Why aren’t there more disabled people in all areas of theatre.

Convener(s): Karina Jones

Participants: Emily Lewis, Gary Robson, Andrew McLay, Loin McLay, Michele Taylor, Steve Tiller, Steven Whinnery, Naomi Woddis, Sophie Partridge

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:


Access to auditions for disabled actors.

Training for disabled people in all fields of theatre (ie: Technical, design, acting, directing etc…)

Drama schools wanting their actors to fit a particular mould. They are not going to make a blind actor into a sighted actor, someone with arthritis into an aligned able bodied person through Alexander technique, the drama school admissions need to realize that they need to accept the candidate as they are.

Directors and producers and companies need to become aware that disabled actors can play parts that do not involve playing their disability. There needs to be a word and mentality similar to ‘colour blind’ to raise these issues. Disability should not dictate the theme of the work.

Disabled actors do not get fair criticism, as critics are often frightened and simply describe the production rather than detailing the actor’s performance.

Mentality of directors in casting needs to change: need to get their fear.

We need to get rid of the fear, how?

The way TV/Film warps people’s view of disability: LITTLE BRITAIN

How can we get more disabled people into TV?

Andrew McLay: ‘some disabled people use disability as an excuse for laziness.’

Karina Jones: ‘just because one disabled person does something it should not be relevant to the whole community.’

Naomi and Michele were appalled at this.

‘Theatre companies need to be adaptable to people’s impairments and work with them. To have an inclusive theatre we need to accept people’s needs.’

Many companies do not see diabled actors as viable because of financial restraints (ie: theatre companies do not realize that the government provides access to work for disabled people)

Disability Discrimination Act, is it working? Have any theatre companies been taken to court? Would it do any good? 

Steven Whinnery: ‘Theatre industry still very conventional’

Potential solutions

Arts Council funding disability awareness training for theatre companies, theatre practitioners, TV, Film, theatres and artistic directors.

Theatre companies and theatres need to be made aware of positive commercial implications of using disabled actors (by having a disabled actor your audience may grow as the disabled community could be more interested in the performance). They also need to be aware of access to work (funds for sign language interpreters, access workers etc…).

Assist directors, theatres and agents to target disabled people for employment in all aspects of theatre work.

There should be more new writers companies including disabled people so that their voice is heard. (ie: GRAEAE is doing this to a certain extent at the moment.)

To solve all these problems there should be a theatre organisation for disabled people.

At the moment there only really exists GRAEAE which does:

Masterclasses for directors from the theatre industry to work with disabled actors.

Training of actors to a certain extent.

However, GRAEAE or other more mainstream theatre companies, or drama schools could be given funding to do more:

  • Training for all areas of theatre for both technical and artistic careers.
  • Work placements for disabled people to work with mainstream theatre companies.
  • Supporting individuals to do their own creative work.
  • Co-directing between disabled companies and able bodied companies.

We all thought it would be beneficial to have a co-operative set up and run by disabled performers.

Steve suggested it could be called CRIPPLES.

Why do we need agents? Someone who believes in you. Feeling of validation. Valid point for everyone.

Luin: ‘It is a lot better to be your own agent and take more control.’

We should not see this kind of organisation as ghettoisation or segregation but see it as taking power of our own futures.

Steve Tiller talked about IDENTITY, a theatre company for black people in the Arcola Theatre that could be used as a template.

Another final solution would be to have more discussions like those going on today regularly in the disabled community to try and push for change. Perhaps CRIPPLES could have its own D&D? We need to be forward looking. Taking action rather than just discussing.

We need to create our own work.

Need to be proactive: write to agencies, make the world realize there’s nothing to be afraid of. By employing someone disabled it might actually enhance/enrich the theatre company.

Michele: ‘Nobody is going to empower us, we need to take the power ourselves!’