(Debaters with Che, Julie and Chris Johnson)  

Che Wigfield-Turner, first-year BTEC Performing Arts Acting student at Pendleton Sixth Form College, pulls off not one, but two outstanding debates including students and local celebrities, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Maxine Peak.

Students from the performing arts department have been practising their live-action debating whilst exploring the important topic, is the performing arts industry a meritocracy?

A meritocracy is when a group of people has progressed and gained power based on merit, talent and ability as opposed to wealth, class or privilege, to name just some examples.

Back in March, students for and against the statement put forward their arguments in turn and were given the opportunity throughout the hour-long debate to rebuttal each other. Members of the audience, which was made up of other performers from the department as well as other groups including the politics department and the debating society, were also invited to take the microphone and have their say.

Arguments for the statement, the performing arts industry is a meritocracy, included the argument that anyone who wants to do well within the industry has the opportunity to do so should they work hard and do whatever they can to achieve their goals. However, the opposing team contended with the argument that drama school admission, travel to and from auditions and additional support and training is all costly making it easier for those with more financial support to excel.

Coronation Street’s very own Hayley Cropper, real-name Julie Hesmondhalgh, also took part in the discussion in the college’s famous Eccleston Theatre. Julie was very strongly against the argument that the industry is a meritocracy saying: “Why should some work 10 times as hard, how is that meritocracy, there is not an equal starting point.”

She also made the very strong point that ‘7% of the population go to fee-paying, private schools. That is a tiny, tiny percentage of the population. But, 93% of British Oscar winners were privately educated’.

Debate organiser and leader, Che, was of the same opinion stating: “All throughout this debate everyone has said ‘just work for it, work for it’ but why should people who don’t have money have to work for it more than those with money. Surely we should all start with an equal opportunity.”

The debate tackled the issue of the lack of opportunities for less privileged actors, looking at how the industry is statistically dominated by people who originate from more advantaged backgrounds. The impact of costly drama school audition fees, which provide a huge barrier to less fortunate actors was also questioned, along with discriminatory factors within the arts including appearance and social class.

Following the successful debate earlier this year, another was conducted last month, this time with special guest Maxine Peak. Local actress Maxine is famous for her roles in Manchester-based drama series Shameless and has appeared in the Netflix hit series, Black Mirror.

Maxine was just as impressed with the debate and the students from Pendleton as Julie was and described Che as ‘wonderful’ and said it was ‘a pleasure to share the stage with you’.

Che, whose efforts have been described as ‘outstanding’ by departmental staff at the college, conducted the debate as part of the Trinity College London Arts Awards. The award will be offered to all students taking part in the Future Creatives Programme at Pendleton next year.

She said: “I am very pleased with the outcome of both debates. I really appreciated both Maxine and Julie’s involvement and they really inspired me to continue my work in this field.

“I initiated this debate because I feel that this is an issue which concerns many of my fellow performing arts students, as the majority of us want to enter the industry ourselves.

“I am really passionate about political theatre, and I intend to use acting in order to make an impact on society.”

Congratulations to Che and the other students at Pendleton Performing Arts for their involvement.

If you would like to study on the BTEC Acting course at Pendleton, please contact admissions on 0161 631 5000.