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10 May 2007

Minding the Gap

Mind the Gap Performance

Anna-Maria Heslop and Jonathan Lewis

CAST! is a conference aimed at learning disabled actors, employers and trainers organised by Mind the Gap and Croydon Clocktower. Joe McConnell asked Sarah Kennedy, Marketing Manager at MTG, to tell us something about the organisation's work.

Joe: Following the sad disappearance of Strathcona Theatre Company some years back, it seems to me that there are not many choices available to aspiring learning disabled actors. They can't go to Graeae. Apart from Mind the Gap and Carousel, there is not a lot out there.

Sarah: Actors with learning disabilities do not have much access to formal training and rely on training linked to performance work within specialist companies. They therefore lack mobility within the creative sector, as the training becomes too unique and specific.

We take a pro-active approach to that. Over the past four years we've been working with four mainstream drama schools to deliver a national training course - Staging Change. This is currently co-ordinated by London’s Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in partnership with us. Every year, a group of six learning-disabled students study alongside non-disabled colleagues. This is beginning to open up training opportunities for people from other companies. We also run Making Theatre, an annual training programme in theatre skills. Please contact us (see below) to find out more.

Joe: To what extent are people with learning disabilities involved in the running of the company?

Sarah: We have seven actors who are part of the core staff team. Our production techniques encourage creative input from all the actors involved. In the future we hope to have the facilities to train learning disabled people in stage management. This progress has been generated from demands made by learning disabled actors themselves.

Joe: Can you say more about the barriers faced by aspiring learning disabled actors?

Sarah: General negative social attitudes towards learning disabled people still survive though a lot has changed in 20 years. One of our most recognised actors Anna Marie Heslop - who has worked on The Bill and other TV dramas - says that people are more likely to stare at her in the street because they've seen her on TV and not because she has Down's Syndrome. It's moving forward slowly.

Art that changes perceptions is still having a big impact. Audiences are still divided between those with a condescending attitude towards disability and those who genuinely love the theatre that companies such as ours are producing.

Notes

The Cast Conference will take place on Thursday 31 May from 10am to 4.30pm at Croydon Clocktower.

Contact Mind the Gap for details:

Mind the Gap, Queens House, Queens Road, Bradford, BD8 7BS

Tel: 01274 544 683 Fax: 01274 544 50

Email: arts@mind-the-gap.org.uk

Or book online at their website: www.mind-the-gap.org.uk