Every year when a new intake joins the college we ask our graduates and 2nd years if they have any advice for the newbies. Without fail one person will always say that to ‘survive’ #theMTAway they need to expect the unexpected. Now to qualify that really quickly – what they’re referring to is our penchant of springing surprise auditions on them all the time. We do it to train our students not to be afraid of auditions, to almost see them as a game. Successful or not, just to have taken part means that it was an audition ‘banked’. None of us ever know when the payout of that deposit will be, but if you did your prep, it will eventually pay you back.
Well, this week’s event has made me really reflect on that phrase. Monday was truly horrific. Since the Board voted not to run next year late on Friday evening, it’s fair to say that my weekend was . . . difficult. I still had a show left to finish writing, and it’s REALLY hard trying to write a comedy when you’re living in your own private hell. Just to make 2021 really perfect, just a matter of days earlier I had also been home to Wales to attend the funeral of a really close relative. It had been one of those tragic diagnosed one week died 2 weeks later sort of scenarios. With my wife looking after the children I ended up locking myself away in the office for the weekend writing, grieving and stunned actually.
In a bid to support our students when we broke the news I was flagged by Jon Harris, the Chair of our Board, Sam Hull, a Trustee but also one of our original cohort (so she’d been there on the day that the college opened), plus faculty members Josh Mathieson (Head of Voice/VP), Giles Taylor (Deputy Head of Acting) and Tilly Vosburgh (Head of Acting who had literally ubered across to us after finishing a morning shoot).
The next hour was a blur really, emails scheduled to go out to incoming students, staff, supporters, 2 year groups to tell, a social media live in a private group to tell our graduates. Here’s what I do remember though – the first years whilst devastated were instantly galvanised into a group of action, even though the situation was desperate we still managed to find things to laugh about (a very important MTA trait). The irony that they had literally just finished a MT class looking at rep only to discover that the song of the day had been “Tell Me It’s Not True”? I mean WTAF?
The 2nd years were equally stunned, but recognised instantly that they were in many way unaffected by the decision (other than the lack of free dance classes moving forward), so immediately after we finished explaining the situation to them – their response? They asked to go across to the other studio to support their friends in the first year. It was as beautiful as it was devastatingly painful to watch.
Then this is when it all changed – as I had made the decision to personally tell our graduates (college for life and all that, so we have regular contact with them, and this was far too important to just send an email). I nipped into their private FB group to go live and tell them (I should add that the only other time that I’ve ever done that actually was when it was announced that the UK was closing down for a global pandemic, and we went live in all our groups to reassure them and tell them that we were around to support them). As with our students, we explained our financial position in detail as we’re always transparent with our students, yet even when I made it clear that we were looking to find stupid money very quickly, they were instantly galvanised to try and help.
By that evening a group calling themselves “The MTA Community” has started a Go Fund Me, we had already been contacted about the potential of some larger donations, and by the time the news went public at 7pm it felt like this kamikaze juggernaut that I’d been trying to steer for the last few months had already been taken away from me, with a whole group of people suddenly attempting to steer it instead.
It was a conscious decision to put out our statement on our own terms via our social media channels, as for quite some time now it’s been evident that our industry press has a clear bias supporting the Federation of Drama Schools, and their clickbait social media headlines invariably belie the story of the articles held behind a paywall. We had nothing to hide and A LOT to say, and we wanted the full story out there. Whilst we felt that it was too late for us, we know that we’re not the only college struggling with policy decisions designed to push out true vocational training.
Never in a million years did I think that our post would have the reaction that it did. We felt that we were such an insignificant cog in this beast of an industry that we would be gifted the dignity to slide away quietly. I was aware that we had facilitated change in the training industry, especially around all the mental health stuff, but even that felt like it had been sidelined recently having heard the absolute horror stories that were spilling out in the media. Organisations that had signed up to the #time4change mental health charter had clearly done nothing more than offered lip service to it given what else was alleged to have been going on in these colleges.
How wrong we were. As people that work with me know I’m fastidious about responding to messages instantly, invoices are literally paid on receipt as I just like to keep on top of my work. However, there was no way that I could keep on top of this. Once I’ve finished this I’ve got some serious catching up to do.
We still don’t know what’s going to happen, we still haven’t secured all the funding that we need, however, we have now said that IF we did reach our £250K goal which would enable us to end the course properly for our current first years, we would also run one more first-year group, only this time with no guarantee of a 2nd year, and as the £250K is essentially paying for “ghost seats” for the students that we failed to attract, we committed to filling those seats with disadvantaged students who would never usually be able to afford a vocational college. We’ll hold auditions for a diverse group of students who would like to train #theMTAway for a year. They’d get to do 3 shows with us if nothing else.
My only unfulfilled dream around The MTA was to find a way to fund 50% of our places with 50% funding already in place. Maybe, just maybe our final year would finally allow me to reach that goal. A bittersweet irony, but a hugely gratifying one at that.
The story goes on. . . .
Here’s a link to the Go Fund Me page: https://uk.gofundme.com/f/save-the-mta