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Stage School: What’s the point in reality TV if it just isn’t real?

ByBethan Morrish

Oct 4, 2016

E4’s newest ‘reality’ programme, Stage School, first aired in early September, and has received an almost unprecedented level of criticism, with viewers going as far as petitioning to have it pulled from the channel. The show claims to be a ‘structured reality’, with cameras following the lives of students and teachers at a real-life stage school. However, it is nigh on impossible to pick out aspects of the show that are genuinely real.

Of the people that claim to be students at this stage school, very few are genuine. The cast includes Casey Johnson, former X Factor contestant and new member of Union J, and his girlfriend Betsy-Blue English, also previously on the show, owining to her past membership of Only the Young. Far from bringing genuine star quality to the show as the producers had presumably hoped, the couple appear to use Stage School as a platform from which to publicise the demise of their relationship. Other ‘students’ include The Voice contestant Rachael O’Connor and previous EastEnders actress Megan Jossa.

Not only are the students clearly not genuine performing arts students, the show is completely contrived and divorced from reality. Full of forced plot lines, Stage School is centred around awkward romances, unnatural competitions and pointless arguments. Encouraged to cause drama, and therefore make entertainment, the students attempt to improvise around clearly manufactured storylines. Sadly, their improvisation skills are nowhere near good enough to give this show any credibility; they are wooden and awkward, only enhancing the unnatural nature of the show. Oh, and there is the occasional apparently improvised musical number. Because normal students always launch into song in full costume, with harmonisation and dance routine at the ready … right?

But why does it matter that Stage School is so far from reality? Since its first broadcast, the show has received an enormous amount of criticism, not only for being fundamentally awful, but also entirely misrepresenting the world of professional performing arts. Thousands of people have even signed a petition to have it axed. The petition, posted on change.org states: “the show is a complete misrepresentation of training in the arts. Drama school is an encouraging and supportive environment which prepares budding artists for the industry. If this show is to stay on the air it leaves a massive risk of deterring young people who are thinking of training for a career in the arts due to being fed a total misrepresentation of what drama training is actually like.” To believe that Stage School is anything like real life would be difficult, but the petitioner has a point. Channel 4 have sold this show as ‘reality TV’, and yet this is completely divorced from reality in a way in which other programs are not. Sure, the run-ins on the King’s Road of sworn enemies in Made in Chelsea might not be completely coincidental, but they do feature real people with real lives. The people in Stage School are evidently not real students, and so what’s the point of it?

In my mind, the draw of reality TV is that their lives could be ours, that people in the world actually live that way. But Channel 4’s new creation is a downright failure in this respect; the people do not feel real in the slightest, they feel like characters. Stage School is fairly watchable, but all for the wrong reasons. It is cracking binge-watching material, if only to remind ourselves how lucky we are not to be that desperate for fame.

Image: zaimoku_woodpile @ Flickr

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