In the first of a series, campaign supporters recall the moment that inspired them
ALAN BLEASDALE

Playwright

One of the reasons why I would support this campaign is that I had no formative experiences in the arts. It was not within the culture that I grew up in Liverpool, so it was very important to me that our children had that opportunity. It's not a criticism of my parents, because my mother was well-read and I saw cinema and read books and had TV and radio, but the actual theatrical experience I only had was when I was 19 - I went to a theatre in Stoke to see Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party. It was an astonishing experience. I think the most important thing of all is that if the opportunity for people of my class and background to train within the arts is taken away, it will turn back to what it was like in the 1950s - basically a finishing school for the middle and upper classes. Before we know it, we'll have drawing rooms and 'Anyone for tennis?' The way things are shaping up, the Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaites of this generation are going to find it extremely hard to enter the profession. That's an argument that goes back to grants. I must get 20 or 30 letters a week from aspiring actors for whom the grant is at the whim of the local authority: it's a discretionary grant, and it shouldn't be. Pleasure is very important within our society, a pleasure that relates to all members.

MAX STAFFORD-CLARK

Director, Out of Joint Theatre Company

I was at university in Dublin, at Trinity College, and I used to go to the Gate Theatre to see the work of Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammoir. That's when I first came across the word 'aesthetic', and I think that their work I would now call a high- camp aesthetic. Certainly, at the time, it gave me a clue about the governing tastes a director has to have. The career possibilities that were open to me when I left university in 1966 just don't exist for young directors - the number of jobs that are available to direct new work. A young director now has to direct something fairly flashy quite quickly in order to be able to get the prominence they need to earn a living.

PATRICK MARBER

Playwright

I remember seeing Richard Eyre's production of Hamlet with Jonathan Pryce at the Royal Court in the early 1980s. Jonathan Pryce as Hamlet, I would say, was very important to me at the time; seeing Shakespeare and not being bored. I had been on school trips to Stratford, but that was the first time I saw Shakespeare and thought 'This is about life as I vaguely know it'.

PAM GEMS

Playwright

I was lucky. My church school was run by a man reared in Stratford-on- Avon, so we got not only the St James version but 'I know a bank where the wild thyme grows'. At grammar school, we sang opera, in French. At the time, you don't realise how privileged you are to be so enriched, inspired for life. You do realise it when you see those coming after you deprived. If imagination is not nourished in youth, it withers, or becomes destructive. What is education for? To provide a world of robotic automata to man computers? Or thinking, feeling, wise, imaginative custodians of this earth?

Interviews by Rachelle Thackray

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