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Theatre company sets target to see learning-disabled actor win an Oscar by 2030

The Waiting Room, Hijinx theatre. Photo: Jorge Lizalde Hijinx theatre company's The Waiting Room (2016). Photo: Jorge Lizalde
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Theatre company Hijinx has set the screen industries an ambitious target to see an actor with a learning disability win a BAFTA by 2028, and an Oscar by 2030.

The company has issued a new set of guidelines for TV and film that call on the industry to stop casting non-disabled actors as characters with learning disabilities.

Hijinx, which works with learning-disabled actors, has released the guidelines with the aim of promoting ethical casting. Recommendations include avoiding stereotypes by workshopping character ideas with Hijinx actors, and offering non-script-based auditions to actors who find reading challenging.

The organisation, based at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, has set a challenge to the screen industry for a neurodivergent actor – such as a performer with autism – to win a BAFTA Cymru by 2025, a BAFTA by 2028 and an Oscar by 2030.

It points to statistics that, since the Oscars began, 16% of best actor and actress awards have been for portrayals of disability or mental illness, including Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump.

Clare Williams, chief executive of Hijinx, which also runs a training academy and casting agency for neurodivergent actors, said: “It would be shocking to see an actor ‘black up’ to play a character of colour, and we feel that in 2018 it is equally unacceptable for a non-learning-disabled actor to play the part of a learning-disabled character.”

Welsh theatre company launches casting agency for actors with learning disabilities

She added: “We believe that our goal of a neurodivergent actor winning an Oscar by 2030 is achievable through effective partnerships between the screen industries and learning disabled-led organisations such as Hijinx.”

The seven guidelines, which also include advice on avoiding stereotypes and audition practices, were announced at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff today (October 8), as part of a seminar called Casting Neurodivergent Actors in Film and TV.

Minister for culture, tourism and sport Dafydd Elis-Thomas backed the guidelines. “I admire the boldness of Hijinx’s call for action within the screen industry and wholeheartedly support their aims of truly reflecting our society on our screens,” he said.

The guidelines in full

1. Reflect diversity in society by creating more storylines involving learning disabled characters

2. Avoid stereotypes by workshopping character ideas with Hijinx actors

3. Cast authentically by bringing an end to the casting of non-disabled actors as learning-disabled characters

4. Audition appropriately by offering non-script-based auditions to actors who find reading challenging

5. Work in partnership with experts in the field to understand and meet the needs of learning-disabled actors

6. Invest in training for staff to know how to communicate well with neurodivergent actors and freelancers

7. Provide on-set experience for learning-disabled actors by providing tours, work experience placements and internships

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