One in three actors has Dyslexia and/or Dyspraxia. One in three! That means we have five times the national average of Neurodiverse people in our field: “WOOF!”. You may even be in the room with one now. Who knows? How exciting.
What I do know, is that, by the law of averages, you will at some point work with an actor who finds ‘typical’ ways of doing things difficult. Like reading, movement, line-learning, organisation or many more things besides. Day to day we’re pretty good at hiding these grievances: often, they’re classed as ‘quirks’ or eccentricities – e.g. “Martha’s fallen in the orchestra pit again – silly Martha!”, but they can be seriously frustrating and limiting for actors with Dyslexia and/or Dyspraxia, especially when under pressure.
So what is Dyslexia? And what is her second cousin, Dyspraxia? Well, they’re both umbrella terms for a whole host of ways of seeing, experiencing and reporting back to the world that aren’t deemed ‘typical’. I think that’s a bit rude, but there you go – I didn’t dictate the dictionary.
“Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling”.
A person with dyslexia may:
read and write very slowly
confuse the order of letters in words
put letters the wrong way round – such as writing "b" instead of "d"
have poor or inconsistent spelling
understand information when told verbally, but have difficulty with information that's written down
find it hard to carry out a sequence of directions
struggle with planning and organisation
Taken from the NHS website
“Dyspraxia is a common disorder that affects movement and co-ordination. It is also known as developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD)”.
A person with Dyspraxia may:
Have co-ordination difficulties,
Have difficulties with self-care,
Have difficulties with writing and typing,
Find riding a bike or driving a vehicle difficult,
Have social and emotional difficulties,
Have problems with time management, planning and personal organisation.
Taken from the NHS website
Given that there are so many actors who present the above difficulties, I don’t think it’d be too outlandish, or indeed taxing, to make audition, rehearsal and performance spaces more inclusive. Though by no means comprehensive, I’ve chatted with some Neurodiverse actors and here are our top tips:
“COLOURED PAPER! Seriously the best thing ever is when you get a script that’s been printed on something other than bright white, means it’s actually legible!” - Katie
Actors! Rip up your Arden editions of Shakespeare – the punctuation is great, but zero use if you can’t read the damn thing. The text is small, the font is flicky and the lines are too close together. If you can’t bear to rip it up (please don’t rip it up), then give it to your local Oxfam. Look up the text online, copy it into a word document, change the font to Geneva or Arial, increase the line spacing and print it out on coloured paper. Bosh. If you’re a Director, do the above and 33% more of your cast will be able to read the lines. I thank you.
The Nightmare: this is like trying to read a bowl of Alphabetti Spaghetti…
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness.
The Dream: this is the same text, but in a clearer typeface, with a larger font, spaces between the lines and a coloured background. It even has line numbers. Phwoar…
I hereby declare that I, Martha Bennett, will snog anyone that ever presents me with a script like the one above.
“Creating the environment in rehearsals with use of furniture and props (as much as possible) so the actor isn’t thrown when it comes to performance” - Leanne
“If you want a hack for this: I always taped out the stage size on the floor in masking tape (can be removed without causing damage from most floors) and walked everyone through where the stage entrances would be at the start of rehearsals (sometimes with masking tape arrows). This helped me, the Dyspraxic director, as much as it helped them” – Hazel
You heard the ladies: take one room, some masking tape and map out the size of your performance space on the floor. If you’d like to get the most juice out of your actors, mark out the doors and furniture too. Better still – use the actual furniture and props you’ll use in the show/on set. Right from the first bit of blocking.
3. Micro vs. Macro
I went to a workshop for Neurodiverse actors at The Globe earlier this year lead by Colin Farquharson. One of the exercises we were given was to take a monologue and work on it as we normally would... We leapt! We jumped around! We spoke the words aloud! We actioned the bejeebus out of the thing! We Stan’ed! We Meisner’ed! And we William Shakespeare’d the shit out of that text!
10 minutes later we were asked what the monologue was about. None of us had a clue.
We’d been too caught up in the minutiae to see the bigger picture. This is a common trait for Neurodiverse actors. We need someone to help us take a step back and see the whole shebang before we start, or we’ll go off on a dazzling, but not always constructive, adventure.
One of the tips the workshop Colin gave us was to approach a monologue as a series of three questions:
Beyond monologues – considering micro vs. macro is also important for the text as a whole. In read-throughs or when doing tablework, chat through a synopsis first, so everyone has an idea of the trajectory of the piece. Unless you’re doing The Mousetrap, of course – then maybe leave the end bit out.
“Patience with line-learning and understanding that it’s not that we couldn’t be bothered to try, just that it takes a bit longer (and lines as far in advance where possible)” – Lizzie
“Please just let me have a script and stop changing it every day – I once worked on a production where my lines were changing all the time – I’m best in rehearsals when I have the lines down because sight reading makes me a mess. So if they keep changing you will never get the best out of me...” - Sojourner
Schedule extra rehearsals, line-runs and hand out the script with as much forewarning as possible to make the whole experience exponentially more pleasant. As I said in a previous blog post: given time, I can memorise a whole play - but it doesn’t happen overnight. Think of us Neurodiverse actors as cacti: we need to be drip-fed.
Neurodiverse actors may also want to check out the Line Learner app (£3.99 on iTunes, £2.49 on Android). It lets you record lines with different avatars and replay them at different speeds/with gaps for you to say your lines out loud. It takes a long time to record a whole play, but for shorter pieces of text I’ve found it really helpful.
5. Auditions and Castings
“The line learning thing is so important for me. I struggle so much with learning lines and I really wish the industry standard wasn’t to give you a piece of text in the evening and be expected to know it by 10am the next morning” – Catherine
I’ve a feeling I’m not going to make myself very popular in saying this, but here goes...
The turnaround for meetings has become ridiculous. Producers, Directors, Casting Directors, Agents - whoever is responsible for this nonsense - I’m looking at you. Almost every casting Q&A I’ve been to, the facilitator has said something along the lines of: “of course we don’t expect you to learn a script in a night” (promising) then, inevitably... “but of course, if you REALLY put your mind to it, anyone can get six lines or so down in an evening”. No. Nope. Some people just can’t. So spruce up, industry bods. In exchange for expediency, you are alienating a third of the potential answers to your casting questions.
None of us had a tip for this one. We just want the status quo to change.
“Write down stage directions/blocking to make them easier to remember for those of us with information processing difficulties... Film parts of rehearsals so we can watch staging/movement sequences back to help recall” - Ellen
“If we ask for extra rehearsal time on physical stuff, either time to go over it again alone or as much as can be accommodated with others, then its best to let us have the time. Also I've found that in these situations that talking something physical through doesn't really help me, I need to be shown, and then I need to do it a lot” – Hazel
When you’ve got an internal compass as reliable as a whirligig, all of the above is helpful. Yep. Lovely stuff.
7. Emails and Logistics
“The info needs to be really clear and concise and easy to interpret” - Elizabeth
Brevity, simplicity and spaces between paragraphs = delicious.
8. Clarity and Patience
“I would also agree that patience and clear directions are needed. As you know Dyslexics and Dyspraxics often tend to be naturally creative people who can think outside the box (great skills for acting!) But because of our difficulties we may just need things explained slightly differently and to be given some extra time to process instructions and things”- Leanne
Absolutely. Leanne’s hit the nail on the head.
If you’ve got more tips to contribute, or any thing you’d like to add to the discussion, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
 Lord Flashheart (Blackadder, 1986)
 Do not do this. I haven’t had my morning coffee yet and I’m feeling mutinous.