I’m not particularly well-off. My mother is a yoga teacher, so you know we aren’t raking in the big or medium-sized bucks. I didn’t want for anything growing up, we just never had name brands. Perhaps that means that I’m not the most appropriate person to talk about this subject, but I can’t help but make the observation: theatre is for rich kids.
There is a minority in my friends, acquaintances, and peers in the arts that come from money. This doesn’t make them bad people, untalented artists, or undeserving of any success they amass. It merely means they have a leg up on the competition, i.e. the rest of us. Their advantage manifests in a thousand tiny ways. Maybe they don’t have to pay rent or they don’t have to have a day job, allowing them the freedom to go on more auditions and book more jobs. Perhaps they have connections in the industry, making it easier for them to get into high-profile meetings with agents and producers years before the rest of us.
The problem is within the industry itself. As emerging artists, we’re expected to pay for headshots, a personal website, equity memberships, and a million other things just to start looking for work. Finding work is a full-time job in and of itself. Young directors spend all their time applying for schemes or assistant gigs that a director with 5 years more experience is going to get anyways. Green actors memorize sides and make self-tapes for commercials that won’t even consider hiring them anyway. We all end up doing fringe theatre for free because we can’t afford to pay one another. On top of all of this, we live in one of the most expensive cities in Europe and work zero-hour contracts for the flexibility in the off-chance the dream audition comes up.
In the face of the reality of our situation, I am not angry that some of us have a little extra help. There’s nothing wrong with using everything you have to get ahead in a rough industry. The frustration comes from the fact that many of us make art for the love of art and not to be rich, yet only the rich succeed. Looking at Hollywood, it doesn’t take much to notice that most of the young actors came from affluent families, to begin with. There are very few actual rags-to-riches stories.
Our industry needs to change radically. The “It’s-all-about-who-you-know” mentality is damaging to the very art form of theatre. If the only other people that rich artists know are other rich artists then those are the only people that get to make art and the only people art is made for. Theatre made by the upper class alienates the majority of audiences, resulting in the current situation in which the average person only sees West End shows (if they even do that) and good theatre becomes a rich person hobby.
Furthermore, we need to work harder to bring fringe theatre into popular culture. There is a void growing as cinema becomes more expensive. By normalizing the activity of seeing theatre, the art form opens up to the masses and includes more opportunities for those of us in the working class. Removing the classist advantages leaves more room for people of color, LGBTQ artists, and other minority groups that are underrepresented. This is a difficult change to make because we like to think that the world of theatre is a place where everyone is welcome without discrimination. We should all wake up and realize this is not true.
The biggest change is that we have to get over this mentality that there isn’t enough for everyone. The industry beats into us that there aren’t enough jobs, opportunities, or work for everyone. That is complete bullshit. It is a tool put in place to disrupt equality and disprove equity in the industry. It is a lie we are fed to keep us separated and controlled. Before this post travels too far down the road of anarchism and socialism, I should wrap it up. If you come from money please start thinking about how to put your advantages to work for the benefit of us all. If you are a working-class artist, remember that the tide is changing.♦︎
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