Wednesday, 1 February 2017

School of the Year

I still can't quite believe that I'm writing this - but a huge thanks to all at The Stage, for once again voting The MTA its School of the Year.  We first won this award back in 2012. Back then our citation stated that we were one to watch as we were 'a new force for training' in the UK.  Fast forward to now and our citation acknowledges our growing influence within the training sector.  Clearly the deciding factor this year though was the #time4change campaign. We're still plugging away at it and currently have 118 great organisations/companies/agencies/colleges committed to better mental health practice. However with only 2 full time members of staff (one of those being me), we need to put our head's down for a bit and focus on the class of 2017, ensuring that they're ready to leave, and of course start thinking about the 2017 newbies too.  In other words. . . lots to do and we need to prioritise 'us' for a few months. That said, if you are interested drop us a line as 'we need you!'

If The MTA has any influence at all within this sector. . . and I am rather dubious as to whether we do or not, I'd like us to think about how we could all work together a bit more.  Drama UK is dead and gone (I won't be a hypocrite and hope that it RIP's . . . instead I celebrate the financial saving that each of its old members will now make), so how do we regulate our industry?

Personally I think that it needs a huge shake up.  So if we could influence anything it would be the following:

1) Foundation courses need to run something like Feb - Feb not September - August. I strongly suspect why they all currently run the same as regular academic year, but don't they need their students ready to audition by December at the earliest? If they started earlier in the normal academic year their students would be biting at the bit to get out there by December (which seems to be one of the earlier audition dates you could be given by a major drama college?).  I don't know about the other colleges but I really feel for the students who are on these courses who have to ask you for a later audition date as they're not quite ready yet. At The MTA that could mean that they miss out on a place.
UPDATE: Some foundation courses need to really look at the advice that they're giving their students about application dates.  We've had one course that advised people to apply early....for nearly all of them to give the same stock response of why they then couldn't accept their places.  Valid reasons...but a later application would have meant that people who were ready to commit to our course got the chance to audition earlier.  Check whether your foundation course really is open to you auditioning everywhere...and seeing a value in every course.  There's a few out there purely training you for one course? What is that about? It also makes a mockery of all the brilliant foundation courses working hard for their students.

2) Transparency....transparency....transparency.  From websites to statistics, I feel like things need to be clearer for parents making their way through this maze seemingly called 'the audition season'.  We should all be compelled to put up our latest stats, and not just promote a course on historical facts, or contemporary soundbites.  I think that we should all have to clearly state our prices. . . none of this headline figure with 'plus VAT' added in a smaller font next door to it.  What is your price? What additional extras will your students have to pay for if any? How many places are you offering? What class sizes does that equate to? What percentage of your students are working/are still in the industry after X amount of years? Where does the money go? Be prepared to explain it to parents. At The MTA we do open book accounting, which makes life so easy, as everybody knows everything, and if they don't, they can just nip into my office and see for themselves. I appreciate in a larger college that might not work, but students can still learn ball park figures for tuition/rooms/production.  What's the breakdown of the contact hours/week per term. Exactly how many weeks of tuition does a student have? Transparent facts e.g. if you're saying that 100% of your students have gained agent representation but that's because you have an in house agency that can facilitate that fact. . . state it!

3) This comes under No 2) really but what is the pastoral provision? Have they signed up for #time4change or are they actively affiliated with another campaign that actively promotes well being, and indeed do they acknowledge that Mental Health is an issue in our industry . . . and if so how are they attempting to help?

I think that Nos 2) and 3) are the 'least' that should be shared. . . however I'd also want to know who was going to be teaching me, the structure of the course, policy on casting (to ensure that the primary objective in their shows was promoting ALL their students. . . not just the one that they consider to be the best).

4) Let's sort out the mess that must impact on all of us at this time of year around students often paying hundreds of pounds for auditions, but then all of us needing to know within a ridiculous time frame - complete with a hefty deposit.  I say this as we are as culpable in this as the next college maybe even more so - however realistically, the business side of any college can't exist on uncertainties and maybes. We all need to know how many places we have to offer, how many people we're still looking for. We stop auditioning people once we're full, but then could get potentially stung badly if all of our 'chosen year' pulled out at the last minute because to them a 'better place' had been offered(by that I mean a place at their preferred college, etc) , or a funded place had suddenly appeared, as we refuse to have a substantial reserve list.  We have a financial penalty to try and discourage this (as do many others I know). . . but it happens, and the impact on the college could be huge.
I have no idea how to answer the above. . . but I think that we need to ask the questions, to see if we can stop students forking out for a load of auditions that they're not going to need. I think from our point of view too we need a better system. I know that every year we get frustrated during the earlier auditions as we get all excited about the potential to train someone, only to be told that they want to explore all their other options. Now this of course makes complete sense and is completely right and proper from the students' point of view, they don't want to take the financial hit on all the other auditions that they've already paid for but now have to forfeit - but then they did just waste the £45 audition fee that they'd spent on us, plus, very often, travel and accomodation on top. Plus as we cap our auditions, they had also prevented somebody taking their place. . . somebody who might have had The MTA down as one of their preferred choices? In other words whichever way you look at it the students are being financially penalised and that shouldn't happen.

5) Transparency over audition fees - and exactly what does your audition day/PM/10 mins look like? Justify your price? Even with over 100 students in the room at any one time?

6) Better education in schools for parents and potential students.  Does your safety net degree at X college really warrant you paying out twice for your child's training? Were those extra 3 years really worth it? Maybe they were - let's find out!  I feel so sorry for people that come to us having recently finished a degree course, and discovering that they actually know nothing about the industry at all. . . yet were sold a course that pertained to prepare them for it? Rename those courses 'life skills within the performing arts' or something, but don't sell them as the pathway to fame and fortune, which is a practice that definitely happens out there. So let's get the facts out to parents and let them make informed choices.

6) Some colleges already do this I know...but let's make it common practise - if they're holding a large reserve list, let the potential students know exactly where they are on that list. If you're 'caller No 200 on hold' then surely the chances are that you're not going to get in that year. Again. . . transparency.

7) Please make this be the year that someone explains to me why the majority of colleges charge overseas students so much more money.  We charge them exactly the same, as it costs me the same to train an oversea's student as it does a UK based one.

So there's my starting point, no doubt I'll think of other things throughout the year.  However all of the above aside. . . thank you. We're so thrilled - this is what happened after the award ceremony when I took the award back to the students: Enjoy the dullness of my walking around the college looking for them!

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