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
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
ArtHow Monet and Degas influenced a generation of American artists
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor