My name is Tom Stocks and I am an actor. I have also been running the Actor Awareness campaign for 2 years now.
The aim of the Actor Awareness campaign is to raise the awareness of the various disadvantages that working class actors or aspiring actors often come across in the industry. Through this campaign I want to give working-class actors like me a voice and a network of likeminded artists who can encourage and support each other.
The campaign is going really well, with an overwhelming response from all corners of the industry, including the support from newspapers, bloggers and well-known working class actors. The reaction on social media, especially Twitter, has been incredible. However there is only so many times you can tweet about the issue, we need to tackle it head on, but what are the things that need fixing?
The deeper I look into the issue, the more apparent it becomes to me that one of the main factors affecting working class actors is money. 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 that it acts as an inspiration blocker, because how can young adults watch regular theatre and be inspired into the industry, like I was, if young adults can not 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 theatres 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 it is 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 is not all doom and gloom, but with the current economic crisis, grants, sponsorships and funding are drying up. Private grants such as a DADA is still an option, but are not given to everyone. It must be said the 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, and leaves only one category; the middle-class. A senior lecturer at one of the top Drama schools once told me that in the current climate, raw talent is not 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 maths.
If you manage to find the money for Drama School, or you choose to go down the route of University or 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 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 does not 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 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. I recently read that a new research revealed that actors from working class backgrounds make up only 10% of the profession. “Just because you are from a working class background does not make you any less talented.”
What we can do
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.
Here’s a few ideas of the things I would like to do in the future but I need your help and feedback to make them happen. Which one do you think would work best?
- A) A documentary about life as a working class actor, hearing your real life stories and showing them on screen?
- B) Replicate something along the lines of an Ideas Tap organisation?
- C) Hold an actors market, offering and showcasing reasonable priced headshots, showreel editing, acting classes, theatre companies etc?
Get in contact with me and let me know which one you think would work best. Write on our Facebook page and/or our Twitter using the #actorawareness with your choice, either A, B or C. Also, follow the campaign (@actorawareness) and/or me (@Tom_Stocks) for news and updates, and feel free to support the campaign!
So hopefully this gives you a real insight into the Actor Awareness campaign. However at the moment I am just one guy trying to manage and build a well established company that can make a difference, but I cant do it without your help. Please if you have any ideas or can help with any current ideas, get in touch via the social media above and hopefully together we can become one voice and together we can fix this broken industry.