Actors with learning disabilities graduate with ground-breaking diploma

Pupils on the drama course for people with learning disabilities.

Pupils on the drama course for people with learning disabilities. - Credit: Archant

The first set of adults with learning disabilities are set to graduate from a groundbreaking course, which aims to break down the “institutionalisation and prejudice” of what they can achieve.

Pupils on the seven-month diploma in performance making have worked with BBC casting director Sarah Hughes, actor and performance artist Mat Fraser and other high profile tutors.

The course is run by Hackney-based theatre group Access All Areas, in collaboration with one of London’s best drama schools, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

The first 15 students, who have disabilities including Downs Syndrome, forms of Autism, cerebral palsy and Williams syndrome, graduate on August 2.

Nick Llewellyn, artistic director at Access All Areas, based at Graeae in Kingsland Road, said: “People with learning disabilities have a history of institutionalisation and prejudice of what they can achieve.

“Some of the institutions people with disabilities have lived in, like long stay hospitals, only closed in the 1990s – we are still in the process of breaking down what was called the medical model.

“We are now moving into the social model, where society should enable people to have full independence – lives they can choose to live how they want.

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“This is all about enabling people to have a choice-given, high-quality life where they can access mainstream activities just like the rest of us. They just need a different type of support.

He continued: “Not only are we developing access and inclusion for a marginalised group of adults, but we are paving a way for public perceptions to be challenged and hopefully eradicated once and for all.

“People with disabilities can achieve and they can also look good in a performance if the performance is devised around their needs.

“We are working around the individuals’ specific creativity and performance style and aren’t trying to shoehorn people into an already written traditional type of theatre.”

Many of the graduates have already secured paid professional work with dance and theatre companies or booked auditions for television and film roles with the BBC or independent film companies.

Others will tour the UK with Access All Areas’ production of Eye Queue Hear, an audio tour performance developed by students.

n Applications are open for next year’s course until October 28. See