You don't need to be rich to be an actor

You don't need to be rich to be an actor

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Friday, 13th February 2015

Actors ranging from Julie Walters to James McAvoy have voiced concerns that poorer people are being priced out of the acting profession, while much has been made of the public school backgrounds of the likes of Damien Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne.

In his acceptance speech at Sunday's BAFTAs, EE Rising Star Jack O'Connell thanked Nottingham's Television Workshop and his "wonderful" teacher Ian Smith for allowing him to cut his teeth in the trade.

So what help is there for young actors who don't have a public school education or the Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on?

O'Connell's alma mater, The Television Workshop, which also trained Samantha Morton aims to give a leg-up to poorer students.

The workshop, which was originally set up by ITV to find young talent outside of London for them to use in filming, acts as an agent for the students, who have landed roles in programmes including Skins, The Dumping Ground and In the Flesh, while director and patron of the workshop, Shane Meadows, has cast a number of students in his films.

Over 1000 people audition for a place at the Television Workshop each year, indicating that there is a real demand for affordable, quality teaching.

"If you actually really want to act, then you'll find a way to do it"
Mark Hudson, founder of the Manchester School of Acting, believes that building a successful career is not just a challenge for actors.

"Things have changed - but I don't think it's just changed for actors, I think it's changed for every student. Speak to any graduate and they all would say the same thing, they struggle to survive financially, and it is tough, but it's always been tough for actors."

While graduates in other fields can at least hope for a level of job security eventually, the life of a jobbing actor may contribute to a lack of working class voices in the world of television, theatre and film.

The Laurence Olivier Bursary is awarded each year by the Society of London Theatre to offer financial help to talented actors in their final year of study, with sums up to ÷500 being awarded. Past recipients of the award include Peep Show's Paterson Joseph, Ewan McGregor and Michael Sheen.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in SherlockSherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is one of several public-schooled leading actors who have come under attack (Credit: BBC/Hartswood Films/Robert Viglasky)

For Hudson, whose school has trained actors including Michelle Keegan and Warren Brown, the problem is not that directors are biased against working class actors, "I don't think producers [and] directors consciously think that they choose posh above something that isn't. They choose the best actor for the job."

Instead, Hudson believes that the problem may lie in the type of programmes, films and stage productions being commissioned, "It might well be that there are not so many working class dramas being made now, but that's not fair on Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddie Redmayne because it's not their fault."

With the demise of repertory theatre meaning that there are fewer opportunities for young actors everywhere to cut their teeth in the industry, what can they do to get a foot on the ladder?

Mark Hudson advises: "Go and join an amateur theatre company. Go and get some experience. Before you decide you want to pursue it, know that you actually want to do it. If you want to become famous, don't do it. But if you actually really want to act, then you'll find a way to do it."

By Pippa Shawley



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