Tag Archives: acting

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.

My role on Holby City helps change attitudes about autism – Jules

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Jules is an actor and a regular on Holby City. He also happens to have Asperger syndrome, which is a form of autism.

As part of 30 Under 30, we chatted to him about acting, attitudes and how Access All Areas helped him break into the industry.

My love of acting came from watching a lot of Steve Martin movies which made me feel really good. I also loved going to the theatre and the cinema. I watched lots of films and always thought I’d like to do something like that. Acting made me feel good about myself. I think that really inspired me.

I did a course through Access All Areas, who also now act as my agent. I made some good friends during that time and it was a really good experience because it helped my acting. I improved so much. It meant I could get to the next level.

Landing a role on Holby City

I got an audition thanks to Access All Areas who also now act as my agent. I was fabulous (as always!) and I passed the audition with flying colours. It was very challenging at the beginning because I was walking into something completely new. As the months went on I became comfortable and settled in well and I actually really like it now. I think I’ve come a long way in the last year. I always jump out of bed with enthusiasm, even though I’m leaving at half 6 in the morning.

I play Jason Haynes. He has a different type of Asperger’s to myself. I think he’s a lot geekier than I am. He’s a very nice man but he lacks confidence. I feel like I’m playing a completely different person. That’s why it’s interesting. It’s really fun on set with the cast and crew. It’s a long day but it’s good. I always feel very proud of myself at the end of the day. I feel like I’ve tried my best and done a good job. I like that lots of parents with autistic children have enjoyed it. It’s a great thing that I’ve been able to do.

Jules, a young disabled man, plays a character smiling and lying in a hospital bed on Holby City

I hope attitudes in the industry get better

There was a point where I was very frustrated with the industry because I was seeing all these films that had a character with autism and it was so often played by a neuro-typical person. In Rain Man and Black Balloon, for example, the actors in those two films don’t have the condition. It’s frustrating that directors and producers don’t do enough research because there are people out there with the conditions that can play these parts.

It’s important for disabled actors to play disabled characters, and I think they can play characters who don’t have a condition too. I want the industry to be a little bit more understanding and to not ignore autistic talent like it has done for far too long. I would say it’s improving now but it could get a lot better.

I think it’s really good that shows like Holby City are starting to look into diversity more. When I first started I saw one negative comment on Facebook, someone who followed the show who didn’t understand Asperger’s. But everyone else has been really supportive.

It’s great to have role models

Steve Martin, John Travolta and Morgan Freeman are some of my favourite actors, and Kevin Spacey, Tim Robbins, Jeff Bridges – I’ve got lots. Jim Carrey as well. All these people make me so excited to be an actor and it’s really great to have these role models because I happen to think that actors and comedians are the best people in the world.

I hope that I’m seen as a role model. I hope that I’m encouraging people with other conditions or people who are on the spectrum and have autism or mild learning difficulties. If they watch me on Holby City I hope I’m showing them that it can happen for them and they shouldn’t lose faith and hope. I’m sure they can do it if they put their mind to it.

I think that I’ve done a good job at making people more aware of autism and making it relevant in the acting world. I’m showing that if people with autism want to do this kind of work they can, and it’s not impossible.

My advice for other young disabled actors

Keep a positive frame of mind and try your best. Of course there will be hard times but you’ll get through it. Try your very best to get where you want to go. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want but maybe it just takes time.

Holby City has been the highlight of my career. It’s a very rewarding job and I’m hoping that it will lead to other work in the future. It’s been my first big break really. I’d love to do movies here and in America, more TV and theatre. I’d like to do a whole variety of things.

Jules is sharing his story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Francesca, the theatre star

Francesca Mills is a 20 year old actor who has achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism. She is currently on tour with a Ramps on the Moon production,of the Government Inspector where she plays Maria.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, she talks about inclusiveness in the industry and her top tips for breaking into the world of theatre.

Kids who are interested in performing arts and children who have gone to drama school are much more open-minded and much more accepting. They just love anything diverse. So this meant that breaking into the industry was never an issue for me. No-one has ever been like ‘you can’t do that because you’re disabled’, my family and friend are always 100% behind me.

Changing attitudes

I think roles in theatre for disabled people are very important in changing attitudes towards disability.

Audiences are very accepting without realising it. If you’re out on the street just living everyday life, you’ll get stares and people don’t quite understand but if you walk on stage playing a character, it’s different. Maybe in the first two minutes an audience member might be thinking ‘oh that’s a little person’, but then they’ve completely forgotten and they’re completely on board with what you’re doing.

It may also make them think ‘why do I over-think this? Disability really isn’t a big thing, it’s fine’.

It’s also really important for kids to see disabled actors represented in roles of authority. In the show I’m doing now we have a deaf judge, who’s also a woman, which is brilliant.

A group of disabled actors perform on stage. Fran, a young woman with dwarfism, smiles as a man with a cane kisses her hand.

How the industry has changed

I’m growing up in a time where people are starting to realise they should do projects that are inclusive. I’m lucky in a way that I’ve mainly seen the positive. People older than me have memories of a lot more prejudice. They’ve had a much more tough time which is good to know about because people can appreciate how it’s changed and how things are getting better.  It’s on the way up.

From my experience, a lot of casting directors are becoming more versatile and opening their gates to disabled actors for parts that aren’t specifically disabled parts. If they have a brief for a blonde haired girl with blue eyes, they might open it up to someone with an impairment and it’s not an issue.

I think we’ve still got a long way to go but it’s better than what it was.

Advice for others

If you really want to do it, just go for it, even if people question it. My motto is ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’. If you want to get into acting think about how you’re going to do that.

Get involved in local amateur productions just to get some confidence, like I used to do. See if local theatres are auditioning. If you’ve got an appetite for it just go for it and everything else will fall into place.

Just have fun and enjoy it because it really is the best job in the world.

Top tips for breaking into the industry

Enjoy yourself

Have fun and let people know that you’re having fun, it’s really nice to see! I did Peter Pan in Wimbledon. I was playing Tinkerbell and there were kids playing the Lost Boys. Just seeing their faces when they were in the theatre and how excited they were was amazing. It’s just a really nice quality to have.

Go to the theatre

It’s important to go to actual shows and enjoy shows and see as many as you can.

Learn from everyone

Watch people and learn from them. With the amount of actors that you come across, make sure you ask questions. Watch their technique and etiquette. You can pick up a lot from people.

Never be late!

I’m ridiculous with how early I am. It makes you more relaxed when you get to the theatre and have plenty of time. Never leave anything until the last minute. Give yourself time to settle ahead of a brilliant day.

A large group of disabled actors perform on stage in a theatre. They are looking out to the audience with shocked faces.

Francesca is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read more from our #30toWatch on our website.

Watch Francesca perform in one of our End The Awkward shorts from last year.

 

Top films that portray disability

We asked our Facebook fans about their favourite films that portray disability. Here are the top suggestions:

My Left Foot

“One of the first films that focused entirely on a disabled character is most probably ‘My Left Foot’directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  I was merely a child slowly discovering the world and found so many aspects of the film that I did not fully understand but I did get from it that disability has its struggles and challenges but with it also comes strength and determination. The film tackled various issues that 26 years ago were considered a taboo such as suicide, love, anti-disabled attitudes and rejection of the disabled.”   – Raya Al-Jadir 

“My Left Foot was the earliest film I remember portraying disability. I remember being amazed at how determined the character was. ” – Libby

Inside I’m dancing

“Since seeing this film in school I fell in love and would recommend it to anyone, Inside I’m Dancing is one of the best films I’ve ever watched for showing both the highs and lows of living with a disability, it was so realistic and well written that when I found out neither of the actors were actually disabled, I was in complete shock!
Inside I’m Dancing takes both the good and bad points of being disabled and adds humour which makes for such a feel good film. Having cerebral palsy myself I believe that people with disabilities should be given the chance to show their amazing talents in the media instead of able bodied actors playing the part of disabled characters.”  – Michelle

The Imitation Game

“Although it’s never stated, I feel the makers of The Imitation Game wanted to portray Alan Turing as someone with an autism spectrum condition. The thing that makes the film extraordinary for me is that they got this so right, while not letting it dominate the story.

Autistic characters are so often portrayed as rude, oblivious and not having emotions. Autistic traits tend to be foregrounded in quirky diversions and gags, while the person’s achievements fade into the background. “Not fitting in” is emphasised to the point that you might think if you’re autistic, you’ll never have any friends. This is depressing, but it’s also untrue.

In The Imitation Game, Turing’s autistic traits are just part of who he is, and crucially, part of what his friends like about him. The highly emotional scenes where young Turing – brilliantly played by Alex Lawther – falls in love with a school friend, are enormously moving. Turing’s special interest in codes is beautifully laced through these heart-wrenching flashbacks, where it becomes a source of meaningful connection, not a freakish curiosity.

The things we struggle with are portrayed too. Being overwhelmed by noise or strong emotions, the lifelong project of understanding what others are feeling and the mysterious world of social rules. At least, this is what I identified with in Turing’s story – each autistic person’s experience will be different.

Despite the tragedy of the story, I left the cinema feeling optimistic. As Temple Grandin says, we need all types of minds.” – Suraya

Four Weddings and a Funeral

“I’ve always liked the character of David, played by deaf actor David Bower, in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Bower plays Hugh Grant’s brother, but the film doesn’t make a big deal of his deafness: the character is neither tragic nor endowed with special gifts. He’s an ordinary person who has a nice, jokey relationship with his brother – and they just happen to communicate in sign language. I love David’s dramatic intervention in the wedding ceremony, where Hugh Grant’s character translates David’s signed words for the congregation, transforming a well-worn cinematic trope into a funny and memorable scene.” – Kim Thomas