Homelessness among actors - letter from Adrian Jackson in The Stage

Posted on: 11 June 2019

Written by: Adrian Jackson MBE

Following an article in The Stage about a West End actor sleeping rough under a bridge due to rising London living costs, Citz Artistic Director Adrian Jackson wrote to their Letters page (June 6th Edition) to give the perspective of Cardboard Citizens:

It was interesting to read about the performer sleeping under the bridge last week, but unfortunately for some of us closer to that particular coalface it was not surprising.

Cardboard Citizens tries whenever possible to work with actors with lived experience of homelessness. When we started some 27 years ago, this usually meant finding people who were homeless and training them to act – this is still a major source of talent for us – but alongside it, for some time, we have found ourselves employing actors who have travelled the journey in the opposite direction: those who were professional actors before they became homeless.

Perhaps the only comparatively unusual part of the previously mentioned story was that this individual was working in a West End show at the same time as sleeping rough – but even this is certainly not without precedent. Many homeless people manage to work at the same time as being homeless – a number of these work in shops in the West End and sleep at Heathrow, where a warm and safe environment is guaranteed.

Recently we put out an open call for actors who have experience of homelessness to attend a series of small workshop auditions, for the first time in our history. We stressed that homelessness encompasses far more than street homelessness, which is only the visible tip of a very large iceberg. We had well over 70 applications and ended up meeting more than 50 people. Those we met had all kinds of stories, from eviction by private landlords (very common) to living in temporary accommodation or hostels, with much sofa-surfing and some rough sleeping along the way. And of course the causes were as varied as the places people found themselves – not just the better-known catalogue of mental health or addiction issues, but many things in which the state, or an employer, could easily have played a preventative role.

It is good to see The Stage bringing this matter to wider public attention. The case reported on raised questions about wages and the industry we work in and the care we take, or don’t take, of our staff. But at the same time, obviously it raises issues about London and who can live there in the current housing crisis – and finally, whether we can sustain the world-famous reputation for great theatre if our actors can’t afford to work in theatre.

Next time we are on our way to a West End show and we pass someone sitting in the street, we would do well to ask ourselves the question we often ask at the end of a Cardboard Citizens show: does it really have to be like that and what can each of us do about it?

Adrian Jackson MBE
Cardboard Citizens artistic director