Participation is a bugle call, excellence is dynamite
Gifted actors with learning learning disabilities have a right to access acting and rehearsal craft and audiences benefit from the characters and stories trained actors with learning disabilities bring to general audience work.
Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director at the Young Vic Theatre in London asked me to deliver a day long Silent Approach master class for up to 60 directors and theatre makers.
I accepted the challenge and approached the work with three objectives in mind:
- To offer a hands on ‘doing it’ experience of Silent Approach ensemble, physical and vocal exercises.
- To showcase Silent Approach non verbal directing technique
- To inspire interest in and commitment to this kind of inclusive approach and integrated theatre and casting.
The Silent Approach is an equaliser.
It unlocks standard rehearsal process by removing the need for speech (Apart from the play text) and it allows vocational actors with and without learning disabilities to work together with equality.
The foundation of the approach is Stanislavsky’s system.
Actors with and without learning disabilities trained in this way can readily access the technique.
It gives directors a non verbal map to get scenes up and work them and run them to production readiness.
No actor is excluded from the rehearsal process on the grounds of verbal or cognitive ability.
It works for text based, standard ‘written’ plays as well as working for physical and devised work.
I chose to work on the day with Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill, both trained and experienced actors with Downs Syndrome. I also cast non-disabled actor Johnny Vivash who I worked with on two national tours of my play HYPOTHERMIA.
The Silent Approach is dynamic.
Asking a large roomful of people who you’ve never met before to trust, follow and go with you on a silent journey is a big ask.
Thankfully, they came with me.
I score the days activity. Music and sound effects shape a narrative and emotional pathway we can all follow.
I started the warm up by communicating physically with Toby Meredith then gathered up and collected everyone in the studio, working through the kinesphere and at different paces, returning many times to breath, inhabiting the space, working with its energy.
We then moved on to a vocal warm up, working with breath, sound, laughter, tuts and shushes, vowels and lamentations.
An hour and a half later, no one had a said a word but a lot of information had been exchanged.
We had a shared vocabulary and shared knowledge.
We were an ensemble.
The Silent Approach is effective.
I moved into scene direction, establishing given circumstances and character with video files I’d edited together for the purpose, sound cues established place.
Actors understood where they were, a little of what they wanted from their scene partner and then played off each other.
Lines were fed in.
Three lengthy scenes were directed and on their feet within an hour and fifteen minutes.
Its possible to direct a two act, two hour fifteen minute production in two weeks using the Silent Approach.
I’ve done it. Several times.
The Silent Approach is for everyone.
After lunch six directors stepped up and directed a further three scenes.
We used the same given circumstances and the same cues and the action took place in the same location as the morning scenes but the dialogue and the activity was new.
In each of the scenes an actor without learning disabilities and actors with learning disabilities delivered the kind of theatrically realistic performances you’d expect to see on a main stage.
All the directors did brilliantly. They said they’d picked up some tools which will hopefully have influence moving forwards and perhaps create some change too. And change any perception about work featuring learning disability having to happen at participatory level…It can happen at all levels, and should.