Performing Arts – Working Classes Excluded?

When it comes to politics and economics, it is fair to say that the arts have been hit badly in more recent years. Performing arts training is high up there at the moment in the spiralling costs of higher education –

With the average cost of a degree in the UK now resting at a value of £30,000 for a three year course (and that’s in standard university education), the price is rising ever higher in specialist training for the performing arts.

Tom Stocks – a Campaign for Working Class Performers in Training

A little while ago I became aware of a small campaign being set up by a young actor, Tom Stocks, who is trying to raise awareness and campaign at the sky-rocketing fees being charged for drama school training (and perhaps more significantly, how this is impacting on opportunities for those entering the theatre and performing arts industries from a working class background).  His endeavours to date have made some ripples, but his voice is still not being heard…  So, unusual to form, I would like to take this opportunity to support Tom and his cause. I urge you to hear his voice and support this campaign.

Why Are You Behind This, Tuirenn?

I really like Tom’s campaign because it resonates with me and echoes my feelings on the topic. I also come from a working class background and that, coupled with being a UK northerner (Macclesfield), meant I had limited choices to receiving training.  I was slightly fortunate in that in the late 90s many of the drama schools began offering degrees to supplement their income. This meant I could receive 20-40hrs per week drama school training for the cost of a degree.  Sadly, I was the first year to go through on a student loan (the then Labour government backtracked on a rejection of introducing loans a year before I started training), so I am still paying this back, but at least I got a fairer chance than many today.  Since then I have wanted to get back to HE training to do an MA (actually is prefer to do a PhD) but currently there is no chance. I cannot afford to do further training until I have completely paid off my previous student debts. This will take me some time, but the ambition is still driving me.  From a deeply personal perspective, I am absolutely behind Tom on this campaign.

In the Words of Tom Stocks

“My name is Tom Stocks I have been running a campaign through social media, local newspapers and journalism for over a year now, and the deeper I look the more apparent it becomes to me the working class can not seem to find a way into acting without bags of money. The campaign is going really well, however there’s only so much you can tweet.” Tom has recently contacted a writer/director/actor of the working class fold, Marcus Armstrong, and he has put together a fantastic script painting the very real world in which we (the aspiring performers of the working classes) currently inhabit.  This film completely embodies the spirit of the campaign and will hopefully raise the profile of this matter so as to make a difference to this issue.

What Are The Issues?

  1. Most University courses and Students are government funded, so they get that money given to them by the government. However, most drama schools are not – and you have to find other types of funding; such as private grants like DADA’s which are not given to everyone. It must be said the some schools do offer government funding, but not all (or indeed enough) of them, making it an uneven playing field. If you do not receive government funding or a DADA then you cannot get into Drama School, unless you have enough money to finance it yourself, which in this economic climate is unlikely.
  2. There is no government or internal funding for any kind of Masters Degree or postgraduate training, meaning you have to resort to crowd funding and sponsorships in order to continue your training after completing a first degree. It is worth mentioning that there are career development loans but they are crippling to your financial future. The whole system is wrong. A Masters can offer a good alternative to Drama School for those of us who cannot afford rocketing prices but now this door is closed to us as well.
  3. 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 like you are advised to do, well.. you can do the maths.
  4. If you manage to find the money for Drama School, or you choose to go down the route of University and a Masters 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.

Coming From Poverty = Poor Chance of Making it in a Performing Arts Career

The fact is with Drama School fees, Masters fees, 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.  This is something that needs desperately to change… Now, throughout this campaign, Tom is fervent that he does not want himself to come across as a middle class hater. I can emphatically support that he is not.  It is not the middle class individuals who are to blame, it is the greedy performing arts education industry that is to blame. With such escalation and inflation of Drama training fees and soaring living costs to-boot, the prices are bringing about an extinction to the working class’ ability to afford this industry training. Sadly, it is fast becoming the domain of the middle classes, who are just about managing to afford this themselves.

Tom’s Story

“I auditioned for drama school for 2 years and finally got into East 15, however I was told repeatedly by industry professionals that the hardest thing was to get in. “Competing with over 1,000+ people for each drama school, yes, it’s so hard to get in. However, what is like an untold secret to drama school is what follows: with the heartbreaking funding period where you do not receive any grant opportunity and your parents cannot help/support you…   “Unfortunately, money talks in this industry. If you don’t have it, you don’t get any where.  “Now coming away from drama schools; if you couldn’t go then you are again advised to go to acting workshops and acting classes, which again are expensive, the average acting class in London from industry professionals is 60 quid. The industry revolves around money and working class people do not just have it lying around.” A quote by Danny Dyer really appeals to Tom:

You’ve got actors like Benedict Cumberbatch – a great actor, but he’s a posh boy playing posh boys. He does it well, and he doesn’t get mocked for that… I play working class people, and I get mocked for it. I’m stereotyped, he’s not. 

Out-Priced From a Career and Passion

If you go to the West end recently the average price for a ticket is over £40 and that is just turning the theatre into a middle class breeding ground. Theatre made significant changes over the centuries and has often been made exclusive for the middle and upper classes.  However, it has always moved back to enabling theatre for people from all backgrounds. Sadly this is not being seen currently – the problem is that there is now a pandering to those who can afford to go. Theatre is changing, and its own internal costs are having to provide an expectation for those who can afford it. You appeal to your audience and if your audience is majority middle class then it is going to produce shows that appeal to that margin.

The Campaign Film Project

Along with the social media publicity, Tom has decided to collaborate with a writer and director Marcus Armstrong to try go viral with a new film on the issue.   ‘The Industry‘ is a short film following the daily lives of two young actors in their flat in London (one coming from a wealthy middle class family, and one coming from a working class family). The two young men are the same age and share the same dream; but for one of them it is far easier, which pushes their friendship to breaking point.  This film is a discussion about what it is like for a young actor living in London, dreaming of success, and the barriers put in his way.  With this in mind both Tom and Marcus hope to show the industry as a whole how hard it is to actually be an actor with the ever growing domination of middle classes. They hope this film will give a voice to people sharing the same fears, but one voice is not enough so that is why I am putting this out there for them too – this campaign needs you to share your voice and get on board too!

Can You Help?

Can you help Tom to get this campaign on a larger scale? His one voice isn’t loud enough, but hopefully with yours and others we can gather more voices to become loud enough for someone to listen.  Please share this post to everyone you know – let’s get this message out there…

Find Out More About Tom and the Campaign To-Date

News Report – Budding Actor Shares Dame Helen Mirren’s Fears as He Battles for Drama School

Blog Report – Young Actor: There’s No Support for Working Class Actors

News Report – Newport Actor Leads Drama School Campaign  

Personal Website – Tom Stocks 

News About the Film Project – The Industry

Personal Website – Marcus Armstrong 


Also published on Medium.

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