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The Comedy of Errors

Talent 1st is a Free-of-Charge School for Young Actors in Nottingham Focused on Social Mobility

8 June 19 words: Adam Ridgely
photos: Fabrice Gagos

Hidden in the heart of Hockley is one of Nottingham’s best industry secrets: Talent 1st, a free-of-charge school for young actors that works to upstage the lack of social mobility in the entertainment industry. We spoke to the community interest company’s founder, Martin Arrowsmith, to talk about the recent decline in membership, and why Martin’s so passionate about reversing the trend...

Lying beneath a business complex, the basement-based acting studio Talent 1st provides various weekly sessions for groups of young people aged 8-25. The organisation has bred Bafta-winning talent in Three Girls star Molly Wind­sor, who bagged Best Leading Actress in 2018, with co-star and fellow Talent 1st alumni Liv Hill picking up a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

The organisation was born from a volunteer-led drama group, started in Nottingham by former child actor and the organisation’s founder, Martin Arrowsmith. Rebranded as Talent 1st two years ago, the community interest company aims to challenge and defeat the “them and us” attitude in the industry. Through fundraising, the group are able to offer classes where “young people from the most privileged to the most deprived meet as equal.”

As Martin puts it, the organisation operates under a core principle: “Acting and the arts should be available to everyone, and be based on an individual’s work ethic and merit – not the person's back­ground.”

Talent 1st selects can­didates based on their per­formance in trial group sessions, with strong emphasis on giving eve­ryone an equal opportunity. Martin insists that social mobility in the enter­tainment industry is vital: “The vast majority of society is not privileged – all stories need to be told, and be told properly. Without a diverse cast of actors, the stories relevant to most people would be ignored.”

Much success has been found in the pro­gramme, with a grow­ing alumni of talent now starring in TV, film and theatre. The organisation also places emphasis on the quality of the roles they put their talent forward for, selecting projects and auditions carefully, and only sending talent in for productions they deem high quality.

Despite gaining recognition from the BAFTAs and a special feature on BBC Radio 4 in 2018, the group has seen a drop in membership in recent years, which currently sits at around 58. This is a trend noted throughout the industry, with a reported decline in acting studios and a decreasing pool of young actors. Currently, Talent 1st aims to add twenty new actors to the 18-25 age group, and forty to the 11-16 age group, without putting a cap on their membership goals.

Martin largely attributes this decline in youngsters taking up acting due to cuts in school arts programmes, noting the struggle to get in touch with schools and universities. He is hopeful, however, that Talent 1st can be on the front line in exposing drama to “the gen­eration that have had no contact with acting in schools.”

The former Whizzywig star says: “It’s such an important life skill to have. You learn how to interact and manage people, and it gives you so much confidence. Acting gave me my life, not just my career. I think that should be available to everyone.”

Not all former members become actors either; alumni have pursued careers as teachers and barristers, too. Martin notes how many have written to thank the organisation for the confidence they gained from being involved: “It’s not just performance skills acting can give you, but life skills,” he says. “It gives you the confidence to move forward.”

Apply for a Talent 1st group trial session by visiting the website below.

Talent 1st, 1 Kayes Walk, The Lace Market, NG1 1PY. 0115 860 2197

Talent 1st website

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