Drama Schools, it's time to drop the act.
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Associate Director, Ben Humphrey, responds to The Stage's poll on whether UK Drama Schools should be scrapping their audition fees.
Last week’s The Stage featured an article regarding Liverpool Theatre School’s decision to scrap their audition fees and a poll asking for people’s take on whether such fees should be a thing of the past for all drama schools. Unsurprisingly it was an overwhelming ‘yes’ from the readership. I couldn’t agree more. I’m sure that the outcry from drama schools will be;
“But the administration. Won’t somebody think of the administration?”
Now this implies that when an application from a budding young performer crosses the desk of the
admissions department, it is poured over in great detail, analysing a candidate’s suitability, their look, their experience and how they might fit into the school. That does not happen. If it did, then there might be some validity to the ‘administration’ battle cry. I have only once known an individual be refused an audition to a particular drama school, and this was because they applied when they were 15, believing (in their zest of youth) that if they were good enough, their age wouldn’t matter. Students are given the date and time for an audition (now emailed to them rather than posted ‘like what used to happen in my day’), and your fee is processed. It’s only after the initial round of auditions that the administration steps up a gear. Because that’s when all those things I’ve written about above start to happen. So, there might even be an argument for drama schools charging for a second-round audition, but certainly not in the first.
Auditions are the cost of doing business. They take time and yes, they also create a certain amount of administration, but that’s life. For the Rep, I have auditioned close to a thousand people as the Associate Director. The thought of being able to charge for those auditions fills the producer within me with glee. At fifty quid per audition (not to mention recalls) I could have funded an outreach programme, a writers’ lab, and two TIE productions with the funds raised. So why don’t we? The reason is twofold. 1. No one would want to audition for us. 2. I would be severely limiting the field of candidates who could apply. From a director’s point of view, it just doesn’t work.
I’m not naive enough to believe that drama schools don’t need the money generated by the audition fees. I’m sure they do. But why not be honest about it? It makes a profit. Let’s just look at the maths.
In 2012 The Guardian reported that the Central School of Speech and Drama received 103 applications per place for their BA(Hons) Acting Course.
The class of 2018 consisted of 16 students. Assuming that the numbers haven’t varied in any considerable way, the financial information will not look too dissimilar to this.
103 x 16 = 1648 (Candidates Applying)
1648 x £55 (The current fee) = £90,640
That’s just for one course. If the cost of administering these auditions is truly £90,640, then it would be worth considering the outsourcing of the audition process. It would be far more cost-effective.
Of course, there are schemes in place to help lower-income families. Currently any family income under £25,000. This programme is a good one. But this is little comfort to the families on £25,001, who could well be looking at nearly 4% of their annual income spent on auditions, travel and accommodation for drama school.
Drama School audition fees are divisive and limiting the future of the industry. It’s time to drop the act and just call it what it is. It is an income stream. That income stream may well be needed, but there must be a fairer, less divisive way of generating it. Financially punishing potential students who struggle to travel to auditions let alone afford the hundreds of pounds that they are expected to shell out for the privilege of attending one is stifling the creative talent the UK has to offer; it’s time to put an end to it.
Blog posts, interviews and commentary by individuals do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Worcester Repertory Company.
Ben Humphrey is an Associate Director of the Worcester Repertory Company, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Associate Research Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Worcester and Patron of the Royal Air Force Theatrical Association. He trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and is currently directing Macbeth with The Young Rep. He will be transferring his production of A Midsummer Night's Dream to the International Shakespeare Festival (National Theatre of Romania) in May 2018 and appearing in Hound of the Baskervilles at The Commandery this Summer.
You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHumphreyUK