Acting. Dyslexia. Dyspraxia. All very sexy words. And I encompass all three because I am neurodiverse and, therefore, a very sexy person.
This is the conclusion I've come to after many years of accidentally wearing my pants over my clothes (see photograph) and failing driving tests by driving the wrong way round a roundabout. Cool.
I'd always considered my 'Specific Learning Difficulty' to be just that - a difficulty with learning. But I've come to realise in recent years that it affects my acting, too.
Roughly 6-7% of the general population are thought to be somewhere on the Dyslexic and/or Dyspraxic spectrum. This percentage rises, however, to 30-40% amongst actors - why is this? And can our industry be doing more to help us out?
My particular areas of weakness are sequencing and short term memory loss. Short term... memory loss. This came to a head most recently during a production of Twelfth Night, where instead of Feste's final speech, the only word I could summon up was 'tosspots', so I just went ahead and shouted 'TOSSPOTS!' at a slightly scared and bemused audience member, before running off to hide in the wings. Essentially: we hadn't rehearsed enough, my brain did a fart and I let the team down.
When given a longer rehearsal period, I can memorise whole plays. Daisy Pulls it Off circa 2006 is still fresh as a daisy. But short term memory loss is just one of the many sexy things we actors with Dyslexia and/or Dyslexia FUCK and/or Dyspraxia have to contend with.
I spoke to some fellow neurodiverse actors about their particular sticking points: Jacob can learn lines with ease, but ask him to learn a dance routine and he turns to jelly. He has to video the routine, take it home, work on each body part's movement independently, and only then can he start piecing it all together. Marika has to print out swathes of maps and leave an hour early to find her audition or rehearsal venue. Aislinn panics over last-minute scripts being sent through for auditions. Julia is always covered in marbled bruising from bumping into goodness knows what and all of us have felt cripplingly stupid on stage and in the rehearsal room and in the audition room on more than one occasion.
Others feel embarrassed doing table work or sight readings and I'm sure there are many more difficulties actors with Dyslexia and/or Dyspraxia deal with on a daily basis. I would love to hear from you!
But you know what? It's worth it. The extra hours finding your way or learning your lines and being brave enough to get up in front of a room full of people with the knowledge that you're probably going to make a tit of yourself. It's worth it because you know that once those words and movements are in your bones they're secure. That, for someone who is so often wrong-footed, is glorious.
I went to a workshop for neurodiverse actors at The Globe recently. (It was brilliant- please put on more!). They gave us some great strategies for approaching text - which I will go into more detail in another post - and, specifically Shakespeare. But what I took away from the workshop was also a sense that it's ok to disclose your disability (in fact, many theatres have diversity quotas, so it's worth mentioning it in an audition). And if the director or casting director is funny about you telling them - just think, are they really someone you want to work with?
I hope that actors, such as myself, on the Dyslexia and/or Dyspraxia spectrum can start a dialogue to make our job easier - please get in touch with your thoughts and stories and let's all be incredibly sexy neurodiverse actors together.