Larry, dear Larry! In Olivier's footsteps

A bursary set up in the great actor's name leads the way in helping young talent

The names Edwin Thomas and Michaela Coel do not roll off the tongues of theatregoers or feature in the showbiz columns. Nevertheless, they are among the young actors tipped as Britain's future stars of stage and screen.

On Thursday, the Society of London Theatre (Solt) will present 17 budding actors with money from the various bursary schemes it administers, namely the Laurence Olivier Bursary, Mary Selway Bursary, Carmen Silvera Bursary and Behrens Foundation Bursary. Industry insiders say the annual awards, which total about £60,000, are more important than ever.

Now in its 25th year, the first of these, the Laurence Olivier Bursary, was established in 1987 in honour of the actor's 80th birthday, to support talented students starting their final year of drama school and facing financial difficulties. There is little time for students to do paid work – the contact time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), for example, is in excess of 36 hours a week.

Previous recipients of Olivier bursaries include Ewan McGregor and Michael Sheen.

"They [the bursaries] are more important than ever because if you take everything that's happening in the world, it's getting harder and harder for students and people in further and higher education to support themselves in achieving what they want to achieve," said Bafta winner Daniel Rigby, 28, who received a £500 bursary when studying at Rada in 2003.

Ian Kellgren, director of the National Council for Drama Training, said the maintenance bursaries would be particularly important from next September, with the introduction of "offputting" higher tuition fees.

Each year, Solt invites about 20 drama schools each to nominate two students for financial support.

The West End producer Lee Menzies, chair of the judging panel, said there were some "horror stories", including parents remortgaging their homes to raise money. He said the scheme was vital in training the next generation of actors.

1. Michaela Coel, 23

Guildhall School of Music and Drama£7,500 Laurence Olivier Bursary

"The first time I got into acting I was performing poetry and Nickelodeon producer Shabazz L Graham saw me perform and asked me to audition for the short film Malachi... I admire Nikki Amuka-Bird. What I think happens with a lot of black British actors, we kind of type-cast ourselves into a young London urban role but with Nikki Amuka-Bird, she manages to do both; she speaks really good RP and does a lot of theatre and classical theatre. Paterson Joseph similarly doesn't typecast himself as a thug or a gangster; he's got a really good range of roles... I am training my mind to think I can be anything and do anything. I think not enough is written for women, especially black women, and I think [for] Asian women [it] is even worse."

2. Jennifer Greenwood, 24

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School£5,000 Carmen Silvera Bursary

"I worked as a teaching assistant for two years between university and drama school and as a Stagecoach drama teacher... I managed to make my way through this year, but the final year was always going to be a bit of a push... It [the bursary] just gives me a bit of financial freedom... I'm a big baker, so I did a charity bake sale and baked dozens of cakes and had a lot of people come over and managed to raise a bit of money, On top of my teaching, I've also been doing a lot of cabarets because I'm a singer as well. I've been singing with the Three Little Maids. We're a cabaret group that do sort of vintage Andrews Sisters-esque kind of tunes, so I was in quite a few fundraising events with them too, to help pay fees and my living expenses as well."

3. Chris Leask, 21

Lamda £7,500 Laurence Olivier Bursary

"I am dyslexic and I've always found it quite a challenge to learn lines... When I looked at this experience for the Olivier, I thought it's going to be really hard to do. I didn't walk in there thinking I was going to get it. I just walked in there thinking, I'm at a West End theatre, there's going to be people looking at me and my acting ability and my finances... I thought why don't I chuck myself in at the deep end and give myself a massive challenge. I did one song, which had a lot of words in, and my two monologues, which were quite fast-paced and quite a lot of words, so I kind of more went for the experience to try and challenge myself."

4. Jason Callender, 21

Manchester Metropolitan University£2,500 Laurence Olivier Bursary

"My dad recently retired, so now we've only got one income coming in, so that's really like a strain on them and I really don't like asking for money... It was nice being on an actual stage [at the audition] and being above an audience... It was really nice to be on a West End stage. It's something I'd love to feel again. It kind of cemented why I chose this career. It was a dream feeling... I think stage life is so much different from anything else. We've done TV work at school, but stage, it seems, is always alive and [I like] the way you have that connection with the audience and your fellow cast members. I love that kind of energy and that feeling that you get and I really love the journey, and people listen to your every word."

5. Edwin Thomas, 24

Guildhall School of Music and Drama£5,000 Laurence Olivier Bursary and £2,000 Mary Selway Bursary

"I actually got run over on the way [to the audition] on my bike so all my skills were tested to the limit to try and get all my breath back... I wasn't hurt, my bike was hurt... It's great to have won this because theatre is what I adore and I'd love one day to try and play the great Shakespearian roles, but with generosity and humour and no ego. Sometimes it infuriates me the way people do Shakespeare... I can't rule out film and TV – I love them as well – but my great passion is stage and classical work alongside new writing; doing the classics brilliantly and then trying to work out how to get new writing on and get theatre back on the social map."

Bursary beneficiaries: 'I didn't know how I was going to go on until I got my award'

Michael Sheen, 42

Rada, 1990

"I remember one of the first speeches I did [at the audition] was from Peer Gynt, which I ended up playing a few years later. I was supposed to be hunting a stag over a mountain and describing it. I thought, well, I'll clear a bit of space, because there was all this drawing-room Agatha Christie furniture on the stage, so I went to pick up one of the chairs and it was nailed to the floor. I stood there sort of panicking... trying to lift the chair, until a voice from the darkened auditorium went, 'It's nailed down'."

Vinette Robinson, 30

Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, 2002

"I know that it made a big difference to me at the time because even though I had my fees covered, my living expenses were hard to raise then. I had always worked up to that point but my workload, when I was finishing, got so much that it was impossible and so, by default, I would have had to stop doing that and work if I hadn't got my award. So it really made a big difference. I just didn't know how I was going to continue."

Daniel Rigby, 28

Rada, 2003

"It was nice to get a nod even though I didn't win the full bursary... It was incredibly difficult to support myself and I couldn't rely on my family, so any amount of money was a massive boon... Confidence is so important when you are coming out of drama school and meeting all these big scary casting directors and agents for the first time, who seem incredibly imposing. If you're green to it, it's nice to take with you a little bit of encouragement from people who know what they're talking about."

Paterson Joseph, 47

Lamda, specially commended, 1987

"I seem to remember telling them that I thought somebody else might be more worthy of the prize than I was, because I was still living at home with my mum and so I wasn't that desperate for the cash. It was very nice; but now I think of it, very stupid and naive!... Even if you don't get the actual award, just that you can be with a group of your peers and audition while you are still at drama school I think is a great bit of learning."

Bryony Hannah, 27

Rada, 2007

"They [the bursaries] are so important. Everything comes down to money and it's so hard. It's the worst thing when actors have to work in order to work. They are working all hours of the day in order to have enough money to do their profession. There's no other way. There's joy in that, I suppose, but it was so, so good just to have that weight lifted a little bit and a great honour as well. It was the last thing I expected, I just couldn't believe it."

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform