'Doors are closed for working-class people in acting': Mark Rylance and Simon Callow join campaign

Simon Callow and other actors are campaigning for training to be brought back to the Seven Dials Playhouse, formerly the Actors Centre
Simon Callow and other actors are campaigning for training to be brought back to the Seven Dials Playhouse, formerly the Actors Centre -Credit:Actor at the Centre

A popular London hub for actors that provided training and networking opportunities had many of their programmes scrapped in a rebrand in 2019, leaving actors both young and old devastated. The Actors Centre, now known as the Seven Dials Playhouse, was an institution for actors in London, and was set up to provide affordable classes, workshops and opportunities to perform in London.

But following the takeover by Seven Dials Playhouse, many actors who used and worked at the centre have criticised the decisions the new management have made around what the Playhouse now offers. Kate Maravan is one of the co-founders of a campaign, 'Actor at the Centre', set up to challenge the new owners on their decisions for the running of the centre.

Speaking to MyLondon, she said: "In November 2021, we'd come out of various lockdowns, and it was announced that there had been a rebrand during Covid, and the building was now called the Seven Dials Playhouse. And simply put, they had disbanded all the membership and classes and workshops programme, which is how the business model had previously run."

READ MORE: Owners of famous London LGBTQ+ bar Royal Vauxhall Tavern announce shock exit

The Seven Dials Playhouse is located on Tower Street in Central London
The Seven Dials Playhouse is located on Tower Street in Central London -Credit:Google Maps

Kate said the new management scrapped all the training programmes that had been in place previously, and decided to focus on a year-long programme of performances of live theatre instead, with workshops linked to each show put on.

"The building was founded for actors, by actors; the whole reason it was founded in the first place was all for the acting profession. It would provide actors with ongoing development training, but also it would be a hub for meeting people - for community, networking and collaboration."

Kate herself first went to the Actors Centre in 1997 to attend a workshop, and has since taught at the centre herself for many years. "It's become a huge part of my creative life," she said.

"I met some of the people who were my closest friends and who I still work and collaborate with. It was a place where you could forge professional and creative relationships, but you could also find a place where you weren't so isolated."

Following the rebrand and the new theatre programme was launched, Kate said a few workshops were offered, but weren't anything like the regular ongoing training actors need that had been provided before. "What essentially got removed were the nuts and bolts of training."

The Actors Centre had also prided itself on the affordability of training, which is especially important in somewhere like London.

The campaign group was founded in 2022 and have tried to engage with Seven Dials Playhouse many times, Kate claimed. She said: "We kept writing, we kept offering to collaborate."

This was echoed by Simon Callow, writing for The Stage at the end of 2023. He wrote that 'a self-appointed group of people has siezed' the playhouse that was 'paid for by decades of membership fees' by actors for actors. "There has been a total absence of transparency from the Seven Dials Playhouse," he added.

Simon Callow is one of many well-known actors calling for training to be brought back to the acting centre
Simon Callow is one of many well-known actors calling for training to be brought back to the acting centre -Credit:Mike Marsland

The group were also concerned by how empty the building seemed to be much of the time. "We kept trying to say to them, 'We've noticed it's often empty, there's not a show on and its dark a lot of the time. There's no-one in the building."

It's leading the campaign group to be concerned about the long-term financial viability of the Seven Dials Playhouse. "If you look at the most recent reports it's not looking good.

"The suggestion they've written is they have 'options', which we interpret to mean we can sell the building if necessary." Kate says they've also heard rumours about plans to sell the building. And if that were to happen, then the whole 40-year legacy is gone."

The campaign, along with actors Simon Callow and Eva Fontaine, handed a petition to the Seven Dials Playhouse in November 2022, with more than 1,000 signatures on it. Now, the petition has more than 4,000 signatures.

A public meeting was held on April 22, which Seven Dials Playhouse were invited to attend, Kate said. Simon Callow spoke at the meeting, along with young actors who have not been able to experience the opportunities the former Actors Centre offered.

Sheila Hancock, one of the co-founders of the Actors Centre also wrote a statement which was read out at the meeting. "She's extremely angry and upset that this has happened," Kate said.

Eloise Beaumont-Wood, 26, was one of those actors. She told MyLondon: "This industry is incredibly elitist, and it means doors are not opened for working-class people who don't have connections."

But the Seven Dials Playhouse, back when it was the Actors Centre, was a space which helped young actors grow, in a way that was affordable to many. "I've heard so much about it, I'd be really excited to go there and meet other people."

In response to claims put to the organisation, the Seven Dials Playhouse emphasised they are an inclusive space where artists can learn, develop and collaborate, while building on the legacy of The Actors Centre and responding to the needs of people in the industry. They say they are open six days a week for 11 hours a day as a space to gather, network, and create work to be performed now or in the future, which the Seven Dials Playhouse provides support for.

In a statement, parts of which has had to be summarised due to length, the Seven Dials Playhouse has said: "Our ability to provide this support in kind is subsidised partially by industry and corporate hires of our studio spaces - costs are presented on a sliding scale, determined by the nature of the hire and the client. There is no upfront charge to present work on our stage, as we commit to a box office split. We are a London Living Wage employer and work above industry standards in terms of production contracts."

Campaigners are urging the Seven Dials Playhouse to bring back training
Campaigners are urging the Seven Dials Playhouse to bring back training -Credit:Kate Maravan

The organisation says they are not publicly subsidised and income is earned through ticket sales, hiring out the space and secondary spending. They say that alongside other theatres and arts organisations, there are concerns about income due to the cost-of-living crisis and shifting audience patterns, which make advance ticket sales and forecasting income extremely challenging.

"As part of the remodelling, we disbanded the membership, one no longer needs to pay to access the space, to be a member, or to have trained at a specific drama school - everyone is welcome. We have supported over 1,000 artists/creatives across the last two years and are excited about the continued future development of the organisation.

"We are not seeking to reinstate the old business model concerning memberships, and training. A reversion to The Actors Centre is not on the cards in any capacity. We, of course, warmly extend the offer to meet anyone wishing to discuss other ways they can envision working with Seven Dials Playhouse."

To find out more, visit the Actor at the Centre website here. You can sign the petition here.

Got a story for us? Email anna.willis@reachplc.com.

Get the biggest stories from around London straight to your inbox. Sign up to MyLondon's The 12 HERE for the 12 biggest stories each day.