Liam Byrne, Minister for the West Midlands, has revealed plans for a major new Birmingham acting school according to a report in the Birmingham Post today.
Negotiations are underway regarding the ‘Brit School’, a school with an ‘arts led curriculum’ for 950 students aged 14 to 19, and designed to be a flagship project in the Eastside area which is the focal point of new development plans. The public are to learn more next month, but what we do know is that Birmingham City Council, Birmingham City University and Advantage West Midlands will all be major players in the scheme.
But why, when the country is so short of skilled young workers, are our public bodies encouraging young people into careers in theatre, television and the media?
Acting is not a profession that should be ventured into without considerable thought, and it is certainly not a career option that should be foisted upon impressionable young people who only see the glamorous successes of film and television. On average an actor will work only 11 weeks of the year, but many will never work at all. Big breaks are few and far between and life is tough temping between auditions, or signing on to the dole between jobs as is often the case.
Knowing the trials of a handful of young actors, all trained on intensive three year degree courses at the big drama schools in London, it is difficult to see why any young person would be encouraged into a life of heartbreak and rejection (not to mention poverty) unless they were quite clearly talented, driven and truly committed to the arts as a vocation. The trouble with arts jobs is simple – there aren’t very many of them, particularly when set against the scores of budding entertainers who want to perform and get paid for it. Nice work if you can get it, as they say.
It seems strange that taxpayers should be called upon to fund training more young people for a saturated profession when there are so many vacancies in numerous practical areas. And as Claire Short pointed out, the city already has the Birmingham School of Acting and Birmingham City University has developed a reputation for the arts. The school itself even appears to be a surplus.
Without intending to insult the artistic professions, it is still the case that the UK doesn’t need more performers. So why should we all pay for them?