Representation of Disability in Theatre

Representation and diversity in theatre is something that is really important but unfortunately there is often a distinct lack of it. And because of this I feel its a topic that needs to be discussed.
Not only is representation important, accurate representation is vital. Recently the play All In a Row at the Southwark Playhouse used a puppet to portray an Autistic character.
This saw the autistic community take to twitter to express their concerns and feelings that the puppet was dehumanising and re-enforcing negative stereotypes that surround autism, one of them being that autistic people cant be independent, as obviously a puppet needs someone in order to have any function.
As a response to the backlash they were facing Southwark Playhouse released this statement:

Statement taken from Southwark Playhouse Twitter

A lot of people in the autistic community of twitter felt that statement released was a bit of a piss take and the reasons stated in the statement did not justify their ‘artistic choice’ of using a puppet to portray the character. I agree with this feeling, I mean how many times have we been asked to believe a 30 year old is 17 in a show? A lot of people, including myself felt that should have cast an adult, autistic or not, who was young looking to take on the roll.

As an autistic person myself the fact they used a puppet is honestly disgusting to me.
Because it does in itself reinforce harmful stereotypes of autism.
Specifically the fact that a puppet is useless unless it has someone to use it.

Once I went for a job interview. I was taken there by my Personalised 4 Autism case worker.
The woman at the interview didnt address me, she addressed my support worker and asked
‘Can she talk?’ ‘Can she walk?’ ‘Can she understand and hold conversations?’

And for me the use of a puppet only puts that out there. So many people who I come across think thats what autism is, a lack of being able to be independent, to speak etc. They shouldn’t have used a puppet, they should have listened to the autistic community.
Because they caused untold distress. Their reasoning for using a puppet was quite frankly laughable. And that’s where my issue lies. They ignored us. They ignored our concerns and just came up with a bullshit excuse.

Maybe the content of the show was good but that does not do anything to take away from how harmful and dehumanizing the puppet is.

Along with the use of the puppet, they only offered one relaxed performance of the show. So as well as putting out harmful images, they also failed to make the show accessible which only angered people more.

It is so important for people who have a disability to feel represented in a way that doesn’t feel harmful or play only on stereotypes of the disability.

Along with casting actors in roles that depict that disability, we should also be cast disabled actors in what ‘traditionally’ are non-disabled roles. Two shows that I have seen do this in the past year are Spring Awakening Manchester and Hadestown at the National Theatre in which the wonderful and immensely talented Beth Hinton-Lever who was born with Congenital Limb Deficiency and as a result was born without her lower right forearm was cast. This needs to be happening more, actors who have a disability of some sort are just as talented and just as worthy to be seen as those who don’t have a disability. In fact I feel its more important that they are seen because there is such a lack of representation out there and as a result so many people don’t get the opportunity to see someone who looks like themselves in any kind of media, be it film, tv or theatre. Being able to see themselves represented in a positive way can make all the difference to a young person, or anybody for that matter.

Its 2019, why aren’t we seeing more representation of disability? and for that matter, more representation across the board. Its about time we caught up and put those voices and that untapped talent out there.

And to those who are writing a piece that features a disability that they do not suffer from themselves; ask for feed back from people who have the disability you are trying to write, listen to their feedback, especially the feedback that is telling you that what your doing with the writing and depiction is, in their eye harmful. Don’t disregard those voices, they are the ones who live with it everyday, they are the ones who have to deal with the stereotypes that will just be added to if you don’t listen to their voices. If you get us on side then you will have a loyal following, if you piss us off you can guarantee that we will fight the production and speak out against it as loudly as we can.
For you its a way of making money, for us? We live with disability everyday, we deserve to be listened to and not feel harmed as a community by the shows being put out there.

A Chat With Jabez Sykes

I asked northern actor Jabez Sykes who recently play Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester which recently won Best Regional Production at the What’s On Stage Awards what inspired his love for the arts and what working in the industry is like.

What sparked your love for the arts?

When I was in primary school one of the TA’s also taught a Latin and Ballroom dance school and she invited a lot of students to come and have a trial day. I really fell in love with it, most of the other kids dropped out after a few weeks, but it was the first time I really felt like I belonged somewhere, this was where my love blossomed for the arts…
As I got older I wanted to do more than dancing as it was all a bit ‘tits and tooth’ for me, so I started at the Oldham Theatre Workshop, they allowed me a safe place to have an artistic voice. It was here I really developed my love for theatre, it was (and still is) an incredible place, and it will forever and continue to be very special to me.

Acting isn’t the most stable of jobs, and the industry is extremely competitive. How do you deal with that uncertainty?

I think for me it’s surrounding myself with good people.
It is unfortunately a very competitive industry, and in my experience, very unstable, but this is something you know going entering the industry.
I think you have to believe in yourself and find what makes you special.

Working in the arts is a challenging and extremely intense thing to do. Does the pressure to perform and be perfect all the time take its toll on your mental health?

Absolutely. Especially with auditions the pressure is on to get it right in that room which can be really daunting, and when you don’t get it right it’s devastating. Especially if you’re working a ‘normal’ job that you hate.
But again, you have to have enough belief to know that it wasn’t your best, brush it off and focus on the next thing.

How do you deal with times a performance may not have gone as smoothly as you wanted it to?

I honestly LOVE it when things go wrong (when it’s something minor anyway), I find it makes everyones senses switch on and find a solution. I think you just have to laugh it off and remember there are more shows to get it right.
We are human after all and mistakes do happen, sometimes shows with mistakes are the best shows, because it makes everyone more alert!

Do you feel pressure to present yourself to fans in a certain way and respond to them if they reach out to you and if they themselves may be wanting advice when it comes to their own mental wellbeing does that have an impact on you mentally?

If I’m being honest, I don’t really have any ‘fans’ so haven’t really been in this situation.
I will say that it is always hard to see someone suffering, however I am not a mental wellbeing/health professional and if someone is struggling they should reach out to someone qualified, as I couldn’t provide the help that they needed.
I would be flattered that someone felt they could reach out to me and always endeavour to reply, but at the end of the day, it is not for me to advise on someone else’s health.

What advice would you give to young performers wanting to get started in the art and to those who are wanting to audition for stage school?

I never went\ got into drama school, so my route into the industry was very different to most.
What I would say for people auditioning is, know your material for said audition.
However, drama school isn’t the only way into the industry. I will say it is much harder without, but not impossible.
Get out there and make it happen, if it is in you then you’ll do it.
Find a local theatre group, do whatever you can, but make sure you enjoy it. As soon as you lose the joy for something, move on!
Life is too short!

Depression is a BITCH

Depression is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives, and it sucks.
Depression has a way of draining all the light from your life, leaving you in a seemingly purpetual darkness. It’s draining, some days just getting out of bed seems an impossible task.
The past week has been full of those days for me. The smallest thing going wrong becomes completely overwhelming. That yoghurt you wanted has been eaten by someone else? You burst into tears. That’s ok, there’s no shame in that.
Depression isn’t forever, although it may feel that way at times. It does not mean you are weak.
One day you will come out the otherside, those grey cloud will eventually disperse. Things that seem so big now will slide into insignificance, it will take time but it will happen.
There is always hope. Just because you can’t see it at that precise moment doesn’t mean it’s not there to be found and reclaimed. It’s just trying to hang onto that clarity when your thoughts are so murky. You don’t have to suffer it alone, there is help out there, ask for it and use it!
Depression is temporary. It’s an overcomeable obstacle.
Ask for help if you need it.
Reach out in moments of crisis.
You’re meant to be here.
It may not seem like that way, but you have a purpose.
Live life at your own pace
It isn’t a race.

November Favourites

Every month I share with you some of my favourites, so heres my picks from November!

Karin Markers

I cannot get enough of these beautiful pens.

If you are a part of the lettering community on Instagram, I’m 99% sure that you will have heard of these pens before because they are currently all the rage, and for good reason!

If you aren’t part of the lettering community on Instagram or are but haven’t come across them Karin Markers are brush pens and in my opionion one of the most versatile pens out there. I really cannot fault them.

User friendly, versatile and vibrant, these markers can be used in so many different ways.

From flawless blending, watercour painting and lettering that are a pleasure to use and are perfect for both beginners and experienced artists alike.

The packaging is beautiful and the delivery is super fast

Photo from Karin Markers

Hadestown

Hadestown is a brilliant musical and has been a favorite of mine for the past year or so. This year it was given a production at the National Theatre in London and I was lucky enough to go and see it. What a show! It’s based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set to a folk score. If you can I would recommend getting down to see it before its run ends on 26th Jan 2019! It boasts a stellar cast including Amber Gray, Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada.

Photo from National Theatre

Cricut Explore Air 2

After seeing MeganNicoleLettering using this contraption to make beautiful vinyl designs I decided I had to invest in one myself and I have not been disappointed.

Although the machine is expensive, (I paid £249 for mine in a bundle that included tools and cutting mats) it is well worth the money. It’s so easy and fun to use and there is so much you can do with it. I believe it cuts over 100 different materials, there is so much fun an experimenting to be had with this.

It is bluetooth enabled so you can bluetooth designs straight from your ipad to cut through the Cricut Design App, you can also send things to it from your desktop via USB!

So although it’s expensive, as I said before it is well worth splashing the cash as it makes creating professional designs so easy and is quite frankly just fun to watch!

Photo from Cricut

Skillshare

Skillshare is a great little site and app that offers classes in a wide range of creative things. I love taking lettering and art classes on there, classes are easy to follow and really fun. It’s a sevice I would really recommend for anyone who wants to improve their art, photography, writing and so on.

They offer a free and a premium service!

Photo from Skillshare

Kinky Boots REVIEW

I was lucky enough to win tickets to see Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre in London thanks to a Twitter giveaway by Encore Tickets! So thank you Encore Tickets for giving me the opportunity to see this fun show.

Kinky Boots is a musical about a shoe factory in Northampton, England and is based on a true story. The show sees Charlie Price inherit a struggling shoe factory from his father, and he becomes determined to save the business, he ends up forming an unlikely partnership with a transvestite named Lola and all sorts of craziness and fun ensues.

Being from Northamptonshire myself, I was super excited to see the show as shoe making is a huge part of the history of the Shire. Kinky Boots is fun, absolutely hilarious and has a really powerful and positive message behind it which is to be unapologetically yourself, and to be kind and accepting of those around you, which I think is a really important message.

The sets in the show were stunning. From the Price & Sons factory, to the simple set up of the care home to the Milan set filled with lights and glam.
My favourite being the shoe factory set.

The staging of the show was clever and pretty seamless. The costumes were stunning, especially the Milan show costumes and the boots were to die for. Full of glitz and colour the costumes were dazzling.

The stand out moments of the show for me were Simon-Anthony Rhoden as Lola, his presence on stage was phenomenal, from sassiness Land of Lola and Sex Is In The Heel, to the emotional and stripped back numbers such as Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me In Your Heart.
And judging by the reaction of the audience after Hold Me In Your Heart, everyone was stunned by his performance.
Another stand out for me was Verity Rushworth as Lauren and her knock out performance of The History of Wrong Guys. WOW. She was hilarious and owned the stage. I loved her voice and energy, and again, judging by the response of the audience I’m not the only one who loved her portrayal of Lauren.

Kinky Boots is such a fun show, with fabulous costumes, a stunning set and a very strong cast.
The choreography is brilliant, especially in numbers like Land of Lola, Everybody Say Yeah, What A Woman Wants. With a stunning set to boot (pun not intended) the show is a joy to watch and leaves you feeling positive.

RATING: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

You can see Kinky Boots at the Aldephi Theatre until January 2019

*As I saw this show in May there has been a cast change.

My Favourite Instagram Letterers

CAROLICITYDESIGNS

CAROLICITYDESIGNS INSTAGRAM

I absolutely adore Carols lettering styles and her work with watercolours. Her art is always so slick, with flawless blends and paint bleeds to die for. Whether it be a lettering piece or a watercolour painting I can’t get enough of her work.

Carol posts process videos which are always a joy to watch.

An all round lovely person she inspires me so much.

AROBINSONART

AROBINSONART INSTAGRAM

Alyssa was one of the first letterers that I followed on Instagram when I started lettering myself. Her style is so unique and I love seeing what she makes. From lettering to murals and paintings. I would love to be half as good as this talented woman! I take so much from her work and love her because she doesnt sensor what she writes. There’s something really pleasing about seeing swear words written in pretty lettering!

HEYFOXY.AU

HEYFOXY.AU INSTAGRAM

Josie is another account that I have been following since I first got into lettering. Her current series is something I really look forward to seeing the next installment of 100 Days of Mixed Media. The colours she uses and her style is one that I adore. I wish I had her commitment to projects , if I did I’d give the 100 Days of Mixed Media challenge ago myself because I love what she has created from it.

DEBBIESLETTERING

DEBBIESLETTERING INSTAGRAM

I first found Debbies account a few months back when she posted a video of her embossing a Dr Seuss quote onto a notebook.

Her lettering style is flawless and she is one of my go to accounts when searching for inspiration. Her grasp of colour is brilliant, where as mine is questionable at best.

GRACEALLIDESIGNS

GRACEALLIDESIGNS INSTAGRAM

I love Grace to bits, another account that I have been following for quite a while she posts videos of lettering and has also made a workbook called and I love it. It has helped me improve my work so much.

The composition of her work is always spot on, my favourite piece she’s done is her lettering of a quote from Seventeen (reprise) from the musical Heathers.

She is currently making another workbook of lettering that can be done with normal pens, I will definitely be getting it when it’s released!

My Diagnosis Story: Type 1 Diabetes

Today is World Diabetes Day so I thought I would share my diagnosis story.

On the 21st of February this year I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes which is an autoimmune disease. It came as quite a shock.

I had been feeling unwell for a few months and was suffering from extreme headaches, blurred vision and was constantly tired so I finally went to the doctors. They ran blood tests, sent me to the opticians and even booked for me to have a CT scan. They didn’t suspect type 1 diabetes.

After one lot of bloods came back with some markers flagged they sent me to have repeat blood tests done.

Then on the morning of the 21st of February we got a phone call from the doctors, my mum answered it. They said I needed to come in urgently because they think I have type 1 diabetes.

When my mum got off the phone she came up to my room and told me. I cried and said I wasnt going to the doctors and that I didnt care.

My mum called my dad and got him to come home from work so we could all go to the doctors together.

At the doctors they do a finger prick test and my blood sugar was 19.4mmol. They sent me straight to A&E. I decided to take my dad with me as he is a type 1 diabetic and was best placed to help.

After sitting in A&E for hours I was finally seen by the diabetes team. They bombarded me with information and gave me my insulin pens, needles, insulin, blood glucoes meter a ketone metre and some test strips. It was daunting.

It was my 21st birthday the next day and as I was going to London my family were meant to come over that day to give me my presents but that had to be cancelled.

Doing my first injection and blood test was so scary but I did it. I dont think it had really hit me at that point that I would be doing this for the rest of my life. 5 injections at least a day, everyday.

8 months on its easier. But when it’s a bad day it leaves me feeling rough as hell.

Days out are hard to manage because it’s out of routine and my insulin needs change with what I’m doing.

I’m still trying to get the hang of it. It is very much trial and error, sometimes you get it spot on, others you get it horribly wrong.

Everyday is a learning curve.


If you think you may have syptoms of T1D please go to your doctors as it’s so serious and needs diagnosing if you have it!