Is Film/Theatre Industry Becoming an Elitist, Middle-Class Run Business? How Do We Help Working-Class Artists? by Tom Stocks

TOM STOCKS – ACTOR – “#ActorAwareness” Campaign

..
My name is Tom Stocks.   I have been running the Actor Awareness campaign for 2 years now. The Campaign has a huge following through social media, local newspapers and bloggers, and the deeper I look, the more apparent it becomes to me that working-class actors can not seem to find a way into acting without bags of money. The awareness is at an all time high with celebrities speaking of the issue and new articles on working class actors coming out every week.  However, none of them are doing anything about it, which is where I come in.

The campaign is going really well, with an overwhelming response from all corners of the industry. The reaction on social media especially Twitter has been incredible, however, there is only so many time you can tweet about the issue, now I want to tackle it head on, but what are the things that need fixing?

I think you have to start by looking at where it all begins, such as ticket prices. If you go to the West end for example, the average price for a ticket is over £40. The issue with this is it acts as an inspiration blocker, because how can young adults go watch regular theatre and be inspired into the industry like I was, if young adults can’t afford to go. This then reflects into adult life. The prices of tickets is just turning the theatre into a middle-class breeding ground, once theaters were for people from all cultures and backgrounds.  Now this is a problem because it changes theatre. Shows are supposed to appeal to your audience and if your audience is a middle-class majority then its going to be middle-class shows with middle-class actors.

The next issue is the ever growing drama school fees. With tuition fees rocketing over the past 10 years, it pushes more and more young adults to fall at the first hurdle and not be able to fund themselves to attend drama school. There is funding out there so it’s not all doom and gloom, but with the current economic crisis, means grants, sponsorships and funding are drying up, with not enough to go around. Private grants such as DADA’s are options but are not given to everyone. It must be said that some schools do offer internal funding help, but not all or enough of them offer this luxury. Baring this in mind it does make it an uneven playing field, because this then isolates who can afford to go to drama school, with funding options bordering non-existent it then leaves only one category, middle-class. A senior lecturer at one of the top schools once told me, that in the current climate and privatization of the school, raw talent isn’t coming through anymore and classes are filled with young adults who can just afford it.

As part of the Drama School process, you have to pay for auditions. You are not expected to pay for a University interview, so why are Drama Schools different? Auditions alone are now £50+ a pop and if you audition for a few schools like you are advised to do, well you can do the math.If you manage to find the money for Drama School, or you choose to go down the route of University or a Master’s Degree, then you have to face the reality of life as a jobbing actor. You have to pay for Head Shots, a Show Reel, Spotlight, Equity Membership and more, then only once you have paid out for these things can you reasonably start approaching agents and with your so called starter pack you can seriously make a go of your career within the industry. The fact is getting yourself set up as an actor in the industry with all the things you need and a plethora of other things, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that those coming from a poor or not financially wealthy background are priced out of the industry.

 

Now I do not want to come across as a middle class hater because me and my campaign is not about that, it is about combating the issues above, to make a difference to working class actors and creating an industry that eradicates elitist drama schools, classism within the arts and for the industry to have equal opportunities regardless of your background..

“Just because you are from a working class background does not make you any less talented.”

.

After starting the #actorsawareness campaign, I got introduced to a collective called the working-class conversation. For me, money (or lack of it) had always represented the problem but at meetings it became clear that the barriers facing young talent from working-class backgrounds was multifaceted. I struck up a conversation with a young actor from Wales who had found that his accent had become detrimental to his career, with casting directors encouraging him to speak in RP, rather than his native accent. There were stories where Shakespeare spoken in an accent other than RP was deemed too risky, even for Northern audiences. Last year, actress Maxine Peak commented “if you’ve got a regional accent you’re not taken as seriously” in an interview before she took on the role of Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and I think this is true.

I also think there is the perception that coming to London is the next step in forging a career for an actor, and making that move is a difficult one if you’re from a low-income family. The key is investment within the local arts. If communities nurtured arts it would mean young actors could forge opportunities locally rather than facing the increasing competitive nature of London.  I recently read that new research from Goldsmith’s University has revealed actors from working-class backgrounds make up only 10% of the profession, and this doesn’t surprise me. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd and with little industry contacts or a buffer of money, you have to have that extra drive to work hard and make yourself stand out. I wanted to start the #actorsawareness campaign to help give working-class actors like me a voice and a network of likeminded artists who could encourage and support each other.
Hopefully with my campaign I can not just be a voice for working class actors but also someone who can help fight resolve the issues and do something about it. A few months ago I was at a bit of dead-end with the campaign and I didn’t really have anything other than a constant bombardment of tweets to offer so I decided to contact Writer, Director, Actor (of the working class) and friend, Marcus Armstrong and he has put together a fantastic script painting the very real world in which we both currently inhabit. This film completely embodies the spirit of the campaign and will hopefully raise the profile we need to make a difference to this issue. With this film I wanted to give the campaign a different dynamic and freshen it up, so we begin to film in June with very exciting prospects.

Alongside the film I have ideas that I think may work. I think I have been so focused on gathering support of the campaign and not spending enough time on how to tackle the issue at hand of supporting working-class actors.I have now completed filming The Industry which is a film embodying the campaign, but now I need a new project. Here are a few ideas but I need your help and feedback to make them happen.

— A documentary about life as a working class actor, hearing your real life stories and showing them on screen?

— Replicate something along the lines of an Ideas Tap organization?

— Hold a actors market, offering and showcasing reasonable priced headshots, show real editing, acting classes, theatre companies etc?
These are just a few ideas, however none if this can be done without your help. Now I really want to hear your ideas on what you think we can do and feedback on my ideas.

 

This link will take you to my websites and social media links I have been using for my campaign.   I hope with your help I can get this onto a bigger scale and raise this issue.

 

BIO:

I have completed my 3 year course at The University of South Wales, where I acquired a 2:1 degree in Performing Arts. During my 3 years there, I have gained academic knowledge of an array of plays, playwrights and performance styles.  In my classes here I have learnt specific performance styles by doing a range of workshops, such as physical theatre and mime. Also here we have acquired basic voice training, by doing workshops in accents, breathing and projection. However even after these workshops, I strongly feel I can significantly improve with my training. For the duration of my time in University I have been fortunate to be involved in productions such as Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” Steven Berkoffs “Fall of the House of Usher” and “WEST” also the first UK performance of “The Weird.” (Read more here.)

.

CONNECT WITH TOM:

Tom’s website
@Tom_Stocks
@ActorAwareness
The-Industry.com