A cheer for integrated ensembles

And not just ours

George Webster, actor, dancers with Alice Rogers, actor, both in a waltz hold. They both wear black rehearsal clothes and there is a theatre space behind them. They are serious and concentratiog.
Dark Horse actor Alice Rogers and Separate Doors National Ensemble actor George Webster at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Photograph by Ant Robling.

At Separate Doors we’re privileged to work with exceptional talent in our National Ensemble of actors with, and without, learning disabilities. We audition individuals and we also cast from excellent learning-disability focused companies across the UK.

We’re employing over 25 freelance creatives and core team members on our latest project ‘Directing Tomorrow’s Theatre.‘ Over 60 per cent of us are disabled and some of us are cancer survivors, people with long term health issues and/or caring responsibilities. Our Advisory Board of learning disabled and neurodivergent actors guides our work and we’re always developing ways to support well-being. We aim for fairness for all and we pay fairly.

All good companies with a learning disability focus have a similar management shape and way of working and there are many of these good companies.

Access All Areas, Mind The Gap and Unanima were recently rewarded with Arts Council National Portfolio (NPO) funding and organisations such as Graeae have recently expanded their work with neurodivergent artists.

Learning disability and neurodivergency are not always different things, but they can be.

A note about the word neurodivergency

Neurodivergency can be used as a descriptor for people with moderate learning disabilities such as Downs Syndrome and for people who need high levels of support in their daily lives.

Neurodivergency can also be used as a descriptor for people who are independent and have fewer support needs to work and live. This can include people who have autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and mental health issues.

A female actor in rehearsal blacks stands on a stage with a semi circle of actors behind her. She is in profile, looking to the left of the photo. She has arms lifted up, following an exercise. She looks serious.
National Ensemble actor Yana Penrose at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Photo by Ant Robling.

How Separate Doors is a bit different

Our focus is on the collaborative theatre making creative process and especially on the craft of acting, rather than access (although access is vital, we’re a theatre company and not a campaigning organisation).

Secondly, our work is integrated. This means that we work with creatives with, and creatives without learning disabilities. We work as an ensemble in the rehearsal room. This means we all follow the same largely non-verbal process together, the Silent Approach. Its a collaborative process for all, whatever an actors cognitive or linguistic ability.

Our third area of difference is the kind of work we explore and share. We focus on narrative theatre, on stories and on actors as characters who deliver stories to audiences. We also work with writers and with plays.

National Ensemble actor and Silent Approach mentor Margaret Fraser plays a scene with National Ensemble actor Meghan Denton at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Photo by Ant Robling.

Recent advances and things to celebrate

We work with partner organisations including Derby Theatre, Salisbury Playhouse, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Level Centre, Theatre 503 and supportive individuals including Michele Taylor MBE. Recently quoted in the Guardian, Michele spoke of the ‘bloom’ in work featuring neurodivergent actors. Writers too – the next Ramps On The Moon play Village Idiot is penned by neurodivergent writer Samson Hawkins. Much has been written about the punch of recent works from companies such as Not My Circus Dog and the stellar performances of Sarah Gordy and Leon Harrop in Ralph and Katie (BBC1). In the theatre sector there are powerful disability rights voices making sure that long overdue disability representation increases

but let’s not forget

the ensemble driven companies who work with actors with moderate learning disabilities. Companies such as our allies Dark Horse and Hubbub Theatre who train and produce work with actors with actors with challenges around speech and literacy – giving a unique opportunity to artists who can struggle to self advocate, agitate for change and project manage.

Leeds Playhouse and Ramps on the Moon had a recent success with the large integrated cast of Oliver. How good would be it be if these integrated productions happened once again beyond the larger companies and initiatives?

Aside from the intrinsic values of high quality integrated ensemble work, the integrated ensemble model supports excellent learning for all creatives, disabled and non-disabled.

At Separate Doors our aim is for integrated casts of all kinds of actors to deliver to general audiences in theatres all over the UK, as part of the general programme. The companies with integrated ensembles at their centre are a very good way of making that aim a reality.

An actor in black rehearsal clothes smiles to the right of camera and holds her arms out in front of her.
National Ensemble actor Rebekah Hill at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Photo by Ant Robling.

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. 

RADA forum

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? 

My thinking

Last week as part of the Separate Doors 3 project I shared my silent approach methodology with directors, theatre makers and playwrights.

me and johnny

Up to 30 theatre professionals with and without learning disabilities came together for a day of intensive no speech rehearsal process in each master class.

This is what I did and this is what I was thinking…

Activity: Opening. (Starting soundtrack, setting up the space, watching actors do their personal warm up, opening the rehearsal room door to guests).

I’m thinking: Do I know anything at all about anything? Do not run away. Breathe. Why am I doing this? What am I trying to do? What are my objectives? What happens next? 

Activity: Flocking. (Bringing people together without speech. Establishing an ensemble).

I’m thinking: Please please please come with me.  Will you trust me and go with it? Do you want to connect and be? Can you come along with me through key movement patterns. Can 25 people become 1? Can we all relish the common condition of being human and move together in space?


Activity: Greeting. (Handshakes and emotional connection).

I’m thinking: Is the pacing right? Is anyone dropping out, are there any lapses in focus? When shall I risk a shift in activity, guide the next stage of movement/breath.  Offer eyes, take what comes back, accept. 

Activity: Sounding. (Ensemble working through breath and onto voice with feeling).

I’m thinking:  Be bold. Do it. Keep it interesting, keep changing it up, improvise. Push energy out and bring it back to quiet, to silence, to being. Does everyone want this? Are we all in this together? Can we experience air, energy and be in the same moment together?

Activity: Making (On text, directing actors in character within given circumstances).

I’m thinking: Do the video and audio cues show where we are? Do we all feel and know where we are? Can the actors feed off each others emotional states and move?Can we endow objects, silently? Can I add some dialogue- without it ruining things? Can we keep the physical shape, the action and reaction within the activity and not care about the lines? Am I serving the play? Am I serving the actors? Are we serving the audience? Is everyone authentically being in this space. Right now. Am I holding the rest of the room to the work? Is this drama? Does it make people feel? Do we care? Does it work? Does it matter?

directing 2

Activity: Ending (Moving out of scene and character dynamics).

I’m thinking: We’re all back in the circle and breathing, have we all come back to neutral, do I need to extend? How long can I hold this silence for? How long do people want and need? Have I got it right? How do I quantify this method? How do I explain it? How do I share this philosophy, this technique and its application?

the back of me

Page 1 2018

write my own rules


Work on draft two of my first serious attempt at long form fiction starts on New Years Day 2018.

I’ve tried to absorb all the helpful prose writing tips I can find.

I’ve scoured the net, picked writer friends’ brains, been to a conference and come up with 6 key rules I want to stick to, both with this long story and the next long story in the pipeline.

In a years time I’ll measure success.


Leave the first draft for two to four weeks before returning to it with a fresh eye.

This was very hard to do but I can see the value in opening up the hard copy for the first time in 21 days, on January 1st.

During this hiatus, plot and character holes have become clear in dreams, while walking and when reading and watching comparative genre fiction and drama.


Write a one page synopsis of the first draft.

I had a rough shape in my head before writing draft 1.

I knew my principal characters, what would happen to them and how the story ended.

I’d sketch notes for each ‘block’ of action (about 4-6 chapters) but didn’t want to be bound to a rigid outline, I needed some creative slack, to go with the flow of my people and places as they appeared.

However immediately post draft 1 writing a synopsis offered a great snapshot of the structure and shone a light on some creaky scaffolding.

The synopsis showed that the arc of the story and the shape (point of attack, rising and falling action, climax and twist) were OK but it also highlighted some character inconsistencies, offered clarity around the themes I’m shooting for and flagged a section which needs cutting.

I can’t wait to make the changes.


Read a lot of books.

I’m currently looking at Paul Auster, Anthony Horowitz, Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler and a doorstep of contemporary writers in the genre I’m writing in.


Long stories take a long time to write. Keep going.

As a dramatist I white heat the first draft of a play.  Ten days feels like a long time to spend inside two hours of stage time.

It took a year and a half to write this first long story draft. I had other, consuming, work to do.  I had to keep stopping to do the other stuff.  At one point after three months of not writing a word I nearly shelved it, then came to my senses. I won’t do this again.

Write everyday, even if its just twenty words and DO NOT STOP.


Choose beta readers carefully and listen to their collective likes and dislikes.

My five first pairs of outside eyes are lined up ready to read the second draft.

They’re all very different people, men and women with all kinds of reading tastes.

I’ll ask them simply to read and react to the story, in the same way they would if they’d picked up the book at WH Smiths at the airport.

Their idiosyncratic reactions will be interesting and their converging criticisms will be acted on.

I trust them to be honest.


Work at being the best editor you can be.

By the time the long story is ready to send to the next filter, the literary agent, the manuscript needs to read perfectly, contain no spelling or grammar errors, be structurally sound and above all be engaging and compelling to read.

The editor, banished to the back brain on draft 1, will come further and further forward until she has full control.

Wish me luck!





Writing warm up


10. Plan, make notes and find images for a time filling and not strictly necessary blog post like this.

9.  Check all email and social media accounts, retweet and post, change profile photos and edit personal info, scour photo albums of people you barely know. Join snapchat.

8. Look at the long range weather forecast in Mexico City.

7. Log out of Google and open the front page of the word document you need to work on, minimise it and open up Google again. Repeat process endlessly reading all breaking news, opinion pieces and comments on all platforms until you fall into a stare unable to open up the word document at all.

6. Turn off your phone. This is it. You are about to write. Turn it on again. False alarm.

5. Go to kitchen and make a pot of leaf tea and eat two unnecessary slices of cheese straight from the fridge. Stare at the rain in the garden.

4. Return to room with desk in.  Try on coats and scarves and look at self in mirror.

3. Tidy desktop and change desktop image, many times, before returning to blank and non distracting screen you had before.

2. Maximise the word document you need to work on. Ignore it, stand up and sing the entire score of My Fair Lady.

1. Write.



Bottom drawer

Definition: The place where a writer stores drafts of work which isn’t ready, didn’t catch fire or anyone elses’ attention and which may be returned to at a miraculous future date which never seems to come.

Here are five from mine….



During the tallships era the depressed Captain Hamilton is lured back to a tropical island by a captivating and mysterious pink animal left on his doorstep in a tea chest in the middle of the night.

Post an eventful sea voyage he’s back on the island which inspired his melancholia and re-discovers his lover Louise who he thought had died but who had instead been captured by rogue pink animals. He frees her. He emancipates the pinks (the non nasty ones, the bad ones get their comeuppance). Happy ending.

Joseph Conrad meets a politically correct Enid Blyton and shares an espresso martini and goat curry pasty. Adventure, fighting, sailors and quirky characters in period costume this novel for 7-10 year olds may become a musical with animatronic characters.

And may not.



The play I half wrote before I wrote another play entirely with the same title because it had already gone to brochure and this one wasn’t working.

An over ambitious piece featuring mistaken identity, burglary and child abduction (not the best thematic choice for a comedy) it strangled itself to death with plot twist bind weed just before the end of act one and has thrashed about in uneasy half life next to the blue tac for over 20 years.

A dark, pretentious and confusing surburban fable playing on fears of loss and exploring greed and status, in need of far superior craft and care than that evidenced up to the point where I gave up and did something else instead.

Perhaps when old enough to have any idea at all of the central characters I’ve written I’ll give it another shot or it may just lie permanently in the folder marked ‘too clever for its own good’.

Or be burned, this may be best.



Historical stage drama, jam packed with ambassadors and trumpets and castle battlements and paranoid  schizophrenia.

Joanna La Loca climbed the curtains and ended her days incarcerated in a nunnery, its a great role and a great story, so great that another writer and company beat me to production but hey we can never have too many epic dramas featuring powerful women can we?

Nearer the front this one, next to the Polos.



A commissioned sit com pilot for a series which never got made about a family with a gadget fetish.

Quirky, three gags a page, about aquisition and definition through objects without stating this in any way which meant anyone would understand it to be in any way about that, obscure and vaguely charming.

Comedy ages badly. Funny then. Not now. Birdcage or litter tray lining.



Or ignorance. You decide!  Yeah! Whatevs!

Play for radio. Girl next door gets accelerated into superstardom via a TV talent show. Fame followed by destruction followed by spiritual awakening followed by loss of faith followed by a return to base.

Unoriginal rock myth given uplift by virtue (possibly) of entirely made up vocabulary/language which made for an interesting exercise but a suspiciously odd read and probably a very hard listen.

In the drawer for a reason.

Whats in yours?











…Doodling ideas in anticipation of the pre rehearsal draft of A MAN WITH DOWNS SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY, with apologies to designer Pip Leckenby who will ultimately interpret and wave her far superior visual wand over the story.

Its a writing thing…

I find it helpful at this point to have an idea of how the play might work in a theatre space, or spaces of various sizes and shapes, as is the case with a tour.

In the later stages of crafting a play for an audience, the ‘wrighting’ (manipulating the emotional centre of the characters and the plot) happens in tandem with the pragmatics of space and time.

Having a really bad drawing to refer to actually helps…


Writing paraphernalia


The School Pencilpencil

Achingly hard edged and dryly H graded when a dash of B would have assisted with colouring in doodles on the bottom of maths notebooks, the school pencil acted as an early introduction to the joys of displacement activity by virtue of the….

Teachers’ desk sharpenersharpener

Positioned on Misses desk and accessible to all not as an embodiment of shared ownership but as a demonstration of hierarchy; entry to the larger, sharper opening only bestowed on the favoured, alongside the privilege of autonomous handle turning. 


Learner fountain pen, coloured pencils and ink




Leaner fountain pen: perfect for pretending to smoke and shoot with, less effective for writing with a tendency to splash Rorschach patterns all over your tectonic plates essay.

Coloured pencils: the tools with which to become an internationally renowned artist once you’ve worked out how to do perspective and draw hands.

Ink: blue black so rich in the jar you want to dive into it. Classier design than anything anyone could ever write.  An object to look and marvel at.


Sticky tape you can write onto



Anything is now possible.

Including expletives on the back of peoples’ blazers.

The Manual typewritersilver-reed_silverette

You are a writer because you have one of these in a case with a handle which makes it PORTABLE.

It makes a proper Virginia Woolf style NOISE when you bash away at it and everything else on the desk jumps into the air.  It is imperative to chain smoke when using one. Demands carbon paper as there is no such thing as photocopies yet. Make one mistake on a page of dialogue and you must start again. Encourages thought before pressing keys. Makes hands hurt and heart pound.


A word processor actually, what do you drive?




Welcome to the mid 90’s.

You now have a screen on which you can edit 3.5 lines of dialogue before you then press a button and it rattles out really fast onto the page like a telex machine type thing while you sit back and light a fag.  Smoking is still necessary.

A MAJOR INNOVATION is the CORRECTOR ribbon inside. It is now possible to make mistakes and go backwards over the word with white stuff on a reel and it almost looks like no mistake was ever made. Brilliant.  It has a handle too and is just as portable at 5 kilos as the manual typewriter.


Transitional period…

From treasury tags to Acco clips, or trombones, the means with which to secure pages in a script gently and imperceptibly shifted from the rope to the metal age.




And today…









How to write a report

10 tips: advice to self- not necessarily followed.

1. Use an appropriate writing style




Reports offer information.

Resist the almost overwhelming urge to add florid descriptions, narrative twists, cartoons, exclamation marks, swearing, Russian or dialogue.

Your audience doesn’t want to be entertained.  

Your audience wants to feel wiser than they were before reading your report.

And no jokes whatsoever.

Reports are not funny.


2. Reap and ye shall sow




A report is an organic sausage; its flavour directly correlates to the quality and density of ingredients contained within.

Gather up factoids of use in a text box when stumped on page 33.

Pull in opinions and lists until your idea harvesting hands are calloused and stained red with opinion.

Only when the field is empty and devoid of material shall ye actually write anything.


3. Evidence everything



Not fiction.

Enough said.


4. Weights and measures



The difference in postage price for envelopes under and envelopes over 250 grammes is considerable.

The wise report writer considers this when choosing paper weights and determining report length.

This is experience talking…

Not wisdom.




5. Cast iron copper bottom ad nauseum proof reading



Proof read, leave, return and proof read and repeat countless times.

Proof read, ignore for a fortnight, return and proof read many times more until nothing on any of the pages makes any sense at all.

Give to anyone who can bear it to proof read, when they stop speaking to you pay someone to do it and then do it again as much as you possibly can, neglecting everything and everyone else in your life.

Finally, deal with the inevitable errors that still make their way to print and hope they’re not too noticeable.


6. Say the same thing 3 times over


série répétition, Paris, France, 2013


Say the same thing in three different ways and it will be read and absorbed.

In other kinds of writing repetition is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs, in story arcs, chapters/scenes and definitely in sentences.

In a report, it’s helpful and makes the argument clear.

Funny that, and yet not funny at all of course, because its a report.


7. When typesetting use no more than two fonts




Its written.  

Its taken a while and it says what it needs to say.

You’re pleased yes, but its been a dry old process. 

You open up InDesign and now its CARNIVAL TIME! You cut and paste your findings into text boxes, a literary Sarah Lucas.  You slap in obscure fonts you’ve downloaded into your typekit and-yeah- do them in different sizes and colours too. The words you’ve been staring at for so long can suddenly become REALLY INTERESTING. You are WHACKY and CREATIVE and UNIQUE!

And then you realise its virtually impossible to read and inaccessible to anyone without superhero vision.

It then takes a soul obliterating epoch to rectify it all.


Before starting choose two accessible fonts and two sizes.  One for titles/boxes and one for the main body of the text. The odd italic and bold is as outre as you’re going to go from here on in.

A report is to be read and understood, not marvelled over.

Just calm down.


8. Don’t put text on top of photos


words on photos


Only graphic designers can do this and make it look good.

You’re not a graphic designer.

Wind your neck in.


9. Check every box that comes back from the printers


pandoras box


Printers sometimes make mistakes.  

The mistakes are sometimes not at the top of the box.

The mistakes can be epic in proportion, double covers, missing pages, upside down chapters, smudges, pages stapled together…

Check every single copy.


10.  Expect to be hated in the Post Office




Its rare to send things through the post.

Going to the counter with 60 envelopes which then have to be fed through a post code gleaning machine one by one can cause a distinct atmosphere shift behind your left shoulder.

Don’t go during a busy period.