Making the Grades

Recently there has been a report published where the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman has claimed that ‘Arts courses promote unrealistic prospects for young people’.

When I first read this, like many people I was up in arms but when as you look deeper into the claim, based on how hard the industry is to get into maybe there is some truth to it.

Sure the subject give inter transferable life skills like confidence, social skills and tools for exploring ideas which can all be used regardless of what industry you end up in, but what about if youngsters want to get into the arts industry? Are the education standards high enough?

The more I think about this and read more articles online about the subject being removed from Bacc the more I begin the question how anyone could take the arts so seriously when the early education standards are so low.

On top of that, it has recently been claimed that artists are turning down work in the regionals in the hope of making their big break in to the West End.

But here’s the reality of it all. Education is something that is needed to put us on the first rug of any industry that we wish to pursue. But education must be fit for purpose, it must keep up with the standards that are required for its industry. It should be able to give you further opportunities to better your game and put you in competition with others.

But most of the education outside of the classroom experience can only be found in the taking of opportunities. We all desire to be worth a lot more than we actually are, but the only way we can reach that worth is by practising by taking every opportunity that is presented.

With all this done there is still something far more important to be done, as we know everything happens in circles and to complete the art industry’s circle like any other industry the lessons learn must be shared, not just with peers but with the next generation.

So the education of the arts may not be up to scratch, but whose fault is that? How can the standards be raised, but above all who us responsible for ensure the next generation get to the top?

The Royal Variety Performance

The Royal Variety Performance is an annual command performance usually held in one of the theatres on Shaftsbury Avenue in London; it is usually recorded in November and then televised to the nation in December. 2018’s command performance was performed on the 19th November and at the time of writing the date for the production to be televised is yet to be announced.

The performance is one of a kind with its life spanning more than 104 years with a total of 88 performances with hundreds of performers and artists taking part and attracting more than 100 million TV viewers each year. It’s about the best of the best of British talent, which is what A Ticket 2 Ride Entertainment’s project The New Greatest Show is about, finding world class talent in working class community then take that talent right through to the international stage. More information on that project can be found on the front page of this blog on the right hand menu.

It was by request of the head of state that the Royal Variety Performance was first brought to life in 1912 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary at the Palace Theatre in London. This was just a year after the original planned performance that was meant to take place in the year of the king’s coronation to be staged at the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh. However the building caught fire months before the show was scheduled to be staged. The King would declare that all profits would go to the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, which is what the charity was known as back then.

It was some years later before the next production would be staged, as the events of Great War unfolding and taking many people into service including entertainers and artists. 1919 was to see the second command performance, this time at The Coliseum Theatre in London with the music director Edward Elgar.

It wasn’t until 1921 that the King suggested that the Royal Variety Performance would become an annual event, and was held at the Hippodrome in November and in 1923 returned to Coliseum Theatre. After a year break in 1924, The Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square would become the home of the command performance until 1926, with the Alhambra being demolished in 1936 to make way for what is now The Odeon Cinema on Leicester Square.

In 1927 the command performance was to take to take up residence at the Victoria Palace Theatre and in 1928 it would return to Coliseum before enjoying seven successful years at the London Palladium. It would be first broadcast nationally by the BBC in 1930.

The final performance that King George V attended was in 1935 which was his and Queen Mary’s Silver Jubilee. The king died 3 months later in January 1936 and the final performance at the London Palladium for the time being would be in the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.

The command performance never has found a full time home with its increasing popularity; the next 7 years found the command performance bouncing between the The Coliseum and The London Palladium. 1951 the back and forth between the same venues was broken with a stint at the Victoria Palace Theatre, the first performance that was not in front of the head of the Monarch. It would also be the last opportunity that King George VI would have to enjoy this production, however he was too ill attend, so Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret took his place.

1952 would be the first command performance in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in her position as head of state accompanied by Prince Philip. Over the next few years it would enjoy its success at many homes across the country, including Blackpool Opera House and Manchester’s Palace Theatre.  Most recently the command performance has taken residency at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was 1955 that this annual event begun to be televised on regular bases.

The Royal Variety Charity was it is known today is based in Twickenham, Middlesex. It is dedicated to giving support to those who have professionally served the entertainment industry and find themselves sick, impoverished or elderly.

The charity is believed to be one of the few charities in the UK that has an unbroken line of patronage from the reigning monarch since George V in the early twentieth century. Queen Elizabeth II is the current sole life-patron of the charity.

Established in 1908, the charity was originally called the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, and then in 1971 the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and then in June 2015, was officially awarded the title and name of the Royal Variety Charity.

The charity provides residential and nursing care for eldely entertainers at its own care home, Brinsworth House in Twickenham and also provides a nationwide grant scheme for those living in their own homes, of any age, living anywhere in the UK.

So for the entertainment industry is it an important annual event on ITV in December.

Brexit and the Arts

The one things everyone’s mind at the moment in UK and around the world is what has become known as Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union. Every channel you turn to you can hear how Government has turned on themselves with ministers resigning left, right and centre. But what does this mean for our industry, what does it all mean for the arts?

It is known that the arts industry is one the largest proportions of stay voters through the campaign. For the industry to survive it needs policies like freedom of movement for people and equipment, the current set up also allows access to further funding that would not necessarily be otherwise available.

So what happens when Brexit deal is reached and article 50 is triggered, what will this mean for our industry?

  • Well the price of tickets will go up or the number of production will go down
  • Restriction on funding
  • Delays to projects where equipment is shared cross boarder
  • Worker rights may be affected cross boarder

So what are industry representatives and unions negotiating to be part of the deal? Well it looks something like this:

  • The continuation of free movement
  • An immigration system that works for both members and their families
  • Tariff free movement of equipment
  • Democratic oversight of negotiations
  • A voice in any negotiations regarding tax and state aid rules
  • Continued membership of Creative Europe
  • EU regulation on copyright to be brought into UK law
  • A continuation of European Employee protection in UK law

The organisations are working hard, there is no better time to join a union in the creative sector as now, the more people they have to back this, the better the outcome.

Remember, the UK was Hollywood’s choice of location to film blockbusters like Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. All of which contributed £1.7bn to the UK’s economy. But film makers are worried that recruitment of industry specialists will become harder if the deal on Brexit is not right.

Lord Puttnam, who produced Chariots of Fire and is president of the Film Distributors’ Association, has said more investment in home-grown films “with a distinctive British voice could help to deliver a form of national re-branding”.

Rejuvenating Local Theatre

What do you do when it feels as though the support and enthusiasm for local theatre or Arts Centre begins dry up?

Firstly look at those who are at the helm of the organisation, those on the board, staff, anyone who has any influence. Their experience may well be credible; their past work to forward the organisation may be extensive, and above all they could be a decent human being.

But how long have they been there? How long have they have been doing what they are doing? It may not be their experience that’s the problem it may just be that things have gone stale. Maybe they have done so much that the ideas have dried up or their own enthusiasm away from the public eye may have gone. This is ok, it’s a perfectly normal thing to happen as human beings as long as you know that is the time to move on and do something about it, rather than just stay because nobody else will do the job.

Next look at the program you are offering the community, as well as the methods of advertising. If you are a volunteer run theatre then ideas should be coming from volunteers, the advertising and marketing should be supported by the volunteers. If this is not happening then you need ask why the volunteers don’t support the programme, maybe a review on the program is needed. Whatever you put in your program should be fully supported by the volunteers.

Next is to look at is the volunteers, now let be careful here, this isn’t about getting them all together and giving them an ear full because they are not pulling their weight. Remember that dealing with volunteers is very different from dealing with employees. If you upset volunteers it will have a far bigger shock wave effect then if you upset a paid member of staff and volunteers have no obligation to tell you what they really think.

So when it comes to volunteers it very much a self-assessment into what the organisation is doing in how they treat the volunteers, is change happening too quickly or are you expecting too much of them to do. I have written a whole blog on this which you can read by clicking here.

Finally looking at the source of funding, are you only getting funding from one source? Do they have any influence on what happens and how things are done? Could it be time to find a new source of primary funding?

There are a whole number of things that could be issue, but whatever the issue it needs to be dealt with at source, rather than beating round the bush.

Becoming family friendly


It has always been known that working in theatre as an actor or crew member with children can be hard, especial for single parents or where both parents are in the industry with school aged children. And working in not the only problem finding the time to go and get the work, the auditions can be difficult as well.

So are parents being pushed out of the industry? Do directors and producers really not understand the issues surrounding parenting? I am sure many parents themselves! All other industries where employees are parent, whether that’s full time, part time or contractor, there is some form of flexibility, there is an appreciation of the time and effort children play in the lives of parenting.

For the first time a childcare service has been set up in London for those artists and crew with children, at the moment it is only one day a week; a Saturday, the day when most productions have a matinee. It’s called the Matinee Club, and it aims to deliver a program for creativity to the young people who use it, while their parents are working.

Getting the childcare physically isn’t always the only problem, financially there’s a strain on parents in the Arts, it is time consuming looking for affordable childcare. Now you may argue that as parents they should know when they are working and therefore should plan ahead or that becoming a parent they should consider these things. But the arts and theatre particularly can be very unpredictable. Yes there are schedules, but like many other industries those schedules aren’t always based around social able hours and producers and directors don’t always give sufficient notice on changes when the things need extra practise or where there has been a rewrite on the script. It has been said before that as an artist you are ‘at the beck and call’ of the producer.

No theatre or production company can afford to run its own crèche as there is no guarantee it would be used regularly, especially with all the cuts to the industry. Not all cast and crew for every production would require it, but as a group of theatres; whether London or Regional, could have a central fund for childcare service and an agreed list of ‘approved’ services that cast and crew can use. Then when the services are used during productions or auditions the central fund contributes to paying of the service. Yes! The production company contribute, why not? You have said the individual is good enough to be part of your show as you gave them the chance at the audition and interview, and they would have told you that they have dependents!

As the Equity/SOLT agreement on pay and other allowances come to an end April 2019, Equity have put together a various ambitious package that looks at sustaining the future of the industry across the board.

Some of the suggestions being put forward for negotiation are rehearsals to be Monday to Friday, and no rehearsals on Sundays. Better conditions, pay rates, travel allowance into London to be raised, bigger venues pay cast and crew more.

But the one thing that really goes with today’s post is to enable the right to job share. Charlene Ford, a performer in London’s 42nd Street made history by becoming the first actor to job share her role in the show after returning from maternity leave. It was hailed by the campaign Parents in Performing Arts, in the article to Charlene explained to The Stage that it took a lot of conversation to have the notion carried by her producers.

Producers argued that it is best to have the same cast and crew night in and night out. But the truth is that never happens. Holidays, sickness, cast changes in long running shows, so it is just not a reality.

Producers and directors need to wake up the 21st century. Women do have children, they do have dreams, the do want to work. But they will negotiate, they will listen to what is being said, they will offer their own opinions on things that matter them. But above all, they auditioned for your show because they believed in it and want it to succeed and all they ask of producers and directors, just like everyone else in the industry is for a bit of give and take.

This industry may be being crippled by the government cuts in funding and the access to arts from primary education, but within the industry itself it needs to be sustained from the top, the producers and directors. The industry is at a point where these individuals at the top could really help and invest, but they have to listen to be able to do so wisely.