Royal Shakespeare Company to train deprived kids for theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is planning to develop training schemes, including bursaries, to help children from some of the most deprived parts of Britain to consider a career on the stage or behind the scenes.
Amid criticism that the arts have become dominated by a wealthy elite, Gregory Doran, artistic director of the RSC, says that the organisation will build upon its outreach programme to encourage disadvantaged youngsters.
Children from ethnic minorities will be among those targeted for training schemes.
"We can talent-spot those kids and give them an advantage which they wouldn't necessarily have," Doran says. "Jacqui O'Hanlan, our head of education, quite often says 'I saw this fantastic kid who really should go into the theatre'. But [they] would have no idea that that would be a route for them."
Julie Walters recently said she doubted she would make it as an actor if she were starting out today. She echoed comments from Britain's shadow culture minister, Chris Bryant, who complained that the arts were increasingly the domain of the privileged, such as actor Eddie Redmayne and singer James Blunt (which drew a furious response from Blunt).
The company is already working closely with schools across Britain, streaming plays to 60,000 children in almost 700 schools. But Doran says he is now developing training schemes, including bursaries and workshops, to inspire the most promising youngsters still further.
The RSC plans to include up to 70 children a year in workshops and bursaries to give them hands-on experience of all aspects of theatre careers, from making costumes, props and sets, to directing and producing, and will also establish a further two bursaries a season which will be more immersive, focusing particularly on performing.
As a national theatre, the RSC's support for training is all the more crucial as struggling regional theatres cut down on educational work, Doran says. "They simply can't afford it, so we can help to bolster that."
The amount the RSC will devote to the scheme has yet to be finalised. Doran says that although he does not intend to create another drama school, he wants to find the most promising children through the RSC's outreach network, to "help influence the training".
Doran says the RSC will also be pursuing greater ethnic diversity and more female writers and directors.
"It's when it doesn't become an issue that you've got it right," he says. In 2012, Doran staged Julius Caesar with a cast of black British actors headed by Jeffery Kissoon. When it was due to be filmed, he "put down the gauntlet", not wanting to find "everybody's white" behind the camera. They reached out to local communities and gave dozens of youngsters their first taste of theatre. Some of them have since started working at the RSC, and others regularly attend plays.
"That was an act of positive discrimination to … find those people and give them those opportunities," Doran says. "I was asking: why is it harder to find a [black] costume supervisor?"
One problem is getting that initial job, the first rung that requires "an almost free apprenticeship", he says. "You have to be a gofer for virtually no money," and few people can afford to do that.
Although initially focused on the RSC's premises, the bursaries and other training schemes will further involve regional theatres with which the company already has partnerships.
This summer's Othello will see black actors playing the Moor and Iago. "An extraordinary message," Doran says. "It stops it being a play specifically about race."
The RSC's winter season should reflect its dedication to promoting female writers and directors - and "great parts for women".
Offerings include Hecuba, a "searing" play by Marina Carr about war and womanhood, directed by Erica Whyman, the RSC's deputy artistic director, and Queen Anne, a "gripping" play by Helen Edmundson about the intense relationship between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough, directed by Natalie Abrahami. William Congreve's Love for Love will be directed by Selina Cadell.
"We wanted to do a play from the period of Queen Anne's life. We had looked at some of the plays by women playwrights of that period and we have a little raft of plays that we want to explore there," Doran says.
"But Selina's pitch with Love for Love was so strong, it seemed like a really good balance of the season."