TIMES are tough for many people in the current economic climate – and those in the arts world are no exception.

The recession is seeing arts funding slashed, making the task of earning a living in the creative field harder than ever.

So actor Terry Bird decided to take matters into his own hands. Just over a year ago, he set up Southend-based New Town Talent, a company which allows professional actors struggling for paid work to stay involved in the theatre and in touch with the industry.

Within a year the company had grown, also attracting interest from aspiring young amateurs actors. This week, at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff, the curtain goes up on New Town’s first fully-fledged production, School Dayz.

Terry says: “When you’re out of work for a long time you lose a lot of confidence.

“I originally set up the company for adults, but then we got younger people interested too.

“It’s acting-based, but there are also classes in creative writing and acting for the camera.

“Because I’m in the industry every day myself, we’re passing down really valuable industry lessons and teaching them what they need to know.”

Terry founded his first theatre company aged 18 and has since worked on TV programmes including My Family, Peep Show, EastEnders and Lock Stock..., as well as director Ken Loach’s film, Riff-Raff. He’s in touch with agents and casting directors, as well as fellow actors. They come and run specialist workshops in subjects such as stage combat and playing Shakespeare.

School Dayz is billed as Grange Hill meets Waterloo Road and has been devised entirely by its members.

Terry says the process has taught valuable lessons. He explains: “I kind of threw it open to the group and said ‘what do you want to do?’ They said ‘we’d like to do our own play’.

“That’s great because that’s also my background.

“One of the guys said ‘it’s our school prom this week and I’m really looking forward to it’ and we thought that might be a nice basis for a show, the last week of school building up to a prom.

“We have an adult group as well and its members are playing the teachers, with the youngsters playing the kids.

“The idea is adults and the youngsters are not so different – they all have the same issues. They’re all striving for a bit more in their lives, wondering if they’re happy and if they’re in the right relationships.”

He adds: “The great thing is they’ve been learning lots and lots, not just in terms of acting. They improvised the scenes, then they had to type it up for the next day. They learned a lot about working to deadlines, which is how the industry works.”

New Town Talent also has a film branch, New Town Film, so members can get experience of acting in front of the camera, too.

To find out more about New Town Talent visit: www.newtown tal School Dayz Dixon Studio, Palace Theatre, London Road, Westcliff November 4 and 5 8pm £9 (£7 concs) 01702 351135