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Devising and Dyslexia



I didn’t know I was dyslexic until quite late on in my life. Of course I always knew I found some things more difficult than others. My secret fear was that maybe I was a little bit stupid because my logical brain didn’t seem to work the same way as others and sometimes I didn’t seem to understand things as fast. I’d be afraid to put my hand up in school and would often mix my words around and confuse spellings. All signs were pointing in the direction of dyslexia but back then when I was at school, people didn’t test for these things so I was stuck feeling stupid!


I was always a big day dreamer though and didn’t realise at the time this was my super-skill.  My focus would drift out of the window in school - which I now know is a sure sign of dyslexia - but at the time I felt bored and my attention would drift easily. I still think the education system doesn’t work that well for creative spirits like me, and perhaps it doesn’t for you either if you also have dyslexia. I was always happier being more creative. This could be writing stories or songs, performing in plays, making up dance routines, or even designing my own clothes. Although it’s still being researched by scientists, I definitely feel that people with dyslexia are happier using our creative brain, rather than relying on the more logical side.


It wasn’t until I began writing my first play, AWAKEN, that someone first mentioned I have dyslexia. The script software I was using didn’t autocorrect my words so the draft I gave to the director I was working with at the time had many mistakes in it. She also has dyslexia so she recognised the signs and asked me if I realised I might be too. I didn’t know what to do with this new label so I pushed it aside.  It came up again when I was applying funding from Arts Council England. This was taking me forever because my brain kept getting scrambled by the application form and frustratingly after weeks of work I got rejected twice. I was about to give up when a friend told me that ACE can provide access support to disabled and neurodivergent people.  I applied and got help with the form. It was the first time I admitted I have dyslexia to someone I didn’t know.  I cried, feeling both relieved and sorry for my younger self who battled to be “normal” - neurotypical.  It’s worth knowing anyone applying for ACE funding who is neurodivergent can access this support, so please do, it really helps.


That’s my dyslexic story, now let’s get to devising!  



 

MOVING


I’ve been devising work with Seemia Theatre since 2016 and doing detailed improvisation to develop my own writing.  I’m also a big freestyle dancer and attend many improv dance classes in and around London.


Myself and Seemia have developed three shows together now which all begin by devising.  

Devising with dyslexia has both drawbacks and some great advantages.  Here are the problems I’ve faced and then I’ll let you know some handy tips on how to get around them and thrive in the rehearsal room.


When myself and Seemia were devising our first show together, 'EVROS | THE CROSSING RIVER', it was decided we wouldn’t perform the show end-on.  Instead, we opted to perform in-the-round, moving across the space and use different entry and exit points, whilst all remaining in view at all times.  We also have a lot of movement in the show so we would constantly be facing different sides of the audience.


My sense of direction has never been good.  You spin me around once and I would probably lose my bearings in any new place, let alone trying to do it mid performance in different venues when touring.  In rehearsals I found a trick that tends to work for me because whilst my mind gets a bit muddled, my body always remembers.  What I would do is keep blocking my entry and exit points, keeping one eye on any significant props which might be to your left or right to help you get your bearings.  By walking around the space again and again marking where I’d be facing when, I could let the memory sink into my body awareness.


As we are a physical theatre company, along with devising text we also explore movement sequences.  It usually takes me a while to remember all the moves.  I used to have the same problem in dance class.  The teacher would show everyone the routine a few times, they would remember it and I would have forgotten it all quite quickly.  A handy tip I found out later in life is if you associate the move with a feeling, or put 100% commitment into movement - hit it hard as they would say in dance class - then it will tend to stay in the body.  Muscle memory works like that.




 

FIND YOUR TOOLS


When it comes to devised work which is being shown at the end of the research and development period, it usually means the script will always arrive late as you are still developing material.  As someone with dyslexia, I do not learn lines that quickly and usually need to spend quite a lot of time on a script as my mind has trouble concentrating. If you are in a devised rehearsal and need to show the work within the same period and it can’t work with a script in hand, take the pressure off as much as you can.  Remember it doesn’t need to be perfect and if you forget your lines, you are in the world of devising, so just improvise if you need to!


It can also be tempting to try out a lot of ideas, give lots of notes and have everyone's feedback when devising work.  I have found too many notes, ideas and input can be too overloading and confusing for me as a performer with dyslexia.  It works better for me to just work on one note, or one idea until that’s become second nature and then move onto the next.  The temptation as a creative is to try out loads of things at once, but I now believe it’s worth being more methodical with my devising approach and letting my mind concentrate on one thing at a time.


Speaking of concentration, a huge thing that has helped my acting craft is learning meditation.  This helps to calm my mind when I’m feeling overloaded and keeps me focused in a way I never would have been able to before.  I recommend doing this before devising to help you if you’re dyslexic, but I also recommend it to everyone in life.  Trust me, it just works. 


 

POWER OF IMPROV

The final thing to mention is that improvisation is your gift.  Whilst getting everything technically right may be difficult with dyslexia as it takes longer to learn things, you probably have relied on improvisation - which is the route of devising - all of your life.  If you don’t get it as quickly as everyone else, you make it up, you improvise.  And it’s this skill which makes your creativity fly.


As someone with dyslexia, you tend to be super creative because our brain is wired slightly differently and has to rely on taking different pathways.  Me, my Mum and niece are all have dyslexia to varying degrees.  We all get lost, we struggle with spelling, we have no sense of direction, but you ask any of us to tell you a story, we can all improvise one pretty well.  Our imagination is unlimited because we think outside the box.  We’ve always had to.  For me, I used my creative brain to become an avid storyteller and I am currently writing a trilogy of plays so as it turns out, being dyslexic was actually my superpower.  


 

TAKEAWAYS:


  • Find your tools to help you with reading and writing 

  • Does coloured paper or coloured overlays help?

  • Do specific font types and font sizes, headlines or bullet points work for you?

  • Body Memory is your friend, but you might need more time. Take that time.

  • If you’re comfortable, share your access requirements with your employer or fellow artists you’re working with. (You are not legally obliged to share this, especially before you start working for them. Know your rights.)

  • Embrace the creativity



About Cheryl:

Cheryl Prince is an ensemble artist of Seemia Theatre.  She also works independently as an actress, writer, healer and is the founder of 5d Theatre which was set up to bring soul back to storytelling. You can find out more about her work here:


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