Open letter to the board of LAMDA in solidarity with Sarah Frankcom

Update, 15th September 2021:

We have been overwhelmed by the support for this cause. Thank you. Today, we want to share the transcript of the speech Sarah Frankcom shared with all staff on Friday 10th September, at the beginning of our staff training day. Unfortunately it was the last time Sarah was able to speak with us. This address was to LAMDA staff, but we feel everyone deserves to read it. We move. Please scroll down for the initial open letter.

Friday 10th September

It’s remarkable to me that in all the time I have been Director of LAMDA that this is only the second time I have addressed the entire faculty in the room. It’s a great sadness to me that this is last time I will talk to you all.

First of all welcome to all our new members of staff. You join LAMDA at an exciting time and I can guarantee that you find yourself amongst some of the most brilliant colleagues that I have had the privilege of working alongside in my career.

Secondly I want to take a moment to thank each and every one of you all for all the support you have given me and the students over the last year in the most challenging of times. I have never once doubted that we had a community of brilliant educators and artists working with us. In the darkest of times I have felt inspired by your passion for what you do, your determination to support our students in the best possible ways and your enthusiasm for the vision and for the change that I was leading. Thank you to those of you that reached out to me to see if I was OK, your texts and messages and kindness have held me up during a difficult few weeks. WE MOVE.

An awful lot has been said and written about what has happened here, in this institution since I arrived. It will take us all an awfully long time to understand — what we’ve lived through and how rapidly the world has changed and how that has impacted our art form and the industry. And it will take me a long time to process the personal impact and cost of the last few months. It’s not appropriate for me to talk about anything in detail, today I want to reflect and talk about the future and how WE MOVE.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about this time less than two years ago when I joined the school.

I remembered the first a conversation that I had with a LAMDA student. Before I had formally taken up my role, a student asked to talk to me. They were shy but passionate and eloquent. When they told me about how much they wanted to learn, and how much they enjoyed acting, their face shone. When they talked about their struggle at the school, their face became troubled. They asked me if I would be able to guarantee that they would feel less invisible, whether they would see themselves represented in the plays they worked on, in their teachers and in the student body. They asked if they would ever feel like they belonged and if I would bring a new start when I arrived.

I’ve often thought about this conversation. It’s woken me up in the night wondering whether my response was adequate — I said that I would try to address all of these things but that they might only experience the start of something in their time at the school. I got the feeling then and I certainly have had the feeling when I encounter them now that this wasn’t enough. That change was too slow to be meaningful and their experience continues to be difficult in the school and yet they have continued to grow in stature and confidence as an actor. They’re a wonderful actor.

I have been asked whether I tried to change things too quickly. I have always said with deep confidence until recently — it’s what I have been brought here to do and it is supported by the Board of trustees. Every time this was laid at my door I couldn’t stop thinking about this student and how slow change felt for him. When something has been a long time coming it is often painful for everyone. I am reminded of the dead tree in the last act of the Three Sisters that is still moving in the wind. I have kept reading that last act and remembering how joyful it was to make it with students this spring. All of that play feels it’s about what we’ve all lived through. It is about living with change knowing that you may not be part of the future that is being created. WE MOVE.

Last week I met an old friend of mine who is the newly appointed leader of another institution. She was at the end of her first week. In the course of our conversation she said something which has been going round my head ever since. “I’m working out if I am here to end something or start something new.” I really want all of you to know that when I came to LAMDA I felt really excited about what might be possible and I always thought I was beginning something new. I think now in all honesty, I was ending something. The note I give to actors more than any other is ‘forget your intention — play your action!’ Endings are hard when there’s so much tradition, history and backstory. I find endings really difficult — I find it hard to finish phone calls, leave a theatre after the house lights come up, say goodbye to those that I love. I was probably the worst person to hold this ending here.

I still passionately believe that all learning institutions have to evolve and grow with their students, or they become irrelevant and obsolete. Those that teach cannot and should not control this. I still believe our drama schools should be places that are looking to the future because they are by their very nature communities of the future. I’ve always believed they need to model the best ways of how we can live and work alongside each other. If we can’t celebrate difference and understand ourselves here in this place, then what hope is there out there? That has always been my vision my mission and my primary purpose. What happens here will shape our students in good ways and bad for the rest of their lives. This responsibility could not be greater than in this time of global crisis, inequality and uncertainty. WE MOVE.

As I approach my own ending here, I feel a huge mixture of things. Pride at all that’s been achieved in the most challenging of circumstances. A fairer and more accessible audition process. We have started to embed anti-racism in our practice (a Race Equality Officer, Advocates for Global Majority Students, a Lead Practitioner in Inclusive Practice). We are training a student body more representative of the world. We have brilliant faculty of educators and collective of artists and makers who are representative of the student body. Our pedagogy is evolving towards co-learning and collaboration. Our students are supported by a more accountable reporting system. And our students’ appetite and excitement to make a their own work, tell their own stories and collaborate with each other is growing exponentially.

I have never felt so proud of LAMDA as the other night when my friend told me about attending a recent night for young artists at the theatre — a group of our students were there and participating. He said: “you would have felt so proud of your students. They made quite an impression. They lit up the theatre with their activism, their artistry and their generosity to each other.” WE MOVE.

I would be lying if I didn’t also say that I feel a deep sadness that I can’t continue the journey I started with these students and be part of their work this year. But most of all I feel hopeful and full of optimism for the school because of all of you. An amazing community of educators, thinkers, creators and pioneers. We have begun something relevant, radical exciting and new for LAMDA. I know more than anything that with you all here, it will be hard to stop it moving forward. These were the two words I received in countless texts over the last month from those that I know and many from those that I don’t, all who care about what we have been doing: “WE MOVE.” WE. MOVE. YOU MOVE. You are my beginning. And I can’t wait to see what you all do next. — Sarah Frankcom in her address to LAMDA staff on 10th September 2021, transcribed by a member of staff.

Dear the Rt Hon Shaun Woodward and the Board of Trustees at LAMDA,

We write to you today to show our support and solidarity for Sarah Frankcom following the recent announcement of her resignation and the ongoing investigation into the allegations made against her.

We want to preface this letter with the assurance that our first priority is those people without whom LAMDA would not exist: the students. We know we have and will take seriously our unanimous commitment and responsibility to hold our returning and incoming students, to continue to provide them with the excellent training they deserve and expect, to continue to empower them as artists, change makers and storytellers. The journey we have embarked on under the leadership of Sarah Frankcom towards actor training that is equitable, anti-racist and accessible in a building that centres its students, will continue. We still have a long way to go. But the start has been made and we will hold and guide the students every step of the way when we are back in the building in September, focussing on what we are here to do: train our students and help them find their voice.

But we need to acknowledge also our disappointment, and the damage to our trust in the board. Whilst complaints need to be taken seriously and investigated diligently, we do not feel confident that Sarah Frankcom has been supported as she should have been. We received information of her resignation along with the public claim of a full and fair investigation, before even one member of current permanent or freelance teaching staff had been interviewed. We do not feel confident that all factors were taken into account or that nuance and care were exercised in understanding the many complexities that informed the recent negative results in the National Student Survey, but rather that a verdict was cast that looked for a convenient strategy to place responsibility onto one individual. We do not feel confident that you have meaningfully engaged with the progress at LAMDA over the last two years, be that in regards to the Drama School Review and subsequent restructure, or be that the Anti Racism Action Plan and the countless testimonials from our students of the Global Majority.

The restructure was not the act of one individual — it was a step signed off and approved by you, the board, and carried out by the joint leadership of LAMDA. Pastoral and administrative support around a restructure is the responsibility of more than one individual, such as Human Resources and the Executive Director. To lose all confidence in the progress of the last years without looking behind the noise of a looming press release with such speed as you have done, to us reads as evidence that you have not fully grasped just how much positive change has happened at LAMDA recently. Transitions are always uncomfortable, often bumpy — there is no doubt about that. But we were healing, with a student body that is more exciting and groundbreaking than ever, we were beginning to rebuild and recover after the pandemic. It did not need to come to this.

Lastly, we do not feel confident that the current investigation can be fair if there is no external accountability. You have meanwhile begun to conduct interviews with current staff, but we must ask the question — can an investigation that remains entirely internal, without an adequate, transparent record of minutes; an investigation in which the chair of the board himself foregoes and bypasses the investigating committee and official investigative channels by ringing up staff to speak to them off the record — ever be a fair one?

We call on you to engage more deeply with current staff and students, ensuring that the progress begun continues. That the values established with Sarah Frankcom continue to be nurtured under a new leadership. We know we will be there for the students, but we are shaken and devastated that a leader as bold and visionary as Sarah felt the need to step down under your tenure.

When referring to progress begun at LAMDA, we must also consider the wider implications of halting or obstructing change the way it has happened here. Our industry is at a turning point. We cannot go back to the old status quo that only served a privileged few. We have to make theatre for and with under-represented voices, tell new stories and break with the old power distribution in theatre. Change always brings about uncertainty, but it is the shared goal of an equitable way of working that unites us on this path. Dismissing genuine, bold change makers and leaders sends the opposite signal and is damaging to the progress begun. We are therefore glad to have the support from artistic leaders and theatre practitioners of the wider industry to this extent.

Signed in alphabetical order (if you want your signature to be added please comment below with name and context/job title):

LAMDA permanent staff

  • Lucie Adewusi (Drama School & Genesis Co-Ordinator)
  • Michelle Bonnard (Alumni, Interim Co-Head of Screen and Audio)
  • Philippe Bosher (Part time Associate Teacher — Acting & Ensemble)
  • Deborah Bruce (Mentor, MA Directing)
  • Carys Bowkett (Lakin) (Examinations Administrator and BA (Hons) Professional Acting 2015–2018)
  • Amy Cudden (Interim Co-Head of Screen and Audio)
  • Sarah Dickenson (Dramaturg)
  • Tess Dignan (Lead Voice Practitioner and Head of Voice at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre)
  • Laura Field (Voice, Speech and Communication teacher)
  • Ioli Filippakopoulou (Full Time Associate Teacher — Movement)
  • Karoline Gable (Course Leader for Foundation & Short Courses)
  • Lucy Girling (Casual Examinations Administrator and BA (Hons) Professional Acting 2016–2019)
  • Naomi Hill (PA to the Directors)
  • Sunita Hinduja (Lead Practitioner Stage Management — Maternity Cover)
  • Gilbert Kyem Jr. (Acting Practitioner/Anti-racism and Allyship)
  • Lena Kaur (Lead Practitioner in Inclusive Practice)
  • Anna Lyttle (Trusts and Foundations Manager)
  • Linda Macrow (Chief Examiner - LAMDA Examinations)
  • Helen Matravers (Producer)
  • Micaela Miranda (Lead Practitioner Movement and Dance)
  • Heriberto Montalban (Associate Teacher — Movement)
  • Annabel Mutale Reed (Lead Practitioner for Music and Singing)
  • Funlola Olufunwa (Part time Associate Teacher — Acting & Ensemble)
  • Milly Roberts (Access and Widening Participation Officer and BA (Hons) Professional Acting 2015–2018)
  • Kevin Mark Trail (Part time Associate Teacher — Singing & Music)
  • Matt Wilde (Interim Course Leader MFA Acting & MA Directing)
  • Jonathan Young (Associate Teacher — Movement and Dance)

LAMDA freelance practitioners / associate artists / visiting directors

  • Roshani Abbey (Singing Teacher/Visiting Lecturer)
  • Esh Alladi (Actor and LAMDA audition panellist)
  • Mercedes Assad (Alumnus, Anti-Racism Board Member)
  • Emma Baggott (Visiting Director)
  • Patrick Bailey (Alumnus and Visiting Acting Tutor)
  • Atri Banerjee (Visiting Lecturer and Visiting Director)
  • Charlotte Bennett (Joint Artistic Director & CEO Paines Plough — Project Partner)
  • Ned Bennett (Acting Tutor and Guest Director)
  • Peter Bramley (Associate Artist — Director)
  • Emily Carewe (LAMDA MishMash Director)
  • Ameera Conrad (Associate Director LAMDA & Actors Touring Company)
  • Benjamin Cox (Visiting Musical Director)
  • Sam Curtis Lindsay (Visiting Director & Audition Squad)
  • Gretchen Egolf (Acting Tutor, Audition Squad, Guest Director)
  • Emilie Fleming (Visiting Lecturer)
  • Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu (Visiting Director)
  • Matt Hassall (Visiting Director and Tutor)
  • Carla Henry (Visiting Acting Tutor and Director)
  • Julie Hesmondhalgh (Alumnus, Mentor, Guest Speaker)
  • Rosa Hesmondhalgh (Visiting Lecturer)
  • Amy Hodge (Visiting Director)
  • Emily Holt (Movement Teacher)
  • Chi-San Howard (Visiting Lecturer)
  • Imogen Knight (Visiting Lecturer)
  • Kieran Knowles (Alumnus, Audition Squad & Guest Playwright)
  • Martina Laird (Visiting Acting Tutor)
  • Helena Lymbery (Visiting Lecturer and Guest Director)
  • Rebecca Manley (Writer, Visiting Tutor)
  • Caroline Martin (Visiting Lecturer and Guest Director)
  • Katie Matsell (Alumnus, Visiting Artist)
  • Maimuna Memon (Actor/ Composer/ Writer, Visiting Lecturer)
  • Leo Munby (Visiting Lecturer and Guest Music Director)
  • Zodwa Nyoni (Visiting Writer)
  • Yshani Perinpanayagam (Visiting Lecturer and Guest Music Director)
  • Katie Posner (Joint Artistic Director & CEO Paines Plough — Project Partner)
  • Nicola Sanderson (Visiting Director)
  • Amelia Sears (Visiting Director)
  • Josh Seymour (Visiting Director)
  • Audrey Sheffield (Visiting Director)
  • Grace Smart (Visiting Designer)
  • Chris Sonnex (Visiting Director)
  • Karen Tomlin (Acting Tutor and Director)
  • Alex Waldmann (Visiting Lecturer)
  • Philip Wilson (Visiting Director)
  • Ashley Zhangazha (Visiting Director)

Industry support

  • Joseph Arkley (Actor)
  • Nicola Blackwell (Co-Artistic Director Slot Machine Theatre, Performer)
  • Derek Bond (Theatre Director and Writer)
  • Christine Bottomley (Actor)
  • Amber Chapell (Stage Manager)
  • Branden Cook (Alumnus, MfA Acting 2017–2019)
  • Tinuke Craig (Director and Alumna)
  • Andrea Davy (Alumnus, Actor)
  • Richard Delaney (Actor Trainer and Theatre Maker)
  • Laura Elsworthy (Actor)
  • Pooja Ghai (Freelance Theatre Director)
  • Matti Houghton (Actor)
  • Joseph Houston (Artistic Director, Hope Mill Theatre)
  • Jennifer Jackson (Freelance Movement Director, Theatremaker & Actor)
  • Steven Kavuma (Director/Writer)
  • Olivia Le Andersen (Alumna, MfA 2017–2019)
  • Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (Playwright and Screenwriter)
  • Rebecca Manson Jones (Artistic Director- Spare Tyre Theatre)
  • Alexandra Mathie (Alumnus, Actor)
  • Delmozene Morris MA (Ex LAMDA examiner 2013–2020)
  • Harry McMullen (Alumnus — BA (Hons) Professional Acting 2015–2018 & Graduate Ambassador)
  • Joe McNamara (Alumnus MfA acting 2017–2019)
  • Arian Nik (Actor)
  • Orla O’Loughlin (Theatre Director and Director of Drama at Guildhall School of Music and Drama)
  • Maxine Peake (Actor and Writer)
  • Talia Pick (Alumnus — Foundation Diploma & BA (Hons) Professional Acting 2014–2018)
  • Annelie Powell (Casting Director)
  • Nathan Powell (Writer and Director)
  • Gilly Roche (Head of Interdisciplinary Practice, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)
  • Sarah Rutherford (Playwright and Screenwriter)
  • Bryony Shanahan (Joint Artistic Director/CEO Royal Exchange Theatre)
  • Sam Swann (LAMDA alum 2010, Equity Council)
  • Michelle Terry (Artistic Director, Shakespeare’s Globe)
  • Nick Tigg (Theatre Director, Producer)
  • Chris Thorpe (Writer and Performer)
  • Amy Vicary-Smith (Alumna, BA 2016–2019)
  • Jessica Walker (Singer, Writer and Senior Lecturer in Artist Development at RAM)
  • Daniel Ward (Actor/Writer, LAMDA Alumnus 2011)
  • Zoë Watson (Alumnus — Foundation Diploma & BA (Hons) Professional Acting 2014–2018)
  • Matthew Xia (Artistic Director and joint CEO Actors Touring Company)

“She had discovered that the most effective method of keeping the fear at bay was to fantasize about something that gave her a feeling of strength.”