Sixty five thousand places on free workshops and apprenticeships have been given to young performers and theatre makers by the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s Masterclass charity. Masterclass has been offering impressive opportunities in the industry for over 15 years, working towards making theatre accessible in a costly climate through workshops with industry professionals, performance opportunities and apprenticeships to people between the ages of 14 and 30.
The Royal Haymarket says it “never sleeps”. During the day, the theatre opens its doors, for free, to young performers to give the best advice, support and guidance that London has to offer in a theatre land of rising costs. This brilliant initiative is run by Masterclass, a small charity that relies on the support of businesses, organisations and generous individuals to stay on stage. The Haymarket, of course, is the charity’s long-time partner, alongside other well-known industry organisations such as The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and the English National Opera, while patrons include David Hare and Judi Dench. Judi Dench appeared recently in the news, quietly suggesting that young actors’ fears that working-class talent is being pushed out of the profession by costly training are well-founded. Dench was quoted by the Guardian as saying “Anyone who’s in the theatre gets letters countless times a week asking for help to get through drama school. You can do so much, but you can’t do an endless thing. It is very expensive.”Clearly, Dame Judy is endeavouring to change this in some small way through her involvement with Masterclass.
The professional involvement doesn’t end with Dame Judy however. Each of the initiative’s workshops is taken by a high-level industry professional, with names including Ewan McGregor, Elaine Paige, Idris Elba and recently, award-winning director Blanche McIntyre. These industry professionals take time out of their own schedules to help and support young actors who might not be able to afford workshops offered elsewhere. Masterclass also offers highly discounted tickets for numerous theatre performances around London. Dench told the Guardian in September “I always say to young students, ‘Go and see as much as you possibly can’, which is what we used to do. But then we paid a pittance for sitting in the gods”. With theatre tickets often costing upwards of £50, this contribution is clearly just as significant to young, training actors. Masterclass also offers training in the long-term with their Apprenticeship Scheme launched in 2007, offering paid internships to those who want to work in theatre.
“I think the workshops are popular because they give access to the West End stage and the best masters of the industry” a Anoushka Warden at Masterclass commented. “They also motivate emerging actors who maybe haven’t had a job for a while”. Masterclass believes that their initiatives build “confidence for roles in the industry”, as stage craft and directing opportunities are also offered. The Theatre Royal Haymarket’s ability, as a private theatre, to set up and continue support for Masterclass makes it “quite unique”.
Certainly, the career-enhancing programs run by Masterclass are impressive in their diversity, accessibility and professional quality. Amidst the growing discussion of theatrical careers becoming “elitist” due to extortionate training fees, Masterclass is able to confidently tread the boards of the Haymarket with the knowledge that they are delivering an unparalleled service to young theatre-makers across the Capital.
Older actors, directors and craftspeople who are outside the eligibility age bracket are also able to take part for the small fee of £10 per workshop.