ACTING DYSLEXIC: PART ONE

dysleixa tweet

For those who don’t know, I am dyslexic. I know blogging and dyslexia don’t exactly go hand in hand, but I love writing. Never shying away from my weaknesses, HelloEmmaKay is all about sharing my life and using my love for theatre as the starting point. Wanting to escape the “Me, Myself and I” introduction (don’t worry that’s coming in Part 2), I wanted to hear from other dyslexics. Forgetting the power of Twitter, I was overwhelmed by the response. Check out my interviews with Helen Fullerton and Sandra Meunier below.

Helen Fullerton

Meet Helen Fullerton. She’ll be celebrating 25 years as an actress. Touring around the country, Helen knows the roads of England better than anyone – take that TomTom! Living in Yorkshire, London, Newcastle and Somerset (to name a few), I was honoured to read Helen’s story. Helen points out that she doesn’t suffer from dyslexia “greatly” as dyspraxia rules the roost, but wants to share her story to encourage others.

  1. How did you find out you were dyslexic?

I had a very observant primary school teacher who noted that I could repeat whole books verbatim, but just didn’t connect to the letters at all.  She’d also been one of those pioneering the new discovery of dyslexia with Bev Honsby and booked me an assessment with Bev. I was ambidextrous and highly intelligent so they had to prove that I was dyslexic otherwise people just claimed you were “thick” if you couldn’t learn the letters.

  1. Has dyslexia helped or hindered your craft?

I have never found it a problem. I need to be off the book fast. I learn lines faster so I don’t have to read. Being diagnosed at 7 years old, I had a lot of help over years. By the time I was in the profession, I could sight read almost as well as my contemporaries.

  1. How does dyslexia affect your practice? How do you overcome these struggles?

I learn my lines fast. I mostly connect with the emotional point of view rather than the precision of the words. This can annoy some purists, but I have had several writers write for me and they had no problem with my delivery.

  1. Have you ever received negative or positive feedback regarding your dyslexia?

I once mentioned it at an audition. My drama school told me to disclose my dyslexia so I could gain extra time for sight reading. He was annoyed afterwards as he said I had read as well as most and was just making excuses.

  1. Do you believe there is support and understanding for those with dyslexia working in the theatre industry?

More and more each year. Dyslexia is acknowledged as the condition often coupled with creativity.  I’ve been in a waiting room where a young man, who had very bad dyslexia, was having his lines read to him so he could memorise them for the recall.

  1. Any advice for performers/writers/directors with dyslexia?

If the words worry you, get over that as fast as possible. Writers use word processor as their spelling and grammar checks are a godsend. Directors use images and diagrams as much as possible.

Follow Helen @HelenFullyActor and visit her website here


Sandra Meunier

Meet Sandra Meunier. She’s an actress, dancer, physical performer, stand-up comedian, linguist and writer…basically she is one talented lady! Raised in Belgium (the French speaking part), Sandra wants to share her story to encourage those not to hide behind the “dyslexic” label. Explaining dyslexia is a gift, the only stupidity is to let dyslexia beat you down. I adore what this lady has to say…

  1. How did you find out you were dyslexic?

When I was 6 years old, I remember telling my parents and teachers the letters were moving around. They checked it out medically and nothing. I was told to get on with the work because I was intelligent/advanced than the other kids. I spent years struggling to write and read books crying, trying to see words on the pages that looked like nothing else than a grey maze. I was focusing so hard, and failing so many times. But eventually, I managed it – to the price of very bad migraines.

I found my own ways to compensate. I even went to university to study a “proper degree” (Communication Studies and Cultural Anthropology). One of my professors told me my essays and exams weren’t good enough, not at the level of my “viva voce” or comparable to what I was saying in class. Missing words, letters and sentences, I mentioned I might be dyslexic. Her reaction was to tell me if that was the case, I had nothing to do at university. She was a “social anthropology professor, specialising on disability issues”…scary!

I was properly diagnosed years later, when working at TFL. Things suddenly made sense. I felt relieved and vindicated. It was encouraging – if I had managed all that, in spite of being dyslexic without any help, I could achieve anything.

  1. Has dyslexia helped or hindered your craft?

I believe dyslexia has helped me to be more inventive, helped me discover shortcuts and approach things in a different way. I am more visual. I write down diagrams that only I can decipher – it’s like having my own secret writing.

I work and focus so hard on the meaning behind the text. A word is not only about the letters, but the meaning hiding behind it all. As a dyslexic, you fight so hard to read the words, you just don’t leave it at a superficial level, you want to get to know the words, the text and its meaning. I spend so long on each text – I want to know all of its secrets, I squeeze it all out. It is a bit like a word rodeo: you are like a cowboy and the words are the horse, and you need to learn to work together.  I think too many actors believe that reading is about “deciphering the letters” and they totally miss the actual meaning.

Saying the words on paper, giving them life is a truly magical act, managing to work with the indomitable is a mystical and wonderful endeavour. So it is probably part of why I became a writer and linguist too. I just love words – although sometimes I hate them too!

I have more issues as writer as I can make lots of mistakes and re-reading is really hard, even harder than reading other people’s writing (I actually can often spot their mistakes). I rely a lot on auto-correct, and on fast typing skills.

  1. How does dyslexia affect your practice? How do you overcome these struggles?

Unsurprisingly, auditions are really difficult – just added stress.  When I have the opportunity to print out my audition text, I print it on paper and use a font which suits me. I also tend to try to learn the text in any case, but sometimes the text is too long for me to learn at the last minute, and the nerves bring me down.

Sometimes they tend to give you readings during the audition in very small print and wrong font, making it impossible for me to read. Saying you have dyslexia seems like an excuse, and all they can tell you is to “take your time” – which doesn’t help! I was once told “in your own time, but faster“….don’t think so!

I also had someone feeding me the lines, but it didn’t work out as my auditory memory is not good either and they were giving me a big chunk. It ended up being a disaster.

I was once given the opportunity to improvise the lines – I knew how the discussion was going, so the actual words didn’t matter, as long as I was following the same path. If the text is well written, and you can follow the writer’s meaning, the words that will come out will likely be the same. How often does that happen in auditions? *Sighs*

  1. Do you tell your fellow cast members about your dyslexia and why?

Only if we have to read together or if I need to justify why I am getting the text before them. Or if we discuss tips on learning lines etc.

  1. Have you ever received negative or positive feedback regarding your dyslexia?

Mainly negatives. “Oh why did you become an actress if you have dyslexia?” – “I seldom have to read on stage” is usually my answer. I do have issues with reading. I think a lot of people use it as an excuse so when you say that to a casting director, it tends to come across wrong. I once had a workshop with a CD and asked this as a question, how to mention and deal with it, but she sighed before answering “come in earlier“.

I was raised in Belgium so some people assume it is an excuse for “using bad English“. I was dyslexic in French, I am dyslexic in English. Also, my English is better than most people’s English because I actually had to learn it the hard way for very long hours, and I respect it more than most. As you can guess, it really annoys me to hear that.

  1. Do you believe there is support and understanding for those with dyslexia working in the theatre industry?

Not really. A lot of people don’t know anything about dyslexia or disabilities in general. I think there’s still a lot of people who are “Shush, don’t mention it” while others are encouraging you to be open about it.

I just wish it was more of a level-playing field. I can’t compete with other according to the “regular rules“. I can’t beat them by doing an audition their way, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be able to do the job MY way.

  1. Any actors/directors/writers with dyslexia who inspire you?

Billy Bob Thornton because he has achieved all three.

I am not sure you should be inspired by someone who “overcame something” because you do not know how badly it affected them, maybe it was much lighter than your issue or maybe they had external help. What matters is your own journey and to keep pushing yourself a little bit. Comparing yourself and your career to others is always an issue. It is your personal journey and your struggle.

  1. Any advice for performers/writers/directors with dyslexia?

Know yourself and what helps you. Discuss tips. I wish there were more roundtables and workshops for actors with dyslexia where we could exchange tips about auditions, readings, memory, as well as casting directors.

Never feel ashamed. There’s a door to a different way of thinking and standing out as a person. Be proud of your success because you have worked really hard for it. Be proud of your failings because you dared trying.

Follow Sandra @meunier_sandra and visit her website here

Want to share your story? Please comment below and let’s start talking about dyslexia. Stay tuned for “Acting Dyslexic: Part 2”.

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