Drama schools must do more to attract disabled students, says campaigner

Drama schools are being urged to “open their doors” to disabled students as part of a nation-wide campaign aimed at encouraging people with disabilities to pursue a career in the arts.

The Don’t Play Me, Pay Me campaign has been initiated by Nicky Clark, an actress whose daughter, Lizzy, has Asperger’s Syndrome and recently appeared in the BBC children’s drama Dustbin Baby.

In the series, Lizzy played a character who has Asperger’s, which prompted her mother to launch the campaign and call on television dramas to cast disabled people in disabled roles.

As part of the campaign, Clark is urging drama schools to be more proactive in encouraging students with disabilities to enroll, which she said would increase the pool of actors from which producers can cast.

She said: “I went to drama school and what I want is for young people growing up with disabilities to be able to pursue their chosen creative path and for drama schools to open their doors.”

Clark said the issue had been increasingly brought to the fore recently, but said drama schools should be “opening up the debate” and allying themselves with disability groups to promote the fact they are open to everyone and that there is “equality in their remits”.

However, Clark claimed that there was a “vicious circle” in the industry, because TV programmes do not currently portray disability regularly, meaning young disabled people who would like to become actors do not consider acting as a career choice.

Clark argued that TV producers, writers and directors should be doing more to increase the visibility of disabled people on television and added that when disabled people are portrayed, it is usually by an able-bodied actor.

“I equate it to blacking up. The idea of a non-disabled person portraying a disabled character should be consigned to the past,” she said.

Responding to her calls, Judith Kilvington, chief executive of disabled-led theatre company Graeae, said there had been a “wind of change” at drama schools in recent years.

She said the theatre company had collaborated with RADA, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and Central School of Speech and Drama on initiatives to encourage disabled people to apply. Kilvington also said Graeae has a long-standing relationship with Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance and had been helping the school ensure its curriculum is “inclusive and accessible” and that its assessment techniques take into account disabled students.

“I think there is a lot that is going on. It has been slow, but there is a real sea change in terms of opening doors,” she said.

www.dontplaymepayme.com

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