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Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Actor Training – A Symposium

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This symposium will offer participants the chance to hear about and discuss recently developed practice in training actors with specific learning differences (SpLDs) – dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Presenters from a range of actor training institutions will share research and good practice, which aims to develop inclusive teaching strategies and successful learning outcomes for neurodiverse students. The presentations will discuss research and practice that draws on, neuroscience, psychology and practice based pedagogy and offers practical solutions to incorporate into acting, voice/text and movement classes. Presentations will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by Dr Sylvan Baker.


A neuroscientific hypothesis for psychophysical performance

With Colin Farquharson and Tanya Zybutz.

Exploring how the ‘narrative brain’ and ‘sensory brain’ modes affect the neuro-diverse actor’s experience and understanding of the actor’s craft.

In this session we will follow Hamlet’s advice to the players by looking at the Six Directions in Space as a tool to help students translate their performance by, “Suit(ing) the action to the word, the word to the action.”

More than coloured paper: psychophysical training methods and the dyslexic and/or dyspraxic actor

With Daron Oram

This presentation offers a set of guiding principles for the training of actors with Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) dyslexia and dyspraxia. This work is the result of a two-year case study of student actors on the BA Acting - Collaborative and Devised Theatre Course (Acting CDT) at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD). This study focuses on the core psycho-physical training in voice, movement and acting, which takes place alongside and prior to work on text.

Interacting with Shakespeare’s text through a dyslexic perspective; interpretive mnemonics as a pedagogical strategy for facilitation of dyslexia in actor-training

With Dr. Petronilla Whitfield

How might actor-trainers meet the needs of student-actors with dyslexia, especially when interacting with Shakespeare’s text? As a teacher of Voice and Acting, I regularly encounter acting students with dyslexia who experience difficulties working within the confines of traditional teaching methods when engaging with the written text. For those with dyslexia, Shakespeare’s writing contributes additional challenges, with idiosyncrasies of word-use and mixed significations of meanings. In this presentation, I will give an overview of my (concluded) PhD research investigation into some dyslexic acting students’ rationale for devising visual constructs as parallel text and I will offer some ideas for practical teaching strategies, which can by-pass the blocks caused by dyslexia. Finally, I will question where the educator’s role as the enabler, in promoting a sense of self-autonomy in their students, might diverge from the role of the vocational trainer for the professional world.

Presenter Biogs

Colin Farquharson first trained and worked as an actor for over 10 years. He worked professionally in both South Africa and the UK before completing his Master’s Degree in Voice at the prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2009. He has worked as a Vocal Coach and Actor Trainer in HE since 2010 and began working with dyspraxic actors around this time. Over the years he has developed a specialist interest in working with dyspraxic actors, and continues to research and innovate practice in this area. Colin has completed a postgraduate certificate in Specific Learning Differences. Currently he runs workshops and sessions for several UK Drama Schools, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Association of Dyslexic Specialists in Higher Education. Colin is also a qualified Franklin Method Practitioner and certified Lessac Practitioner. He continues to research the use of balls and ball therapy in actor training.

Tanya Zybutz co-ordinates the Dyslexia Service which she set up at The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama 12 years ago. She has been a member of ADSHE (Dyslexia Tutors’ Professional Body) since its inception and is a graduate of the first course (1993) to train dyslexia specialists in HE run by Ellen Morgan. Her special interests include the screening process in Higher Education, Professional Peer Supervision and, of course, the very specific challenges that face the dyslexic/dyspraxic training actor. Over the last 5 years, she has developed a keen interest in the role of mindfulness and how this practice can help a range of neuro-diverse students studying in HE, especially those in Conservatoire settings. Currently she is about to embark on a program of academic support targeted to the needs of neuro-diverse staff who are engaged in submitting academic work for publication.

Daron Oram is a Senior Lecturer in voice at the Royal Central School of Drama, where he teaches on the BA Acting Collaborative Theatre BA and the MA/MFA in Voice Studies. Daron worked as an actor before studying on the MA Voice Studies course at Central. Since then he has worked at many London drama schools, joining Central in 2012. Daron’s research focuses on inclusive practices in actor training and the synthesis of psychophysical acting and voice methods. Daron is a designated Linklater voice teacher and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Dr Petronilla Whitfield is Associate Professor and senior lecturer in Voice and Acting on the Acting degree course at the Arts University Bournemouth UK. She has a PhD in Arts Pedagogy (focusing on the support of acting students with dyslexia) from Warwick University and a Master’s degree in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Trained originally at Arts Educational Schools, she was a professional actress for twenty years appearing with theatre companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in TV and film. Petronilla has taught voice and acting at several of the leading British drama schools and has presented her research at several conferences, and in various peer-reviewed academic publications.

Dr Sylvan Baker is Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow for Drama Applied Theatre, Education at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama & Artistic Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. Before teaching at Central he was Associate Director of People's Palace Projects where is research centred around knowledge exchange between emerging artists from Rio de Janeiro Favela social project AfroReggae and artists from organisations across the U.K. His current research 'The Verbatim Formula', has recently won the QMUL Engagement award and he is currently developing a practice research project to explore access routes into higher education for marginalised groups. His research interest are in the potential for socially engaged arts practices to stimulate social justice in a range of communities.


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Registration from 9:30am. Symposium runs from 10am - 1pm.


New Studio, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Eton Avenue, London, NW3 3HY, UK

Event dates

29 Apr 2017 -

9:30am to 1:00pm

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