people have ever just left the course. Of those 5, only 1 of them has no contact with us....the other 4 have stayed in touch to one degree or another, we know what they're up to, and are still around to gently support them, should they ever need us.

In other words, the evidence would suggest that our audition process is effective. 
My fear is taking the wrong applicant. This year we are asking applicants to pay £32k for the course. That is a huge amount of money for them, or their parents to find, so I want to do my best to ensure that our training means that they can at the very least, earn that money back within a reasonable timeframe.  With an increasing number of our graduates being in the fortunate position of paying back their loans early after graduating due to sensible job decisions (as opposed to sitting around waiting for ALW to knock on their door and instantly offer them a well paid West End lead), it does feel that we've got this bit right.  That said, I'll quickly add, that we're ALWAYS looking at ways to improve things. So there ain't no laurels that we're sitting on down at the college. I'll also put the disclaimer that we still do open book accounting so every staff member/student/parent is welcome to check exactly where that money is going (& our students often do. . . until they get bored of looking at the numbers)

We write to the applicants offering them their audition date, usually on the same day as they apply. We also put in capital letters in the subject PLEASE RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL, as over the years it's shocked me that people just didn't respond, so it was hard for us to be sure how many people were going to turn up.

I learnt in the first year that no shows, and in particular 'non informed' no shows was part of the 'gig'. People who had paid their audition fee, just don't show up.  We regularly have about 3 or 4 every session. I wrote a blog about how this was particularly annoying for us, as we cap the number of people that we audition, therefore you have literally 'taken' somebody else's chance of a MTA audition if you do this. Give us lots of notice and we can usually fill the space.  So the initial email has a link to that blog and asks the auditionees to read it (as much for them to understand that things like a no show have a massive impact at The MTA). 

So the stats improved, the no shows or late cancellations still happened, but not with as much frequency. We send applicants an email the week before to remind them that we're expecting them - but again we seldom get a response, and we rarely get told by reply that they're no longer coming. Nope. They wait a few days, then throw it into an email, with a pointless 'I'm sorry if this is inconvenient' line. It's not inconvenient to us - we get to go home quicker. It is however inconvenient to the people that are sat on waiting lists attempting to audition for us.

In the past two years there's been an increase in applicants wanting a later audition date because they're on a foundation course, and want to be 'as ready as they can be' prior to auditioning. Now on one hand I completely get that - what I don't get though is why are the colleges running their foundation courses to the same school year as the drama colleges? Shouldn't a foundation course run something like April - April? By that point people will have a good idea of whether they've been accepted into their 'dream' college or not, and it would mean that come Dec when the audition season appears to generally start, they are 6 months further ahead in their studies than they are right now? Food for thought there maybe? I mean it also means that you could go around the colleges en masse watching their final shows, getting a feel for places. . . months before deciding where your audition fee is going to be spent.

Anyway none of this is my real rant. . . here it comes.

I remember waiting and waiting for the letter to arrive from my 1st choice college, and that fear of dread every morning wondering if it was going to be pushed through the letterbox...as what if they had rejected me?? What was to become of my life? So when I opened the college I promised myself that I would ensure that all applicants found out that day. I wasn't going to do recalls, I would make the one day count as much as possible, and regardless of how long it took me (and in the early days when we all used to hand write our notes, only to have me typing them up every night) I wanted people to find out straight away. So that everybody knew where they stood.

So that's what we've done since opening in 2009.  Since 2009 I've been staggered by how few applicants take the time to acknowledge the feedback. We're not after a thank you for it (after all it might really annoy you, especially if the news isn't what you wanted). . . but just a simple 'got it' email would be great. However it's mostly . . . nothing.  Every so often on the day I rant about this and literally beg them to let me know whether they've received it or not, and on those days I can expect about a 70% return. Generally speaking though, it's only about 20% - 30% bother to acknowledge that email.  So all those drama college applicants banging on about 'why don't they get feedback when they're spending all that money'....think on. You have an obligation in that arrangement too.

They only have a fortnight to decide whether they're going to take their place, so if that email hasn't arrived, and we don't know their decision, they will lose their place. .  . because demand is such, that we don't 'need you'. We'll be seeing another group of people quite soon, and in that group will be people as good, if not better than you - so we'll simply offer them the opportunity to train with us instead. 

Is it cultural? Is it a generational thing that we don't bother being polite anymore? Do manners matter online? Are parents and colleges reminding these students to communicate? I know that some colleges are because they keep telling me. . . but do you need to nag them more?

We have a rule at our place that all emails and texts have to be acknowledged within a certain timeframe, and if they're not the student is issued a verbal warning.  Simply because I HATE rudeness.  It takes me considerably longer to sort out the feedback than it takes the applicant to write 'thanks and press send. 

I run a college practically single handedly (aided by a PA) and I'm always working on shows at the same time, yet I manage to acknowledge every single email that comes into one of my accounts. I work a minimum of a 19 hour day most days. . . yet still I manage to say thanks or no thanks to emails that are sent to me.  Honestly -  I do not believe that an 18 yr old college student is as busy as I am. I don't believe that my students are as busy as I am (my annoying mantra to them at moments of desperation over this subject).  I'm not moaning about my working life - I'm just stating facts, and contextualising why I believe that I'm able to sit in my ivory tower and say to students both future and present.....ANSWER YOUR EMAILS BECAUSE IT'S JUST RUDE WHEN YOU DON'T



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