Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

A Lack Of Logic Demonstrated By My Degree.

I studied at the RSAMD, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, in the days before they changed their name. They are now the RCS, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a name firmly in keeping with the pretensions they exhibit, and which has variously earned them the nicknames The Conservatory or the Arsey Ess.

There has always been a tendency, working backstage in the theatre and related industries, for people to offer unpaid jobs in return for those empty promises of “experience” and “looks good on the CV” – neither of which pays bills. I think many of us do a couple of those jobs then decide we are worth more than that – skills, experience, and ability cost money. It looks good on your CV only if you want your CV to show that you do not particularly value yourself. The practice continues though, perhaps moreso now there’s a recession. Over on the Scottish theatre forum, there isn’t a week goes by without people looking for free labour, free hires, favours, and other underpaid or unpaid help. Unfortunately, with new students looking for steps up and newcomers looking for ways in, there are always willing volunteers.

This damages the industry as a whole, because – if there is someone willing to work for nothing – then it fills a gap that would otherwise result in paid work for somebody. It is bad enough being undercut, but when you are being undercut by someone happy to work for literally nothing it is extremely hard to compete. This has long been a bugbear of mine, and now – with the Government’s Workfare programme – the habit is spreading. Populating businesses with unpaid staff has a knock-on effect, depriving others of paid work. And if you can get a person who’ll work free, why would you take on someone that needs paid next time? Instead, you know you can find a new volunteer.

A few years ago, I got a mass email from my course leader, looking for people to work for the RSAMD and with a national company for “expenses and experience.” The list of recipients included students and alumni, some of whose names I recognised – since our course only took in thirty people a year – from five years above me. I wrote back, saying it was terrible that they of all people were perpetuating this practice, and degrading – none of us spent three years getting into thousands of pounds of debt to graduate with a vocational degree so that we could work for “experience.”

It later transpired that that co-production managed to go £100,000 (yes, a hundred thousand pounds) over budget. It was widely reported in the press at the time. I wrote to my course leader again, asking how demoralised you would be if you had agreed to work for those “expenses and experience” and then discovered they’d managed to overspend on everything else, except your wages, by £100k.

Her response was to write and say she had removed me from the mailing list. Point: missed.


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