Olivia Field-Williams speaks up for the young performers living in rural areas.

Olivia is without doubt one of the best performers working in London today. She wants to get behind those of you who don't feel you can follow your dreams, who don't believe you as a creative would make it. You can, and with determination and support you will. Thank you Olivia for this wonderful testimony.

Hello! I’m Livia Field-Williams and I have recently graduated from one of the UK’s leading drama schools: The Arts Educational Schools London, better known as ArtsEd. 

I studied Musical Theatre on the three-year degree course, training from Monday to Friday in extensive dance, singing and acting disciplines. Despite having enjoyed and developed skills in musical theatre since early childhood, I found the transition into higher education in the arts very challenging.

 I grew up in a small market town in rural North Shropshire. Whilst it was a lovely place to be a child, when I entered my teenage years and aspired to take Musical Theatre more seriously, I found there was a distinct lack of accessible performing arts groups within an hour’s travel. I found that in order to attend classes or clubs to develop my skills, I had to rely on my generous parents to drive me forty-five minutes or more in any direction (after a busy working day for them, I’m sure). Whilst I’m aware this doesn’t seem like a particularly pressing issue, I noticed later on that I faced a huge disadvantage when auditioning for places on higher education courses. When I began auditioning for drama schools, I was suddenly competing with a huge volume of city-born performers who had been attending extra-curricular arts training upwards of 3 or 4 times per week. The standard of dance in particular was almost impossible for me to compete with, as despite having studied ballet and jazz since my early years and having a natural facility, I simply hadn’t had access to consistent classes. Dance especially is a discipline in which training during formative years can be imperative, and I felt that I’d missed out on fulfilling my potential due to a lack of arts education in my area. With the help of my extremely supportive family, I was able to take the time I needed to gain a place at drama school. It took me four years of annual auditions to do so, including a full time practical foundation course designed to give young performers the additional training needed to gain a degree course offer. (This, unsurprisingly, meant moving down South.) I spent my earlier gap years working various high street jobs in order to afford classes and corresponding travel to make up for lost time and training. I decided after my fourth year of trying, if I was unsuccessful at gaining a place at a reputable drama school, I would give up and pursue another line of work, seeking education in English Literature or another more academic subject. Thankfully, that year, I was offered a place at my dream school, and was finally able to begin my Musical Theatre degree. Now that I’ve graduated, I can look back on those years with pride and gratitude. However, I have often been reminded throughout my course of the disadvantage I faced against course mates with more childhood experience. Whilst it’s easy to question the geographical representation within the average drama school intake, I believe that in the interest of fairness, and the quality of the performing arts industry, schools should accept only the candidates with the most talent, regardless of whereabouts they come from. I am very much aware that without the privilege of an encouraging and dedicated family support system, I would objectively have not been successful in my pursuit of drama school training. This is a privilege that not everyone can depend on, and I wonder how many passionate and talented young people are unable to pursue their careers in the arts as a result of insufficient arts education. I am neither a political nor educational specialist, and I cannot comment on whether this issue could be lessened by more far-reaching financial support in arts education, or whether perhaps it is simply an unavoidable dispersion of willing and qualified educators. However, I hope, for the next generation of young performing artists, that consistent arts education will become more accessible for those growing up outside of the country’s major cities. For now, graduating at 24 alongside my 20 and 21 year-old course-mates, I can only be proud of what I have achieved, and eternally grateful to those that have helped me achieve it.