Much of the talk in the arts and theatre world of late has been about how drama schools are attracting only those from privileged backgrounds. For example, Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch, who spent their secondary-school days at Eton and Harrow respectively.
Nice, therefore, to note the initiative of the country’s first Ustinov Theatre School, which has just announced a training scheme for budding thespians completely free of charge. The scheme, financed by the Sir Peter Ustinov Foundation and based at the Playbox Theatre’s Dream Factory centre in Warwick, is open to 15- to 18-year-olds from all backgrounds. “Our selections are based on merit, not on background,” said Toby Quash, the director of the Ustinov Theatre School. “There shouldn’t be any barriers for young people who have genuine talent.”
The vision is the legacy of Sir Peter Ustinov, the Academy Award-winning actor and director, who strove to create a future in which young people could attain their dreams regardless of their background or origin. After completing the course, six students could be selected for advanced training at a drama school financed by the actor’s fund.
This would help to level the playing field. A report published by Ucas Conservatoires (the admissions service for the performing arts) shows that young people who live in advantaged areas of the UK remain around six times more likely to enter courses at conservatoires.
Among those who have raised their voices in concern over this are actors David Morrissey, Julie Walters, Brian Cox and Judi Dench. EastEnders’ casting director, Julia Crampsie, also expressed the view that the acting profession has become “too middle class”.
Nice, though, to know that someone, somewhere is putting considerable effort into trying to help to buck that trend.