Students from drama schools across the UK have been awarded £77,500 worth of bursaries by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) in order to help them complete their training.
Established by SOLT in 1987, in honour of the 80th birthday of Lord Olivier, the Laurence Olivier Bursaries aim to provide financial support to exceptional students. To be eligible, students must be entering their final year of drama school and also facing financial difficulties in continuing their studies.
The rigorous nature of acting courses means it is often impossible for students to undertake paid employment while training and the aim of the bursaries is to remove some of this financial burden.
This year’s Laurence Olivier Bursary recipients are George Readshaw, Jake Ashton Nelson, Damian Schedler Cruz, Omar Ahmed, Henry Whittaker, Laura Barnard, Romario Simpson, Andrew Buzzeo, Olivia Lee, Zachary Wyatt, Alexandra Meyrick, Rosalind Lailey and Robbie Noonan, while both the Mary Selway Bursary and Laurence Olivier Bursary were awarded to Thomas Davison.
Nicky Griffiths was announced as the recipient of the Society of London Theatre Bursary for Musical Theatre Dancers. Chosen by Dancers’ Career Development, Nicky has been a professional dancer for 15 years and has appeared on the West End in Jersey Boys, The Bodyguard and Mamma Mia! amongst many other musical theatre productions. The bursary will go towards Nicky’s retraining as a choreographer and movement director.
The Behrens Foundation Bursary was awarded to Hugo von Fragstein, Jesse Jones, Tara Divina Gulrajani and Asa Haynes, while the Carmen Silvera Bursary was awarded to Ellie Clayton, and the Doreen Jones Bursary 2017 to Shaniqua Okwok. Precious Mustapha was awarded the Clothworkers’ Foundation Bursary, which sees £7,500 awarded to a student annually as part of the scheme.
They join the illustrious ranks of actors recognised by the bursary scheme, including screen stars Michael Sheen (awarded the Laurence Olivier Bursary in 1990) and Ewan McGregor (in 1991), recent Olivier Award winner Denise Gough (the 2002 Behrens Foundation Bursary recipient), and Black Mirror actress Michaela Coel (awarded the Laurence Olivier Bursary in 2011).
Funds awarded through the bursaries scheme can range from £500 to a maximum of £7,500 and are given at the discretion of the judges. The Clothworkers’ Foundation bursary is worth a total of £37,500 over five years, with funds donated by The Behrens Foundation, The Casting Directors’ Guild and by leading London theatrical agent Barry Burnett also given in conjunction with the scheme.
Each year, Principals from drama schools across the United Kingdom submit two nominations for the bursaries scheme. These nominees are then auditioned on a West End stage and interviewed by a panel of theatre industry professionals led by West End producer and Chair of the Laurence Olivier Bursaries Committee, Lee Menzies. This year’s auditions took place at St Martin’s Theatre.
Lee Menzies, Chair of the Olivier Bursaries Committee and leading West End producer, said: “Each year we are astounded by the talent and dedication of the recipients of the bursaries – individuals who, despite financial hardship, are pushing forward to realise their dreams and their potential.”
“Many have made huge sacrifices to continue their studies and without assistance we risk losing gifted performers to other industries. Drama courses are intense and require a huge amount of hard work; these bursaries give the performers the freedom to focus on their studies without placing further financial pressures on them. We are immensely grateful to our partners and donors and welcome new supporters to help continue to grow this much needed and valued scheme.”