#InspiringFutureTheatre Day, July 2018. Campaign launch event at Northstead Community Primary School, Scarborough.
by Michael Simkins, actor, author and former UK Theatre Magazine columnist.
Many years ago my older brother, who wanted to be a jazz musician, was given this warning from one of his school teachers. ‘If you follow that career path’ he muttered darkly, ‘you’re going to end up as a lonely old man in an attic room with no carpet listening to Stan Kenton records…’
My brother ignored this advice and fulfilled his dream: and I’m pleased to say that some years later I, too, withstood similar advice from a careers specialist who told me that acting should remain a hobby in between seeking a ‘proper job’.
We were lucky to have parents and mentors who encouraged our passions and who gave us the support and confidence to follow our dream. Such instances, and such individuals, are worth their weight in gold when you’re young; which is why I was hugely thrilled to read of the UK Theatre initiative, Inspiring the Future of Theatre, to showcase the myriad job possibilities in the performing arts to a younger audience.
The campaign, created in conjunction with SOLT and a charity called ‘Inspiring The Future’ which connects schoolchildren with inspirational volunteers from the world of work, aims to show school children the wide range of potential career paths in the theatre industry; not only acting and directing, but stage management, set design, scenery construction, lighting, sound, movement, and much else besides; skill sets that often go unnoticed in the media but which are the lifeblood of live entertainment.
But the scheme is about more than merely showcasing career prospects; for by involving regional companies in the scheme, it cements the connection between schools and their local drama venue. Not everyone will want to go into showbiz, but by involving young people with live theatre we can nourish and enhance their personal confidence, imagination and self-worth, whatever their ultimate hopes or aspirations. I know it worked for me.
There are many admirable other initiatives available if you know where to look. I see the Old Vic has launched a free scheme entitled Front Line Facilitators, in which adults aged 18 or over can practice and hone their skills in communication, leadership and writing, all in connection with an Old Vic mentor, and with the chance to watch a production at the end. These sorts of schemes will ensure that live theatre remains relevant to future generations (as well as encouraging home grown talent into the industry in a few short years to come).
A final thought. The day I heard I’d got into RADA back in 1976 I was on the final session of a week-long civil service training course in South London. I felt it incumbent on me to tell the course administrator of my sudden change in career trajectory, but quailed at the thought – after all, Her Majesty’s government had invested a great deal of time and trouble in training me up and my boss was likely to be less than thrilled.
But when I told him my news he enveloped me in a huge bear hug. ‘Go for it Michael’ he whispered in my ear, ‘don’t do what I did and settle for a regular job. I’ve regretted it ever since.’ Ken Marks from Swansea, wherever you are in the world, I want you to know that your words meant a lot…