In the 1970s, when I was in the sixth form, the choice of entering tertiary education was not one made lightly. There was grant funding in place, but moving straight from school into the world of employment was a viable choice. Since then, moving on from school to university to do a degree has become the accepted route. Nothing wrong in that, and the ideology behind it that everyone has the right to study to degree level is a noble one. What people don't consider is whether a degree will actually help them when they're out in the real world.
In the late 1970s not every 21-year-old was walking in to meet an employer waving a piece of paper from a university or polytechnic. The students who had a degree stood out a little. These days it's the norm. It's expected. Waving that piece of paper with a degree is nothing special, and probably won't make you in any way regarded as in any way above the rest. There is one training that we do offer in England, and it's recognised to be the best training of its type in the world, that can equip its recipients for all sorts of roles in life. Drama training.
We now have more institutions than ever before offering drama training. Whether it's the straightforward three-year acting training such as that offered by august institutions such as LAMDA, Guildhall, and the eight term RADA course, or whether it's a MA or two-year postgraduate, or international theatre specialism, all of these courses are based around actor training.
As chairman of the Actors Centre I've had the good fortune this year to engage with a large number of drama graduates. Primarily those leaving training institutions fully determined to be a working actor. These days drama schools are training more and more people. Principals of some schools proclaim loudly that they are not training more people than there are jobs. A hard statement to believe given that at any particular moment it's hard to assess just how many jobs there are out there in the world of theatre, television, and film. At this time of year all 2016 drama graduates are busily trying to get themselves an agent, and choose an appropriate showstopping speech for their drama showcase, ready to launch themselves into the real world this summer. It's a big step and not one I think any of them take lightly. For many of these graduates, acting has been a dream they have had since a very young age. This is the year it becomes a reality. They now have to turn it into a job. A way of financially supporting themselves in the real world, and hopefully something that will pay the bills and put food on the table, even if it is just seven different and interesting ways with a baked potato.
I've had the pleasure of visiting a lot of drama schools this year to talk to graduates about the Actors Centre which provides a sturdy bridge from the safe haven of drama school training into the world of work. Whichever establishment I visit, the worries are the same. How will I get the work? How will I get enough work? How will I survive?
The true answer is that many won't. It takes varying degrees of time for graduates to realise that long gaps between jobs, spending more time doing something to fill in rather than your chosen career, and constantly being told "no", is not for them. There is a very very strong chance that many of this year's 2016 graduates won't be pursuing the same career by 2020. Yet they will be working. Many of them will be successful, and this will be as a result of their drama training. Working in the corporate world, I come across a lot of people in agencies, large corporate institutions, and even the public sector and the hallowed halls of the Treasury who started out with a drama training. Whether it was for greater financial reward or for the sake of preserving their self dignity, they have quickly transferred to other aspects of the job market, and they do well.
A drama training makes you a good listener. A drama training encourages articulate communication. A drama training encourages a level of confidence and can promote an ability to stand your ground which is often beneficial dealing clients, co-workers, and managers. It can add a level of vibrancy and a level of excitement and activity that many other graduates may find eludes them. So while working in the offices of a first class corporate company may not have been your dream when you entered the hallowed halls of drama school, it is that first-class excellence of training that is helping you be a success in the field you're in today. If you have moved on as a drama graduate into another world, you have not failed. You haven't lost out. You just decided to capitalise on the opportunities you given and use them in a different area. You have had the good sense to know that this is a marathon, not a sprint. For many achieving success can take time and a little experimentation as to where it is to be found.
Let's hope we do keep access to Britain's excellent drama training institutions open to all. And I do mean all. As a working class boy from Yorkshire, I'm lucky that I applied for my drama training in the 1970s. No, my local council wouldn't give me a grant for RADA, but they did give me a grant to a nationally accredited drama school and that was the start of the journey to where I am today. Who knows what journeys this year's graduates will make? But let's not just look for them on our TV screens or in our theatres. Let's look for them on the senior management teams of successful creative institutions and in successful corporate enterprises. Let's acknowledge that here in Britain, a drama training is not only useful for actors, it's a world-class training for a huge variety of roles.