My campaign for working class actors

By Tom Stocks @actorawareness 

I have been running the Actor Awareness campaign for two years now. The campaign is slowly gathering support from all corners of the industry social media, local newspapers and bloggers. 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 high profile actors speaking of the issue and new articles on working class actors coming out every week such as Julie Walters, Helen Miren and Christopher Eccleston. However I believe there just all talk and none of them are doing anything about it, which is where I come in.

I have built Actor Awareness from the ground from one angry blog about my heartbreaking deferral of drama school, to growing a large social media following and support coming from John Challis, Ryan Gage, the This is England Cast, Francis Barber and more. I was inspired to start the campaign when I got into East 15 but due to the large sum of money required, I deferred my place in 2013 for a year so I could work full time and save as much money as possible in order to make my dream of drama school become a reality. However working as a low paid chef, saving was not easy and have only been able to save half of the money that was needed. I enquired about bank loans, however I had serious concerns about plunging myself into serious financial debt at the age of 22. I am a working class lad and borrowing from banks is an easy route short term, but for the long term it could seriously effect not only my career which I am trying to build, but my life and acting as a whole in the future. So I plan to use my previous experiences and struggles to help and inspire others during the Actor Awareness campaign.

After starting the Actors Awareness 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 Actors Awareness 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. Alongside the Campaign film The Industry which is a film embodying the campaign, I have an array of ideas to get into motion. I am literally one guy trying to create a amazing opportunity and campaign for working class actors but I need your help!

I have ideas for projects ready but I’d love for volunteers and build a team to help expand Actor Awareness. I am currently working on a documentary about working class actors life which I’m collaborating with Andrew Ellis and his company Northern lads productions on to show the real life struggles of the struggles to get into the industry. Next month I am holding a campaign meeting for people to come share there stories and ideas. I am also I’m looking to put on a working class festival where Actor Awareness would showcase low budget films and performances, affordable headshot photographers and show Reel editors etc. With all these project and supporters I am trying to build evidence and be proactive so I can go to senior members of the industry and show what the campaign has achieved and get them on board.

However like I said I’m only one guy so I really need help to have any hope of achieving these goals along with other projects i have in mind so if you have any ideas guys, I’m all ears. Together we can become 1 voice and start to make some vital changes to this industry.

2 Responses

  1. Hallo from Devon, read this article with great interest.

    I had a very interesting experience where in 2005 I was promised, repeatedly, funding at a top drama school, from the council, and so went ahead and sorted out my place. I had everything set to go, and then contacted the council education advisers back with all the required information, only to be told that I had been told incorrect information, and that there was no funding. Like you, I was told go and get a bank loan, and even “oh go and get a mortgage” – as a 25 year old working in a shop part time until I went to drama school, living with my elderly mother, that was out of the question, and like you, I refused to risk a bank loan. I was however furious about being lied to, and my complaints went all the way to Number 10, about how I had been treated. There was a full investigation launched as to the incorrect information I had been given, but by then the adviser who had told me all this had (conveniently?) left their job! However, nothing happened and I was eventually forced to give up my place and not go to drama school.
    In the end, I went back to creating my own performance theatre & film organization, for myself and others like me who want to develop careers in performing arts, first as an amateur group because we had no more than £80 to get started, and then moving into a profit share format, this year.
    I am a filmmaker, and theatre maker, as well as actress, and despite having a great, tight-knit team who work on some great projects, I have received very nasty messages, from people when I advertise a profit share project, saying that it is my responsibility to magic five figure sums from thin air rather than do profit share – and get rather nasty when I say all of our profit share modus-operandi has been fully run past Equity, is fully stated, and that at the end of the day, THERE IS NO ARTS FUNDING AVAILABLE TO GROUPS WITHOUT EXPERT PROFESSIONAL FUNDRAISERS! (and we found the hard way, trying to navigate the minefield ourselves, you need to be big and have a lot of money to pay an expert fundraiser in the first place before getting a look in at any of the few arts grants) certainly here in Devon, and certainly for teams of people who are able-bodied adults, rather than being a group for children, or minorities. We would love to have higher budgets meaning that we could do more than profit share, but that is the best we can possibly manage for the time being. We manage to get equipment and costumes, by selling second hand things on ebay and running fete stands like tombolas.

  2. Victoria

    Hello from London. I am trying to break the acting world, but on top of the competitiveness, the fear of future unemployment, poverty, rejection . . is the huge financial strain of simply affording drama school. How can someone from a background where there is no pool of money to go off travelling, take unpaid internships or pursue creative professions? Access to acting is one of those struggles those from low income families face. Really, we need to be questioning equality and widening participation in all creative pursuits – even now with access to all types of Higher Education, this is hanging in the balance with planned grant cuts and the withering away of access courses! Yet with acting, it isn’t just a case of financial restraint but also prejudices from the industry. I have been to a few RADA productions and noticed how assets such as related abilities are factored in, classical singing, playing an instrument and dance impact upon decisions getting into drama school. Yet the access to such additional learning is influenced by your background. I suppose I wish to get into a classical acting, which requires training – I already have a degree as I wanted a back up in case this doesn’t work out. There are other ways you can get into the industry, but it’s the same way an artist wants to go to a fine art school, to learn the tools of the trade. You can be an artist without any formal training, the same way you can be an actor without going to drama school. Yet if you want to learn stage craft, be an artist – this is not reachable for those from low income families. I am currently reading Owen Jones ‘Chavs’ and as a history graduate, I do feel we are in an age whereby the powers that be wish to eradicate working class access to education, inequality is the norm and there is no genuine attempt to make things more parative. The UK was the most equal society in 1972 compared to other Western nations, yet now we have fallen right down. It explains why so many great working class actors and actresses emerged in the post-war years, now this ambition is being belittled. Everything is being put down to individual effort, but without a big wad of cash, how can you sustain and support yourself through such intensive training, be it an actor, painter, doctor, lawyer . . .
    The arts is demonized enough but the grants and assistance isn’t there, especially for those with a degree already and I can imagine with the cuts in grants, those studying acting as a first degree will not survive big city living expenses. It is competitive enough already . . .

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