British Acting Conservatoires and Race

Tuesday 7 December 2021.

Over the past two years practically every major British drama school conservatoire has faced serious allegations from students and staff for failing to address systemic and institutional racism and sexual miscondcut.


In 1975 ‘Going on Stage: A Report to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on professional training for drama, stated,

‘ The proportion of black students at Drama schools did not reflect sufficiently the demand for training among the black community. Part of the reason for this is the fact that it is still uncommon for directors to cast black actors in roles which, while not specifically demanding a black actor, could nonetheless perfectly well be played by one. If drama schools were prepared to experiment with integrated casting to a greater degree in their public productions, casting directors might well be prepared to follow suit.’

This was a key moment where the issue of racial diversity within British actor ‘classical’ training had been addressed in this way. In the 45 years since then, racial diversity has hardly evolved, the training techniques have not evolved, the curriculum has not evolved, and anecdotal evidence suggests that racial discrimination and sexual misconduct by staff members has worsened.

Does the training continue to be controlled by and centred around those who stymie change and represent a privileged white elite? What has been the conservatoire and industry response to tackling systemic racism and alleged sexual misconduct, will decolonising actor training actively address the abuse of power and interrogate the endemic nepotism of who gets to teach, how they teach and what they teach?

British actor training is at a critical stage yet there still appears to be resistance to the significant shifts required to create equitable change. The curriculum, pedagogy, tutors and leaders are under scrutiny. Acting conservatoires across the four nations are now under siege and the purpose and nature of actor training is now under review.

The arts are positioned in a moment of great potential: industry, training conservatoires and academic leaders are being held accountable to create more ‘inclusive,’ safeguarded training centres, artistic programmes, opportunities and mediums.

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