It’s about that time of year when soon-to-be school leavers, mulling over what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, give parents grey hairs. The economy being what it is, nobody could blame parents for advising offspring entering further education, to go for a ‘safe’ career. But what is safe? Well, apologies for the grey hairs, but recent figures from the UK show that throughout the recession, creative industries grew by 15.6% - comfortably outperforming the rest of the economy. The UK creative sector accounts for 5.6% of all employment. That’s alot of jobs. Film, TV, Music, Gaming, Photography – across the board the entertainment industry is booming. I don’t doubt, that the same trends are being reflected over here and given the explosive rise of digital media, creative industries are sure to continue growing.
I work on the Drama course at Kinsale College of Further Education, and students sometimes confide that they had a struggle to get their parents to accept their choice of career, because the arts industry is seen as ‘airy fairy’, not a ‘real job’ and ‘insecure’ etc. This attitude can only stem from a lack of awareness of the growth and scale of the arts industry. The creative sector is vast and employs thousands and thousands of artists behind the scenes. Watch a television programme and you may only see a dozen actors, but the programme will have employed many more creative people. And that is true of most arts events. I’m not denying that actors (or musicians or visual artists) can sometimes struggle to make a living. Work, especially at the beginning, can come in bits and pieces, and not in a steady flow. But thirty years down the line, when I look at all the actors and artists I went to college with, for I am still in contact with many, they are all in work, in fairly lucrative jobs in the entertainment industry. Typically, many are still actors and artists. Some have branched out into other areas of the arts. And for those advising young people on a career in the arts, this is a crucial point. The list of employment opportunities within the arts for those who have a creative training is extremely long. Somebody who trains as an actor may or may not go on to act for the rest of their lives. But a grounding and understanding of the craft is essential in good stage manager (gold dust!), fight director, voice coach, costume or set designer, playwright, director, set builder, producer, flyman, drama teacher, lighting designer, sound engineer, tour manager and so on. A theatre training is a sound and well-nigh essential training for hundreds of other jobs in the creative arts field.
It is in any case, a myth that actors cannot find work. Looking at the statistics for those who have attended the drama course at Kinsale, 50% of those who have trained with us have gone on to act professionally. Some for theatre companies, TV, Radio, some form their own companies, work for puppet companies, film, commercials. A further 25% have remained in the creative industries and found employment – in areas of employment such as I have listed above. We have no record of what half of the remaining 25%, have done on leaving the course – but they too could be in the entertainment industry! Drama is not necessarily a kamikaze career choice.
It is not the case either, that the arts are not so well paid or secure as other professions (nor that accountants and lawyers are immune to unemployment for that matter). Many thousands of people employed in the creative industries as TV and Radio presenters, television and film actors, producers, technicians, film cameramen, choreographers, arts and drama teachers – to mention only a handful of the hundreds of different careers currently on offer in drama related activities – often enjoy a very high level of job security and salaries. There are artists in their garrets for sure would like a bit more padding in their bank accounts, but even this raises interesting questions that parents and prospective students should consider. I’d hazard a guess that there are precious few lawyers or orthodontists starving in their garrets for the sake of their work. Yet in the arts, creative people are sometimes prepared to live on lots of little bits of shoestring tied together so that they can engage with their work. In other words, the arts are so rewarding that many are prepared to forgo money or security to practice doing what they love. They would rather follow their calling than be rich and living a life that crushes the soul.
To parents I would say – yes, by all means take the long view. But that must include the reality that if a person is doing what they are interested in, they are more likely to be happy and make a success of their lives. Surely that kind of fulfilment is ultimately more important than any other consideration. Life famously isn’t a rehearsal. We only get one shot at being here and we might as well do something that brings a smile to our face. For sure, the arts are not for everyone, but if a young person has a mind to follow their dream, where is the harm in letting them see if they can make a go of it? Where would we be if the parents of Swift, Seamus Heaney, O’Carolan, Bowen, Yeats, Stoker, Synge, Dervla Murphy, Joyce, JB Keane, Somerville and Ross, Wilde, Anne Enright, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Dana, Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott, had managed to squash their children’s desire to create. Not to mention the likes of Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Rowan Atkinson, Tolstoy, Leonardo, Picasso, Chopin, and thousands of others. However much money or security we had, we’d all be the poorer. Much poorer than any recession could make us.