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Lauren McCrostie: Dyslexia need not be a barrier to a successful acting career

Olivier award-winning actor Judi Dench is dyslexic (Lauren McCrostie, inset). Photo: Pamela Raith
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Being dyslexic seems incompatible with being an actor. Sufferers are renowned for struggling to read and write, which, you would think, would have an impact on reading scripts, noting them, and learning lines. The learning difficulty also includes issues with processing information and communicating ideas. But in spite of this, it is fairly common to meet actors who are also dyslexic.

Dyslexics find solace in the creative world. They are not held back by writing and words and can express themselves far more easily by producing work practically.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia towards the end of secondary school and, in retrospect, I see how I’d carried it with me for years.

After being diagnosed came the fear that it would jeopardise my dream of being an actor. But I was wrong; the dyslexia has added to my work.

Not only do I feel more comfortable with communicating ideas and concepts verbally, I feel much more capable expressing my thoughts through practical means; through conversations and actions.

I understand a play through mind maps, songs and images – not cue cards and essays. This is no surprise considering the British Dyslexia Association cites that dyslexic people “tend to be visual and kinaesthetic learners” and work best when using “all of their sensory pathways”.

This practical and hands-on way of working is fairly normal for most rehearsal and performance processes, and it became clear dyslexia would not impede, but actually complement, being an actor.

Indeed the problems of reading, speaking aloud and writing still pose issues. To cope with this, I read, and then reread, the text of a script several times to digest it properly.

I practise my words with headphones so that I don’t get distracted or feel insecure about my voice. And when I find myself struggling with writing an idea down, I verbally outline it to myself so I can see it and relay it with more coherence and concision. You can’t cure your dyslexia, but you can manage it.

The learning difficulty presents itself differently, and flares up at different stages of a person’s life.

No two dyslexics’ hurdles are the same. Many people don’t get pinned with the title until their mid-40s, even.

So for those who have been recently diagnosed with the learning difficulty, it is not something that will derail your life or your career in entertainment.

As actor Philip Duguid-McQuillan points out, for those needing inspiration, stars from Judi Dench and Keira Knightley to Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves are dyslexic.

Dyslexia is a complex yet completely common thing – it is merely a different way of processing information and it can be used to great effect on stage.

Lauren McCrostie is an actor and writer in London, whose film work includes Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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