I’m not really sure how this happened but over the past few years, the idea of elite training has become a bad concept, synonymous with “exclusive”, and frowned upon in an era when everybody should be able to access everything. I mean the roots of this are plain to see – elite training comes at a cost, and for the majority of people those costs are prohibitive. Similarly for lots of people “elite” training is seen as a thing steeped in a western culture vacuum, thereby blocking off so many brilliant pathways before we even get going.
I believe that elite arts training should be “inclusively exclusive” and by that, I mean that our industry is so much richer with a diversity of voices, different ethnicities and different demographics all coming together as one to create an arts scene that is vibrant and evolving. However, I don’t believe that we should become a “lifestyle” industry. I 100% believe that training in the arts makes people well-rounded, gives confidence and should be compulsory to all children, but I also believe that it’s OK to have a space where the best of the best train, and in those places, it should not be the buyer’s market. Selection for that training needs to be robust and selective. I’m so proud that in the 14 years that The MTA operated we never once lowered our standard. Even when financially it was a struggle, we found a way to make it work. Personally, the thought of accepting somebody that I truly believed was never going to make was abhorrent. I would have been nothing more than a grifter.
Somehow the arts have been dumbed down so much that the only equivalent that I can think of is if the National football team had to try out everybody that was vaguely interested in kicking a ball, and more than that they had to put a few keen but useless amateurs on the team. . . just cos those people really wanted to be in the team. It’s ludicrous, isn’t it? Yet that’s where many colleges are now when it comes to vocational training.
We can’t keep using the argument of “inclusivity” as a way of dumbing down elite training. We need to find people from all walks of life that meet the standard (and my goodness there are hundreds of them) and then we have to fund that training. We need talent scouts going around youth groups, dance schools, and state schools ensuring that it’s not just the nice middle-class kids that know about vocational training. Soccer scouts actively start looking for their next stars from 13 up so this isn’t a unique concept. We should have a national network where talented youngsters are scouted, nurtured (in their home environment) and then at 18 undertake “elite training”.
Why have we become satisfied with mediocrity? What’s the thinking behind the “cream will rise to the top” in overcrowded colleges – as that cream battles against a wave of at best “average” but very often “not that good”? We’re ripping off the people that are electing to train with us if we’re accepting them knowing full well that they don’t stand a chance of making it.
We’re in an overcrowded industry as it is, and year on year we’re just piling more “highly average” out into it, meaning that lots of extremely talented people leave our profession earlier than they need to.
I’ve genuinely lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people that came to work at The MTA because all of our students were good, the shock on people’s faces when they realised that all of our students could sing (and by that. . . I mean sing well). We were a musical theatre college for goodness sake – shouldn’t that be the norm? I’d hear story upon story of how college X had a handful of brilliant people but all the rest were. . . well. . . average.
UK training is considered to be one of the best in the world, hell that’s why so many colleges make a handsome profit overcharging overseas students. It’s supply and demand, isn’t it? Yet if we keep dumbing down our training industry we end up devaluing our arts scene, and at one point that was a big old jewel in the cultural crown.
We have to fund elite training though – and stop lying to people that £9K/year pays for it. Those colleges perpetuating that myth have devalued their own training, and eventually, I fear they too will pay the price for that Tory bit of spin. We need the government to be supporting the arts scene like they support elite sports. We need that support to be properly regulated.
We need a proper qualification for that training, a degree isn’t the one, it just sits uneasily within our industry. Like a funded apprenticeship scheme or something, properly regulated from start to finish.
Where people are looked after and not treated as conveyor belt fodder. Funding needs to be attached to results, and not to worthless bits of paper.
Back in the day of the PCDL colleges had to prove their track record, the funding wasn’t automatically gifted as it is nowadays to every degree course out there. Our industry needs to wake up to what’s happening – the dumbing down of our standards as everybody chases the pound. Now if that’s not a metaphor for Tory Britain I don’t know what is.