Saturday, 14 January 2017

Whatever happened to class?

Now as we all know, I am not one to rant and rave <ahem>  I patiently sit on the fence, pulling out the splinters waiting (and hoping) for the world to change around me.

Oh OK...I'm a ranter.  I admit it.  I get infuriated by things and either bore my other half with my latest bugbear or I come here to blog..and go on (and on)....(and on)...about it.  So this time I thought that I'd save my other half (as she hears the same moan year after year)...and bring it officially out into the open.

Yesterday The MTA started it's audition 'season'. We joined the multitude of colleges, filtering through the same group of people, looking to find the ones that 'fitted us'.  We have always done it a bit differently

  • We do the whole thing in a day, audition and decision by midnight
  • We automatically give every applicant written feedback. Feedback which has the subjective opinion of my entire senior faculty on it (so not just a general 'be better'. . . but good, constructive things that we've noticed, with the disclaimer that it's just our opinion)
  • We audition in really small groups - usually a max of around 15 these days, so that we can really get a sense of who the people are that we're auditioning.  
  • My entire senior faculty are there, so that we can decide collectively if we believe that we can get that person industry-ready within our unique 2 year structure.
I believe that I can confidently say, given that 100% of my students have graduated having secured independent agent representation, that our audition process works.  Generally speaking we choose the right people.  Of 144 students that have passed through our doors, only 5 people have ever just left the course. Of those 5, only 1 of them has no contact with us....the other 4 have stayed in touch to one degree or another, we know what they're up to, and are still around to gently support them, should they ever need us.

In other words, the evidence would suggest that our audition process is effective. 
My fear is taking the wrong applicant. This year we are asking applicants to pay £32k for the course. That is a huge amount of money for them, or their parents to find, so I want to do my best to ensure that our training means that they can at the very least, earn that money back within a reasonable timeframe.  With an increasing number of our graduates being in the fortunate position of paying back their loans early after graduating due to sensible job decisions (as opposed to sitting around waiting for ALW to knock on their door and instantly offer them a well paid West End lead), it does feel that we've got this bit right.  That said, I'll quickly add, that we're ALWAYS looking at ways to improve things. So there ain't no laurels that we're sitting on down at the college. I'll also put the disclaimer that we still do open book accounting so every staff member/student/parent is welcome to check exactly where that money is going (& our students often do. . . until they get bored of looking at the numbers)

We write to the applicants offering them their audition date, usually on the same day as they apply. We also put in capital letters in the subject PLEASE RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL, as over the years it's shocked me that people just didn't respond, so it was hard for us to be sure how many people were going to turn up.

I learnt in the first year that no shows, and in particular 'non informed' no shows was part of the 'gig'. People who had paid their audition fee, just don't show up.  We regularly have about 3 or 4 every session. I wrote a blog about how this was particularly annoying for us, as we cap the number of people that we audition, therefore you have literally 'taken' somebody else's chance of a MTA audition if you do this. Give us lots of notice and we can usually fill the space.  So the initial email has a link to that blog and asks the auditionees to read it (as much for them to understand that things like a no show have a massive impact at The MTA). 

So the stats improved, the no shows or late cancellations still happened, but not with as much frequency. We send applicants an email the week before to remind them that we're expecting them - but again we seldom get a response, and we rarely get told by reply that they're no longer coming. Nope. They wait a few days, then throw it into an email, with a pointless 'I'm sorry if this is inconvenient' line. It's not inconvenient to us - we get to go home quicker. It is however inconvenient to the people that are sat on waiting lists attempting to audition for us.

In the past two years there's been an increase in applicants wanting a later audition date because they're on a foundation course, and want to be 'as ready as they can be' prior to auditioning. Now on one hand I completely get that - what I don't get though is why are the colleges running their foundation courses to the same school year as the drama colleges? Shouldn't a foundation course run something like April - April? By that point people will have a good idea of whether they've been accepted into their 'dream' college or not, and it would mean that come Dec when the audition season appears to generally start, they are 6 months further ahead in their studies than they are right now? Food for thought there maybe? I mean it also means that you could go around the colleges en masse watching their final shows, getting a feel for places. . . months before deciding where your audition fee is going to be spent.

Anyway none of this is my real rant. . . here it comes.

I remember waiting and waiting for the letter to arrive from my 1st choice college, and that fear of dread every morning wondering if it was going to be pushed through the letterbox...as what if they had rejected me?? What was to become of my life? So when I opened the college I promised myself that I would ensure that all applicants found out that day. I wasn't going to do recalls, I would make the one day count as much as possible, and regardless of how long it took me (and in the early days when we all used to hand write our notes, only to have me typing them up every night) I wanted people to find out straight away. So that everybody knew where they stood.

So that's what we've done since opening in 2009.  Since 2009 I've been staggered by how few applicants take the time to acknowledge the feedback. We're not after a thank you for it (after all it might really annoy you, especially if the news isn't what you wanted). . . but just a simple 'got it' email would be great. However it's mostly . . . nothing.  Every so often on the day I rant about this and literally beg them to let me know whether they've received it or not, and on those days I can expect about a 70% return. Generally speaking though, it's only about 20% - 30% bother to acknowledge that email.  So all those drama college applicants banging on about 'why don't they get feedback when they're spending all that money'....think on. You have an obligation in that arrangement too.

They only have a fortnight to decide whether they're going to take their place, so if that email hasn't arrived, and we don't know their decision, they will lose their place. .  . because demand is such, that we don't 'need you'. We'll be seeing another group of people quite soon, and in that group will be people as good, if not better than you - so we'll simply offer them the opportunity to train with us instead. 

Is it cultural? Is it a generational thing that we don't bother being polite anymore? Do manners matter online? Are parents and colleges reminding these students to communicate? I know that some colleges are because they keep telling me. . . but do you need to nag them more?

We have a rule at our place that all emails and texts have to be acknowledged within a certain timeframe, and if they're not the student is issued a verbal warning.  Simply because I HATE rudeness.  It takes me considerably longer to sort out the feedback than it takes the applicant to write 'thanks and press send. 

I run a college practically single handedly (aided by a PA) and I'm always working on shows at the same time, yet I manage to acknowledge every single email that comes into one of my accounts. I work a minimum of a 19 hour day most days. . . yet still I manage to say thanks or no thanks to emails that are sent to me.  Honestly -  I do not believe that an 18 yr old college student is as busy as I am. I don't believe that my students are as busy as I am (my annoying mantra to them at moments of desperation over this subject).  I'm not moaning about my working life - I'm just stating facts, and contextualising why I believe that I'm able to sit in my ivory tower and say to students both future and present.....ANSWER YOUR EMAILS BECAUSE IT'S JUST RUDE WHEN YOU DON'T



Sunday, 1 January 2017

Working Together

When you write a semi regular blog you almost feel obliged to write a New Year feature.

I've been very torn about what to write, as in 2016 the world appeared to go crazy, in a year that I was instrumental in a campaign which was attempting to empower people to stop going crazy.

The #time4change initiative came out of a blog that I wrote in 2014 http://www.thereviewshub.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-support-each-other-in-2015/
10 months later and nothing had changed: http://www.thereviewshub.com/opinion-annemarie-lewis-thomas-taming-the-black-dog/ except that I was finding myself more and more on the periphery of our industry. All of my own doing I should add - nobody likes being called out, least of all me. However Equity, Spotlight, BAPAM, Drama UK. . . the list goes on, were seemingly doing nothing to address the mental health epidemic in our industry. Now in fairness to all these organisations they might have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make changes, but when lives are at stake I don't think that you wait 20 months to reveal your grand plan (which in the end is what happened).

In March, The MTA hosted a Mental Health Conference, and the indifference that I encountered was staggering. At the conference Equity reassured us that things WERE being planned, and we just had to be patient. Sadly that is not my best feature. I'm not a sitter. Be patient as people became patients? I don't think so. I had this plan, which in itself was madness.  I tried to 'sell' the idea to someone involved in one of the aforementioned organisations. I wanted the organisation's backing, as I knew that if they got behind it we could roll it out in a week! The vitriol that followed has spurred me on throughout 2016. Yes, I'm antagonistic. Yes, I'm persistent. Yes, I tend to think in bigger pictures. Yes, I'm Welsh and my mother's daughter, and if you think that shooting down my idea with a load of personal insults will stop me, then you have no idea about Welsh heritage at all, especially Welsh women! You say no - we say, "I'll bloody show you"!

Angie Peake donated her time, the #time4change Mental Health charter was written, and off I tweeted. I tweeted constantly for months. I emailed colleagues that I had once said hello to at various shows, conferences etc. . . any link to get me through the door to colleges, theatres, production companies and agencies.  I made sure that I had a few big hitters on board before announcing the charter, as I knew that by their very presence some would naturally follow.  Fast forward 6 months and 115 organisations have signed the Charter.

I never had a desire to run a mental health campaign, I just found myself compelled to DO something. Empirical evidence was growing which supported my long standing personal belief (as documented here) and yet nobody was 'acting' on it (ironic for our industry don't you think?).
That said, I also never had a desire to open a drama college - and look where that got me?

The campaign has exasperated me - I just don't understand why people won't join. Why can't they make a commitment to send out an email? Why are people reluctant to see that there's an issue here that we're not addressing? The bullshit that I've heard this year;  Smaller colleges who could enforce the charter in a heartbeat, claiming that they have no money to implement it? Strange that - as the most that it would cost them would be for a mental health consultant to train their staff, and to speak to their students. So the cost of a consultant for a day? If your margins are that tight maybe you should rethink your business plan!  Production companies and agencies that will 'think about it'? What is there to think about? I'm asking you so send out a PDF.  That's it? Other than BAPAM none of the major organisations mentioned in the 2nd paragraph have entertained endorsing or joining the initiative. Hurrah for BAPAM I say who, as we all know, put health (mental or physical) first. Were Spotlight or Equity to join us - we could flood the industry in one go. How disappointing that both organisations have been too busy to discuss the possibility with us. As for Drama UK. . . well I had always said that they were a waste of space. Their demise in 2016 will, I believe, spur our sector on to be world class, in both our training AND our pastoral care.

However the campaign has also exhilarated me. It's enabled me to meet like minded people. People that like me, don't give up at the first hurdle. People like Pat O'Toole from Rose Bruford, who was not only 'in' from the get go, but was out to get everybody else to sign up too.  Mountview and Arts Ed - surely 2 of the most established drama colleges in the UK signed up to the charter. Honest and frank discussions with Stephen from Mountview and Chris from Arts Ed, email chats with Nick from PPA, have all restored my faith in the industry. All four are people that want to make a difference. There is no competition just differences that make us all unique BUT with a unified fight against mental health that will make us all stronger. I can't wait to work closer with all the colleges that have signed up, as we all begin to learn from each other and to give each other support as we work our way through the maze of mental health issues that we are confronted with on a daily basis. The journalist Susan Elkin who has consistently backed the initiative, writing several blogs/features on it when others didn't want to know. Mark Shenton for kindly giving the campaign 'a soft launch' in one of his blogs. Just people restoring my faith in humanity actually, in a world that was appearing to stop caring about anything other than 'self'.

The campaign is ongoing - but given that I have a college to run, shows to write, and a young family to spend time with, it will now run in the background, ready to be sent out to anybody that's interested. The colleges have all agreed to meet early this year (2017) to work out how our peer supervision is going to work.

A couple of weeks ago I was humbled to learn that The MTA has been short listed for The Stage School of the Year Award, an award that we'd already won once, back in 2012. How brilliant that the citation acknowledged #time4change as something important.

I won't name the person that insulted and patronised me way back at the start of the year, as their name isn't important. However I would like to thank them - as they know who they are. If they hadn't been so bloody rude to me I probably wouldn't have been so dogmatic about making this thing work. I'd like to think that they knew that all the time. A paradoxical intervention if you like.

Here's hoping that #time4change continues to grow in 2017. I'm looking forward to meeting with BAPAM to ensure that we keep joining up the dots - as we are only ever stronger together, and whilst that slogan didn't work for Brexit, I still believe that it works in theatre, which after all, has always been about collaboration, and working together.

Happy New Year

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Actions speak louder than words

Let's just spare a moment shall we and think of all the editors, researchers putting together those end of year 'who we've lost lists'? Just when they sit back down to spend time with their families, another 'national treasure' or 'icon' appears to die - so back they go to the editing suite, no doubt to make everyone else's moment a little shorter in order to fit in one more well lived life.

Being Welsh I tend to have a very matter of fact way about looking at death. You're either here or you're not - simple. If you go, I'm grateful for having known you, and grateful for all that you added to my life.  Of course with close loved ones the pain is immeasurable for months, even years - but like all of life's scars, they heal over, making you a bit tougher in the process.

When Diana died in 1997, for the first time in my memory, we saw a collective, public outpouring of grief never before seen in this country.  For the Royalists, my generation had never experienced another Royal death, and I suspect that nobody had experienced a death so 'complicated' as Diana's . . . ever. From the People's Princess, to establishment outcast - her level of celebrity hit a new high.

Even further back in the 80's we witnessed far too many deaths for those too young to die. AIDS robbed the world of so many talents, we had almost become immune to death altogether.  Of course the fans cried, the fans laid flowers - but there was also a section of society who (wrongly) believed that these deaths were of their own doing.  Had they been 'straight' they would have been alive (of course these ignorant statements can be debunked in a second when you look at the evidence) So when half the world grieved, another half seemed to hold back with a religious fervour, refusing to mourn these 'self fulfilling prophesies'.

Diana though bridged that gap. The irony can't be lost that she was one of the first people to publicly break the taboo and misplaced shame of AIDS, when she simply 'touched' an AIDS victim - she had sent out a clear message to everyone that AIDS was just that, the name of a ravishing, cruel illness  - not some sort of plague of leprosy sent down to  wipe out the sinners!

Back then there was no reliable social media, or at least, no reliable way to get onto it if there was.  By the time you finished hearing that dial up tone, you felt like you had died, or your 'grief' had certainly subsided a bit. So we were all glued to the screens, as the main channels (and don't forget there that were only 5 then . . . 5 didn't count as no-one really watched it, and 4 was out simply because you watched major events on BBC1 or ITV.  A few people had their Sky subscriptions but it wasn't really 'a thing').

So what's changed? Are we losing too many too soon? Well yes and no really, but there are so many social and economic factors to keep in mind. Let's look at the 'easy' ones first. The young ones 'taken too early' by cancer or some other hideous disease. There's long been a conspiracy theory that cancer could be cured, but the pharmaceutical companies couldn't afford for that to happen. Whilst the theory can be picked apart I'm sure, it feels to me a little like the 'why don't all the main car manufacturers make a reliable electric car?' Well our economy is driven by gold and oil . . . you can see where I'm heading?

So for me this is where my Welshness kicks in. Yes it's sad, yes it's unfair, yes I know a whole load of other people that I would have preferred to have suffered in this way. . . however the circle of life must be concluded.

Maybe that's why all these deaths are really hitting us so hard in 2016? We appear to have supported the rise of some of the most ridiculous, dangerous and narcissistic  political figures in decades. Many of whom we feel like we woudn't miss, but all of whom appear to be missing the grim reaper, who instead goes somewhere that that takes a bit more 'joy' out of our lives. . . or at least seems to.

Many (not all) of the young ones that are dying have lived lives of great excesses, sometimes through addiction/mental illness.  We've forgotten many of the stories now (although the media are desperately attempting to remind us) - but I suspect in 'real years' they were actually much older than we realise.  You can't spend decades with drug and alcohol addictions and then be surprised when your vital organs have been worn out a bit quicker than you were expecting.  However if you look at the list you are kind of left thinking 'but when you were alive you really lived'

Finally there are the elderly who have lived to amazing ages. So can we really scream in defiance when an octogenarian dies? Hell they've had it all and seen it all.  In most professions people retired at 65 and go and 'graze in a field'. In our profession actors celebrate making that age, knowing that they've just hit a new casting bracket, so the work never dries up.  We remain in the public conscience as the elder statesman, still honing their craft.

However social media and rolling news channels mean that every death is amplified within our own echo chamber. The deaths somehow feel more catastrophic. There are the people who report every death like some contemporary town crier. There are those who are desperate to be 'close to the death' - so relate stories about how they once went shopping in the same supermarket as those people, therefore giving them an 'unique' position to vent their grief.  Suddenly 'a nation' mourns, whilst the news regurgitates the same old clippings of them, or plays on a loop the words of grief of our nation's other treasures. Whilst speculating widely on the cause of death, in order to give us an understanding, and give us a closure maybe?

The other night  I was incensed watching the news of George Michael breaking through. Firstly because once you've made the statement that someone has died, there's a full stop really. Where else is there to go with that (I appreciate that this is the Welsh in me though. . . and that they have to keep repeating it for 'those people just joining them')? However on this particular 'event' the reporting was appalling. The endless passive words of blatant homophobia being reported on, the utter lack of understanding of mental illness, self medication and addiction.  I felt like the world had taken a few steps back.  For any of you that follow my tweets (either my personal account @ALThomasMT or my 'work' account @theMTAonline) you would have sensed my annoyance and anger as several times I felt compelled to pick up my phone and ask them what the hell they were doing?

However there you have it don't you? Suddenly the death of someone not known to me, but someone that I can admire, has prompted me to 'tell the world' how incensed I am about a channel's reporting of the death. I can spew my viewpoint out to all that can be bothered to hear it.  I have entered the echo chamber.

Last night I was incensed by all those people celebrating the advocacy work that Carrie Fisher had undertaken to remove the stigma around mental health.  The tweets were eloquent, many hoping that they'd 'caught' the wave, and might even get a bit of a viral RT going.  Yet those same people who were loudly shouting about removing the stigma of mental health last night, were the same people that I had approached to join #time4change - and who had rebuffed the idea with various retorts. That stigma was too real to actually DO something. . . but it was OK to poke it with a far reaching stick to make sure that their followers thought that they actually cared about it!

Then in amongst all of this 'noise' is a family. A family that we don't know, who are the real mourners in the tale. I wonder what it must feel like to share your personal grief with millions? Are you touched that your loved one was revered and indeed appreciated by so many, do you just not notice it as you look inwards for strength from your loved ones - or do you wish that the rest of us would just go away and leave you to come to terms with your very real, very personal loss?

This phenomenon is only going to get worse, as we all cross lines that were put down for a reason. Personal space is ever harder to find - but find it you must.  The end of the world is not nigh if we all stick together and look after each other - but that includes actions not just words.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Mystic Meg

So this time last year I wrote: http://althomasmd.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/theatre-is-hardso-lets-look-after-our.html all about my Christmas wish, that we, as an industry, could learn to look after ourselves.  I asked that we would acknowledge that Mental Health was a major issue in the performing arts sector.  We launched the #time4change conference, giving people 3 months to get that date in their diary.

I guess the rest has become history. . . a somewhat chequered history but history nevertheless. The conference didn't get the support that we would have hoped for, in spite of various conversations which led us to believe that it would. However it did prompt us into launching the #time4change Mental Health Charter. An initiative that over 100 organisations are currently signed up to. A charter that we categorically know has made an impact throughout the performing arts industry.

We still need more people to sign up, but for a while I need to concentrate on running a college.  In the meantime, the writer of the Charter, Angie Peake, is giving ongoing (free) support to those people that have signed up, needing additional support to implement it.

I think a rather sad by product of the Charter is how jaded it's made me of certain organisations and of people in general. Organisations who decide to put petty politics before the greater good. Petty politics I should add that are entirely one sided. Suddenly Mental Health became competitive? What the hell is that about? Colleges refusing to sign up to the charter as they perceive it to be an initiative from another college. Somehow they missed the lesson that clearly stated that every 'movement' has to start somewhere - but then the momentum of change comes from the proactive masses. Or what about the ones 'already doing it'? If you're doing it . . . sign up and let's get some consistency throughout the sector then. Add your voice and experience to the 'movement'. Pop down from your ivory tower and teach us all what your experience has taught you so that we can all put that into practice.

It was only the other week that a basic thing dawned on me. I keep speaking about the 1 in 3 of our industry being susceptible to mental health issues - forgetting of course that this INCLUDES the very people that I'm trying to engage with.  I have to say that that realisation made me slightly less resentful about some of the vitriol I've been subjected to this year!

In fairness though I'm not just talking about the Charter. This year has seen such political upheaval across the world, and yet we have social media activists who believe that writing a constant flow of vitriol will solve the problem? I'm sorry but get off your backsides and DO something. Don't just plan to stand in Trafalgar Square with a load of other 'activists' thinking that shouting about the problem will make things better - it won't.  We need solution focussed thinking - not idealistic Utopian dreams (yes, I am saying that Corbyn will never get into power)

Every Tom, Dick and bloody Harry appear to be making a 'statement' about drama training being so expensive and becoming elitist - but what are they DOING about it.  On your twitter feeds and timelines you all agree, you bemoan the latest government, but are you donating some of your money to help out? Are you donating your time to help out? Why not make a statement about how we solve this mess instead of just nodding loudly (an interesting phrase. . . but social media somehow allows us to do this)

ALW shouts that we need more diversity in the arts, we ALL agree (or at least should do).  However this is a complex subject, and the answer lies right back at primary school level, as this is when a load of us decided to do this for a living. Then the next solution comes in secondary school when potential BAME performers AND their families need to know that this career is an option.  It's no good bleating about it on the West End stage - the problem is endemic in society and in certain cultures BUT we could change that with education. I would suggest though that everybody making a statement about how elitist the arts is ain't helping any struggling wannabes persuade their parents that this could provide them with a sustainable career!

Then there are amazing people who pull me back from the brink of exasperation. People who are running marathons, donating time, donating money, donating 'ideas' all for the greater good. Yet we don't listen to their understated voices so much do we - as they're not shouting about themselves.

We have people that are literally donating the price of a coffee to The MTA every month.  Those smaller donations for a college like ours become a life line. We're not LAMDA, able to raise £300k to ensure that 'everybody' gets a chance to train. However just 20 people donating £20/month would support 1 student a year who's already in receipt of a CDL.

I've met tutors from other colleges who are busting a gut trying to get the mental health package right. I've met with Principals, brave enough to say that they are sinking under the deluge of struggling students, which enables us to think with them about what 'we' can do to make a difference.  I've spoken with counsellors swimming against the tide of ever expanding colleges, where the management have given no consideration to student welfare.  Again though #time4change has enabled us to throw out life rafts to each other, so as one goes under, the rest can help pull them out. . . for now.  This is indeed an ongoing issue, but there are people prepared to stay open minded, give the initiative a go, and together we CAN and indeed WILL make a difference.

Finally, and this is my biggest revelation of the year - I've realised that I've officially become Mystic Meg! No really. . . look at the evidence.  For around 3 years I've been saying that Drama UK was a drain on resources to those 'in the club' providing nothing more than a name for people to bandy around. A name that was meaning less and less. Then Eureka this year it folds.  Hopefully it folded returning the £6k that the remaining colleges had paid into its coffers over the past year.  Hopefully soon it will finally do the decent thing and take down its website, which interestingly fails to mention that the organisation no longer exists.

I've said forever that Mental Health is an issue in our industry, and now finally, empirical evidence is being presented around the world categorically proving my hypothesis.

I've been speaking for years about the need for the training industry to become transparent. The Stage cottoned onto this a few years back, and just this week another blog was written about it. We're currently an industry relying on a reputation that's based on history and soundbites. Surely it's time for facts - especially now that people can't wave their Drama UK certificate in the air?

Procrastinate at will through the blogs of the year and then cross reference them to 'events' of the year - I am nailing these predications though.

Of course in reality we all know all of these things - but we don't chose to name them.  I opted rather consciously when I opened the college to pop my head over that parapet (as I did it in private often enough). The simple joy of being self employed is that you don't have to answer to anyone. You haven't got anyone telling you to wind your neck in.  We've just got to hope and pray that common sense prevails and an edit button is used every so often (a lesson that I'm still attempting to learn)

Merry Christmas - here's to a happy, healthy and PROACTIVE New Year - and thanks for reading my constant streams of consciousness.




Thursday, 1 December 2016

Life's a piece of sh*t

Following on from my last blog when I was discussing the merits of lying, I ended up touching upon the farce known as the IICSA.

However at the same time another child sex abuse scandal was brewing when footballer Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to reveal that he, and to his knowledge, some other professional footballers had been sexually abused by football coach Barry Bennell.  Bennell is a convicted paedophile, originally sentenced to nine years in 1998 after admitting sexual offences against six boys.  Since then he's been jailed a further twice.  In his own words he's described himself as a monster.

The scandal is slowly unravelling as more and more brave men are going public with their stories. Of course, with the unravelling comes more accusations, more coaches are being accused.  A helpline set up to deal with the situation said that they had received 860 calls in the first week. In the first three days alone they had 60 calls.

We live in remarkable times, in times that I for one, never thought I'd see.  I feel like the world is going backwards. As the far right march forward, and with the left literally just popping up their hands every so often as if to say excuse me, it feels like civilisation as we know it could go absolutely anywhere right now.

However there has also been, and sadly there will probably always be a constant - and that is child sex abuse. It's gone on forever....and will not doubt continue to go on, as it's just part of the depraved bit of human nature.  We can only hope that with each passing year, more and more survivors, and indeed the perpetrators, get the help that they need.

What really hacks me off though about all of this is twofold:
1) When it was all the revelations of women being abused, the media (both 'social' and real) all really questioned the validity of the women stepping forward.  Why now? Were they money grabbing? Fame hungry? The questions were relentless. One false witness out of hundred truthful ones and the 'I told you sos' were flying through the air.  Easier to focus on it not happening that it really going on obviously? I mean if I said that there was a 99% chance of you being OK after an operation, you'd probably go for it wouldn't you? You wouldn't ponder the 1% for too long. Yet when the percentage of allegations proved to be truthful, everyone jumped on the tiny percentage of deluded liars, trying to jump on a band wagon.   It's not even child sex abuse that this happens with. What about the rapist in the states that got an easier sentence because he was good at sports? Donald Trump has allegations coming out of his slimy ears - but it's easier to dismiss all the women as liars and opportunistic isn't it?   Why is that? As each professional footballer has stepped forward he's been instantly believed? Maybe one of them is trying it on? Jumping on the band wagon? Of course that can't be right. . . yet the only difference is gender.
2) When oh when are people going to stop being surprised that it takes survivors years (if ever) to talk about it. Every time this topic comes up I read some comment or another about 'why didn't they say sooner'? I mean what the hell is wrong with people?  On one hand I'm delighted that their life has been so rosy, and they are surrounded by people skipping and dancing through the daisy patch of life without a care in the world. Maybe I'm jealous, because in my world, as a teacher I've heard the same old story for decades.  I've heard my friends' stories.  I've seen how painful it is for somebody to say those words.  I've seen the emotional turmoil, low self esteem that child sex abuse leaves them with. I've sat as a student's had a flashback and seen the pain etched on their face.
Why didn't they say sooner. . . because they couldn't. Because people like you, the people that don't want to leave the Daisy field, have missed the fact that the flowers are blooming because they've been covered with manure.  Any whiff of that nonsense and you're out of there. You just want to believe that life can't be that bad.

Experts believe that we're only hitting the tip of the iceberg with child sex abuse. They also believe that we don't have the resources available to us right now to deal with the fall out.

Maybe they should simply move to another Daisy patch, and forget about what actually makes life real.

We should be celebrating ALL the brave survivors who chose to speak out. We should attempt to understand WHY people take so long....and then just celebrate the fact that they did it at all.



Saturday, 26 November 2016

Liar, Liar, pants on fire

Do you remember the film Liar, Liar? It starred Jim Carrey as a man whose son's birthday wish was that his dad would stop lying.

It's an interesting concept isn't it lying? I mean we all do it. To other people ("no I didn't notice that the bin was full otherwise I would have emptied it!"), to ourselves ("I'm not drunk, I've barely had anything to drink"), to the stranger on the street ("no I'm sorry I don't have any change") In fact lying is a part of life.  When does a lie become more sinister though? When do we cross the line?

Recently I've been in receipt of a couple of lies, and to be clear I'm not talking about the regular student lies ("my alarm didn't go off", "TFL is a nightmare", "of course I've learnt my lines"), but much more considered lies.  Now as I wrote in an earlier blog I believe that the concept of truth is complicated. We can all have our own interpretation of an event. We can all believe that we're saying our truth - so then what constitutes a lie?

I think that a wilful misrepresentation of someone would constitute a lie. Blaming others for your own shortcomings; but then here's the rub - how do you defend yourself against a lie? It invariably comes down to your word against somebody else's? Who's to say which person is telling the truth? How do you protect your reputation without sounding pathetic?

When I first opened the college I got into lots of internet forum discussions about my plans for this new concept in drama training, and even though I was sure that I knew what I was talking about - I got randomly called a liar.  Just a few months ago, a similar thing happened, and it didn't matter how many facts I presented to substantiate my 'case' (in this instance I was saying how Drama UK would be folding any day, and I was attempting to reassure someone that I had never attempted to apply for membership. However this other person was adamant that I must have applied....not only that but also that I therefore must have taken an anti-Drama UK stance because we had been unsuccessful in our (non existent) application) the person that I was discussing it with was 100% sure that they were right??

We're currently in the middle of the mother of all 'he said, she said' lies at the moment with the ongoing saga of the IICSA. The infamous inquiry which was supposed to be the government finally truly investigating all the allegations of institutional child sex abuse in the UK. Well at this moment in time it's reading like a workshop for a new Ray Cooney farce. I mean they can't even find someone to chair the damn thing effectively. Evidence is being dismissed or in many cases lost, before things can be investigated. Then worse of all, slowly one by one, the support groups are leaving the inquiry - and they're leaving because they just know - that once again their word is not going to be heard. They are going to be called out as liars.

I've seen a National organisation be embroiled in a scandal, and I've seen how effectively they managed to sweep it under the carpet.  Accusations weren't even investigated. Evidence was lost.  The media wouldn't touch it, and injunctions were being issued left, right and centre. The establishment (whoever 'they' might be) looked after their own.  What they definitely didn't do, was to look after the interest of the 'child(ren)'.

This isn't lying though is it? This is denial? Or is it something much more sinister that's rippling under the fabric of our society? Is this a reality - but one that nobody wants to face?

What society needs is a big old BS detector.  Someone needs to go onto Dragon's Den with a contraption that's more compact than a regular metal detector, but is as accurate as one of the really expensive ones. The polygraph can be beaten (. . . I mean someone should really tell those people on the Jeremy Kyle show about some tricks/drugs that could help them to beat that little 'ole machine) - so a BS detector is the answer.

With that in mind, we could all stick with the rubbish everyday lies. The ones that we shouldn't say - but we do ("sorry I was late, the bus didn't turn up" aka "I just wanted to finish watching a really good programme" or "just checking that you got my email, it's just that my server's been playing up" aka "I emailed you days ago, why the hell aren't you answering me?"), but when it came to the important things like protecting a person's reputation . . . or the other side of that coin exposing the case of the paedophile rings that are being given a tacet permission to continue in our society. . . . the ability to truly trash a person's reputation. . . we simply turn on the BS detector, project the findings on a huge display, and all move on with our lives, with lessons learnt, and the appropriate punishment given.
Simples

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

#loveahashtagday

Wow....everything gets 'a day' now doesn't it? Every illness has 'a day', practically every job has 'a day'? What is that about? Is it a hashtag thing? Does 'a day' work? Today is #lovetheatreday will somebody see that hashtag today that has never been to the theatre and think 'I know...I'll give it a go. . . after all they all seem to love enough to give it a hashtag?'

Then who am I to talk about hashtags? I based the entire Mental Health Charter around the hashtag #time4change (I mean I even used 4 instead of for. . . cos that's how things rock in the 140 character world called Twitter)

Originally this blog was going to be about so many thoughts - how it scares me that people are advertising courses just as a 'West End thing'....like theatre stops and starts within a few postcodes? How sad that is, when some of the most creative, exciting stuff happens way outside London. How I didn't think that that was healthy for young professionals - as if that's the only goal, then the majority will fail...and what does that mean to them?

Then I was going to write this about how interesting I'm finding it at the moment, seeing phrases that I categorically know were 'created' by the incredible advertising gentleman called Toby Richards who had donated his time to The MTA back in the day because he believed in our ethos....now being in common usage throughout the industry. How back then I disagreed with Toby over so many of them, as I just didn't think that they 'worked'...but then I remembered that he was a marketing guru for a reason, and I wouldn't allow him to come in and change some of my music. In other words, we all have strengths, and the strongest people are the ones that recognise their weaknesses and work with them.

Then I was going to write a blog about boundaries, and about how important I consider it to be that staff and students don't confuse socialising with networking and vice versa. How strict boundaries should be in place to protect staff AND students from mixed messages that can confuse studio dynamics.

However, one thing just kept coming into my mind...it's Christmas. Christmas is definitely coming. On Monday I started rehearsing this year's panto. . . so I KNOW that it's Christmas very soon.
However, Christmas could maybe even should be hashtagged #crises. Christmas is one of those times when you can be surrounded by people - yet feel so alone. The worse feeling of all.

Actors, musicians, techies up and down the UK will be in 'strange' cities this Christmas, cooking the turkey or nut roast with their panto families, as it seems easier than attempting the Christmas commute, and all the dangers that that entails e.g. will 'work on the line', mean that you're sat on a replacement bus, when you should be on stage for the Boxing Day matinee?

There is no sadder time than seeing everyone so happy, so optimistic for their future, when you are personally struggling.

UK Productions, one of the countries more prolific panto companies has signed the #time4change charter - hopefully, their staff have already received the charter, so people that are already experiencing some mental health difficulties have had warning flags raised.
Some regional theatres e.g. The Nuffield, Wakefield Theatre Royal - have already signed the charter. Meaning that their 'guests' this Christmas, will have easy access to information on mental health crises centres in that area. These things over time WILL make a difference. They are the start of a much bigger conversation.

Then all those thoughts led me to this. . . the crux of this blog...where are all the other colleges? Why is there a resistance to signing up for #time4change? Are people really just so politically driven to think that because another college came up with the initiative they couldn't join up? Or are people thinking that they've got this sussed already? Are your 'policies' really working? The evidence would honestly suggest otherwise.

More and more evidence is being sent or delivered to me about how there already is a mental health crisis in our colleges. We know that you're inundated with people needing your services. We know (as one person told me) that it's like a Tsunami.  Let's face it, we know that the colleges expanded without a thought to pastoral provision, and now everyone is talking about Mental Health, students are using the opportunity of breaking away from home to start to explore their own, deep seated concerns.  Please let's work together and create the most supportive, safe environment for ALL drama and technical study students in the UK. Let's not make this about politics...let's just accept and act on the fact that it's #time4change.

I want to sit in a room with ALL the other colleges and thrash out a plan that could help everyone make the most of their resources, whilst supporting students and staff.

You have to be in it to win it. Rubbish phrase....I know....but our strength here could be in our numbers. Now what was that about recognises weaknesses and working with them?