A new study has shown that working class actors are earning less than their middle-class counterparts. It suggests that almost three quarters of British actors come form middle-class backgrounds, despite the fact that only 29% of Brits are middle-class. This story has seeped into mainstream media, surprisingly, not just specific news sites, like The Stage.
The study conducted by LSE and Goldsmiths University claimed that there is a ‘class ceiling’ in British Performing arts, which deters working class actors. Researchers analysed the responses from 402 actors for ‘The Great British Class survey’ and interviewed a further 47 actors themselves. The responses showed that just 27% of actors were from a working class background, and out of the 47 actors interviewed – 5 of the working class actors had attended a major London Drama school or Oxbridge, compared to 15 of the middle-class actors. Government statistics show the proportion of middle-class in the UK to be 29%, however 73% of British actors are from the middle-class. This shows that succeeding in Theatre is heavily skewed towards the privileged. This suggest a form of discrimination towards the lower-class that was previously seen in well paid or authoritative careers in Britain – such as Doctors and Lawyers. The paper also showed an average lower salary for actors from a working class background. Responses from the actors also suggested that they were offered a more limited range of roles – this could be due to acting skills, however it is more likely to be accountable to this division in the classes – This can also be shown in auditions, where some actors have said that having a working class accent has weighted against them- one actor being asked if he had ever considered going back to being a plumber. The paper wrote that “The ability to call upon familial wealth shaped the experience of these actors in myriad ways. It provided insulation from much of the precariousness of the labour market, particularly the need to seek alternative work to support oneself between acting roles,” This can also be accounted to the fact that even just the auditions for drama schools are expensive, let alone the fees and living in London, studying as an acting student, where attending the right social events is crucial; and the need to see productions in the west end, or even putting on your own show and taking it up to Edinburgh – See where I am going with this?
Last year Christopher Eccleston told the Telegraph that to succeed in the harsh profession “you need to be white, you need to be male, and you need to be middle-class”. This quote brings up two other very important discussions to have ; racial inequality in theatre and film- especially regarding the recent #Oscarssowhite; and gender inequality in theatre and film; I will, however save that for a later date, as to save me from getting in a bad mood, and a four page rant. But these are issues that need to be brought up and need to be discussed, by everyone, not just those in or interested in the profession. Which is why it is good that this story has leaked into mainstream media. In 2012 Julie Walters said “the way things are now there aren’t going to be any working-class actors [left]” And all that I can hope, is that with this discussion being raised, hopefully the division will shrink over the next few decades.