Why is an industry that is full of liberal people desperate to do right so afraid of change? Why do we all doff our caps at the same organisations and people with gratitude when they’ve deemed to give us a crumb or two?

I wrote last time about the carousel of annoyance that swings by social media about once every 6 months that is the ‘drama school audition fee’ scandal – yet nothing changes. Several colleges have stopped charging altogether but they don’t get a look in as the world goes crazy about one of the old guard colleges reducing their audition fees from £££ to ££. We’re meant to be grateful that one of the ‘big guys’ has decided to open up for the ‘poor people’. Press releases go out, social media celebrates the drawbridge going down (not acknowledging that it shouldn’t have been up in the first place, and also not acknowledging that you still need a metaphorical ladder to reach the lowered bridge). With the exception of one or two constant voices, we are satisfied & grateful with the tiny step. 

There are various well-meaning organisations attempting to make some of these dinosaurs more accessible to a more diverse group of people (both ethnicity and socio-economic), blindsided by history and completely ignoring the fact that younger beasts have been growing and maturing and who might actually ‘fit’ this Utopian diverse industry more. Nobody invests in them though – so we mould the ‘diverse’ to fit into the establishment. We see that as liberal progress. We celebrate the pathway, not question why the destination is always via the same address.

The stories that hit every so often of the same businesses within our industry that have a monopoly over us. The independent businesses built entirely off people looking for work, which have somehow gained a complete monopoly over our industry with nobody coming close to rival them in spite of various attempts. So powerful is their position within the industry they act as gatekeepers.  Again social media posts pop up every so often which everybody piles on in agreement, whilst the majority of people keep their annoyance on the down low just incase they ruffle the wrong feathers. I mean the industry is tough enough isn’t it, without making enemies? One brave soul will put their head up above the parapet, the industry paper doesn’t cover it (yet another independent business with a monopoly within the industry, though of course that makes a bit more sense as we are, after all, a niche topic), the companies keep their head’s down knowing that within the week it’ll blow over.  It was never a fair fight as after all . . . they are the gatekeepers. 

Having campaigned for greater mental health for years, the pandemic has obviously swung the spotlight onto this issue now. Interesting to see the people that once told me that I was pandering to the ‘eccentric’ now positively gushing in their acknowledgment that mental health is a ‘thing’, and indeed a thing to be dealt with.  Once again the PR cogs work their magic and press release after press release pop up around who’s doing what when in order to help our industry’s ‘mental health’.  Why aren’t we questioning what took them so long? Why are we so easily sated? Why are we just forever grateful for the crumbs, when if this topic had been taken more seriously years ago, we might have been a bit more robust as a whole to deal with the sh*tstorm that is the Tory government dealing with a pandemic. 

In the first lockdown, the BLM movement completely highlighted the systemic lack of diversity in our industry. We were all up in arms . . . we all acknowledged that we had to do better. Posts were shared and apologies given for the ‘sins of the past’. Did the revolution happen? Absolutely not. Many of the people that understood in that moment that representation matters, didn’t join the dots to realise that representation matters throughout the industry and impacts every diverse group.  We’ll all fight for a cause, but won’t really make the sacrifice for it. So what if your cast/production isn’t fully representative of the world today. You’re not going to make a fuss from within as ‘they’ won’t like it. 

The same argument stands around neurodiversity, ableism, size, anything other than the perceived ‘norm’ – which of course isn’t ‘normal’ at all. It’s a whitewashed, photoshopped world that has never really existed, but one that they believe that the ‘aspiring’ public wants to see. Negating to see that time and time again when we give people representation, when we put the mirror up to our audiences, the audiences will turn up in their droves to see themselves on stage.

It’s a vicious circle of blame, performers periodically call it out, lots of people agree, but where’s the root of all of this? Who is it that’s sat in an office declaring what the ‘perfect’ cast member looks like? I ask the question as every time one of these hot topics come up seemingly everybody across the board agrees, from producers, casting directors, agents, drama colleges. . . yet somebody, somewhere has perpetuated these ‘myths’ and kept them going. How many conversations are taking place offline that contradict what people are saying publicly, because that is 100% the issue here, and those offline conversations are the ones with the real power to change – whatever their public face is telling us.

The industry is still such a clique, and the members of that clique guard it with their lives. They form new bodies and organisations all the time in order to form a ‘wall’ that nobody else can breakthrough. They’ve got each other’s backs, the private businesses that are our gatekeepers won’t lead the revolution as they’re too busy fleecing our pockets in the name of commercial enterprise. . . . and we won’t say anything as ‘we’ want to work. 

When Thatcher destroyed the unions forcing us out of a closed shop scenario that was meant to free up our industry – allowing everybody a fair bite of the pie. Some 30 years on it feels like we never opened up anything, other than a revenue stream for the few to deprive the many. We see the same faces, we see the same organisations and companies all telling us that they’re not controlling our future, all pretending to evolve, with the press coverage celebrating the smallest of movements but where is the real change, and I guess as importantly, who the hell is sitting on the top of all of this refusing to budge and maintaining the status quo?