Making the arts accessible

I recently read this article on the BBC about the fact that the arts is becoming elitist, and that something needs to be done about it. I totally agree with this, however at the same time, I see another point of view.

I run a theatre school in Portsmouth (OmniArts Performing School). I set this up with my own money that I made by teaching singing while working an almost full time job. I am lucky enough to have been able to leave that job, and now work full time self employed, doing what I love, but my private teaching and another industry I work in still help support OmniArts sometimes – especially in the lead up to a show with licencing costs!

What we do

We have 2 trained professionals teaching at all our classes (singing and acting) and a third who comes in to teach dance at some sessions. We charge a very reasonable £9.50 for 3 hours (or £5 for our 1.5 hour class) every week, however we are struggling to get more members in to allow us to be able to offer more opportunities to our members, and do bigger shows.

We have offered private tuition ‘for free’ to members in the lead up to a show (as part of their weekly fee – we welcome donations for our time, but understand if someone can’t, and would rather they had the extra time with us and were confident on stage, than not come for a private lesson because they feel they can’t pay for it). We also offer family discounts, and look at each persons situation, to see if we can help them with payment in anyway possible.

We even set up our Professional Development Bursary Award, to try to help members out with extra tuition – either via a private course, or help with finding the funding for less well off members to go to Uni/drama school, as well as running one off specific workshops for not just our members, but others as well. The members that we have appreciate what we offer, and because of this we are currently also setting up a skills only group to run alongside the main groups, where people will just learn acting techniques to help them better perform, rather than working on shows.

The Problem

Although I have managed to get OmniArts to a point that it can be sustained – to be able to keep offering everything mentioned above, we need more members! This brings me to my main problem: the cost of advertising to get people in. We get flyers printed, which costs, and then we have to take them out everywhere to be put up – which costs time, which is something most of us don’t have due to working so hard to make sure we have enough money to live.

As for advertising in a magazine or newspaper – let alone a performance paper like the stage – it is costly, and to get an article in the news these days it seems you have to write it yourself and chase someone for days or weeks to get in published in the smallest, furthest back part of the paper – again, spending a lot of time and energy which most small theatre companies don’t have (the time that is – not the energy!)

It’s not just me!

Since I have been running OmniArts, I have seen a number of similar groups forced to close due to low member numbers. There was also an amateur theatre within Portsmouth which had a fly system (one of only 8 amateur theatre’s in the UK with one) which has closed because the church it was attached to chose to move, and blocked all attempts to get a trust to take over the building.

We want to help teach the next generation of actors, and give them skills to help them go forward in performance – be that on stage, in film, for private functions, and even the ‘backstage’ things like makeup and crew work, however it is often a struggle for the small, accessible groups to be able to get the word out to the people that would be interested in joining them!

I am sure that it isn’t just my group that faces these issues, and there are so so many groups up and down the country like mine, which are accessible in their costs and what they offer, but because of this, don’t have the money to advertise to people who might be interested.

Thank you for reading this – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter too, so please comment below. 🙂

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