First impressions

A few early feedback quotes from the Separate Doors 3 forum at RADA

Imogen Roberts, Nathan Bessell, Rebekah Hill and me

It was such a fantastic event. I learnt a huge amount and it made me go away and think about my own practise in great detail. 

I feel like the best way in for future progress is to do with writing – new work is always financially risky for theatres, but new work written with this in mind is going to offer the best opportunities for incorporating actors with learning disabilities in “mainstream” work.

As a practitioner I feel that it would be wonderful to have the opportunity to do a practitioner workshop on the Silent Approach with you.

Separate Doors Apprentice Director Bethlehem Wolday-Myers

I reflected that stories shared generation to generation, culture to culture, person to person, have the power to challenge our prejudices – the heroes of those stories challenging our understanding of the individuals telling them.

The platform for integrated theatre needs to find its own voice to connect with the wider public by finding the right projects in which to champion its importance. 

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I feel as though the industry is in danger of hamstringing risk and imagination by creating a climate of fear around misappropriation, so to hear the playwrights speak so candidly about it was refreshing and required.

What is the necessary action that follows these conversations? What changes have to be put in place for a genuine shift in our understanding of how true inclusivity can be achieved more broadly? 

Talking about it

Next week the Separate Doors 3 project reaches phase 2, the forum at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

70 people from UK theatre will come together to explore integrated theatre, discussing the will and the way, and most importantly the how of making general audience theatre that includes actors with learning disabilities.

Venues and companies in the room include the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal National Theatre, York Theatre Royal, The Young Vic, The Stephen Joseph Theatre and the New Wolsey, Ipswich.

We have Artistic and Associate Directors, established playwrights, theatre makers, actors, movement directors, an agent, a designer, two academics and a film director.

We have our four ally theatre companies which work with actors with learning disabilities, Access All Areas, Dark Horse, Hijinx and Hubbub and we also have Diverse City and Ramps On The Moon.

Its going to be noisy.

And sometimes quiet.

Geoff Bullen, Emeritus Director of Acting at RADA will welcome us all and reflect on the Separate Doors 2 project on which we collaborated.

I’ll talk to the room about my thoughts on identity, writing, integrated theatre and the silent approach and then…

Nathan Bessell, Rebekah Hill, Nicky Priest and Imogen Roberts

A panel of leading actors with learning disabilities will discuss ambition, training and the kind of theatre they want to be part of.

A panel of writers will discuss writing for and with actors with learning disabilities and a panel of Artistic and Executive Directors will discuss including exceptional talent with learning disabilities in general audience work.

We then go into dynamic forum.

Provocations, in between the chatter, will come from three theatre makers who attended Separate Doors 3 silent approach master classes.

Provocateurs Abigail Clay, Alan Mandel and Heather Dutton

We’ll all reflect.

And then everyone in the space will have 60 seconds to feedback.

And if something doesn’t shift as a consequence of that…I’ll eat my hat!

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Its all about the work.

Theatre venues in the UK have made progress in widening the representation of diverse people on stages, in high quality work with impact which plays out to general audiences.

Black, gay, transgender, deaf and disabled and mental health focused work has been commissioned and supported by venues and by Arts Council England initiatives.

Intersectionality informs a thirst to break traditional silos and open doors to dramatic experiences of all of the human condition.

New stories, new voices and new experiences are being heard on main stages but one group continues to be unseen and unheard…

 

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Separate Doors 1 and 2 highlighted the experiences of leading actors with learning disabilities, the integrated companies they train with, casting, representation and the wider landscape.

Separate Doors 3 will explore the work itself.

How do you approach writing drama featuring learning disabled characters? How do you effectively direct actors with moderate learning disabilities? How do you manage an integrated rehearsal room? Is devising or writing best or a mixture of both forms? What are the creative pitfalls and bonuses? How can vocational actors with learning disabilities be included in standard programmes and processes?

I’ll be looking at my own and others’ artistic processes, directorial choices, rehearsal room practice and playwriting craft in the development of new high quality integrated work featuring actors with moderate learning disabilities.

Key participants will be leading actors with learning disabilities, established playwrights, Artistic and Associate Directors of producing venues, theatre makers and practitioners, devising companies and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Master classes in my Silent Approach, rehearsal room analysis, interviews with leading creatives and the outcome of a forum event in London in Summer 2019 will form the backbone of the third Separate Doors report.

There’ll be regular updates here and you can follow the progress of the project- and read reports 1 and 2-  by clicking this link to the Separate Doors website.

There’s never been a greater will to include exceptional actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.

Separate Doors 3 will go beyond the will, and find the creative way….

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Casting a learning disabled actor? No need for a meltdown…

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A casting director called me this morning looking for an actor with Downs Syndrome to take part in a TV pilot workshop.

Happily, I could point her in a positive direction.

More and more writers and producers are choosing to create characters with moderate learning disabilities, indicating real progress in terms of representation.

The tips below may be helpful for the casters and directors making this new explosion of artistic diversity happen…

 

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Time scales

If you plan to engage an actor with moderate learning disabilities you will need to book them further ahead than is usual. 

Experienced and trained actors with moderate learning disabilities like Downs Syndrome need extra time to learn lines and understand your plans for your audition/workshop/rehearsal because they have difficulties with reading (many of these actors don’t read and learn dialogue in different ways).

A call on Wednesday for a spot on Saturday isn’t enough time.

At least two weeks is reasonable.

 

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Support needs and costs

Actors with moderate learning disabilities will need a creative enabler, or supporter.

When budgeting, aside from paying your actor, you will also need to find appropriate fees to cover an enabler and then to negotiate the role you want that person to have in your process/rehearsal room.

 

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All disability is different

Actors who are deaf/physically disabled often have the same cognitive abilities and linguistic skills as non disabled actors.

Actors with learning disabilities usually work and communicate in different ways from non disabled actors.

Working with deaf/physically disabled actors is not the same as working with actors with learning disabilities, who usually need very specific routes into access (communication style and pace, assistance with line learning and understanding story, character and scene, navigating the rehearsal/studio space and relationships with team and crew).

 

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Not all learning-disabled actors are in London.

Sometimes you will find the talent you’re looking for in the provinces.

This will cost you more but offer you more choice.

 

Involve the inspiration from the get-go.

You’re doing a great thing by casting a learning disabled actor.

Being a pioneer isn’t easy, why not gain knowledge at the start of the journey?

There are very few actors with moderate learning disabilities in the UK working professionally and most of those that do are supported by specialist companies.

Separate Doors allies Access All Areas, Dark Horse, Hijinx and Hubbub all train and develop the skills of vocational learning disabled actors and have a wealth of experience.

Collaborating at the story development and production planning points can pay dividends.

Many of us want your work to be the best it can be, let us help you….

 

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