Why BBC Class Act is an exciting step forward for disabled actors

BBC Class Act is a nationwide development programme which aims to support and raise the profile of disabled actors. Last week, we were lucky enough to attend the launch party and talk to some of the talented people involved.

On Monday, we shared a blog about Silent Witness and how amazing it is to see better representation of disability on screens, as well as a variety of exciting roles for disabled actors. We want to see more of this, which is why we’re fully behind the new BBC Class Act programme.

Last August, the BBC launched a nationwide search for talented disabled actors. From over 350 audition tapes, 32 people were were selected to attend an intensive three day skills workshop led by BBC directors. The actors were given lessons in everything from audition and camera techniques to help with their show reels, with the aim of improving their chances of being cast in more roles. At the launch, Piers Wenger from the BBC said:

“I hope the talent you see encourages you to consider disabled talent for a manner of roles. It’s crucial that all of us in the industry work collectively to nurture and include disabled actors so that we can see increased representation on our screens.”

Carly Jones, one of the talented actors who took part, tells us why this is so important to her

Carly sat on the sofa with a union jack pillow

Before this, I’d accepted that acting wasn’t my destiny

Before I became an Autism advocate, I was an actor. Autistic people, like me, have what many professionals call “obsessions” and what the kindest professionals call “special interests”.  Mine was definitely acting.

Aged four, I would be gently placed behind the sofa every time I stood in front of my parents’ TV, wanting to be the performer. As soon as I could read, Teletext became my very first auto cue!

This led to being Mary in the school nativity, attending Ravenscourt Theatre school as a teen and eventually, becoming a frustrated actress in my 20s, snatching occasional talking parts in a sea of supporting roles.

Chasing this dream wasn’t compatible with a busy life as a divorced mother of three daughters, two of whom are also Autistic.  So I decided to put my “special interest” into a box.

It was hard. I always felt more comfortable on stage than I did in everyday situations because I knew what I was meant to say and was prepared for the reply. But I accepted that acting wasn’t my destiny and moved on.

Carly looking to the side, against a dark background
Carly had put aside her dream of acting, until she took part in BBC Class Act

When I saw the BBC Class Act advert, my instant thought was “Ah I wish this had been around when I was younger” and I got on with my routine, but kind friends kept nudging me and eventually I thought “Blow it, I’ll audition!”

When I had a quiet hour at home alone, I taped my audition and nervously posted it “unlisted” on my YouTube channel. I planned to remove it later and never think about it again, but by some twist of fate, I was chosen!

Disabled actress Carly wearing sunglasses and a top that says autistic girl power

The course felt like a celebration of diversity

On the first day, I was pleasantly surprised by how different we all were. There were actors with all sorts of different impairments. Also a large percentage of BBC staff and organisers were disabled – something which I naively didn’t expect.

We had three action packed days. We auditioned, did camera work, filmed our scenes and showcased our work to our directors. Surprisingly it was not half as terrifying as I expected! The subconscious worry that this was just a box ticking exercise was quashed – this event really showcased a genuine desire for change and a celebration of diversity.

Truly it was easy to forget that we were a group of ‘disabled actors’. The actors there were extremely talented and it was clear that this initiative was set up to support talented actors, who also happen to be disabled. Rather than “let’s get some disabled people and help them act”.

I am so grateful for the three days of total support, encouragement and confidence the BBC gave me. I’m excited to see where this progresses, not only for my own personal goals, but for disability representation in the media as a whole! And maybe, just maybe, my Autistic “special interest” happens to also be a talent.

If you’re a disabled actor and you’d like to share your experiences of working, you can get in touch with the stories team.

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