On the first day of my acting degree, back in 2001, the head of acting gathered all 30 new students into the main studio to read from a play – one paragraph each at a time.
He worked clockwise around the circle and everyone read aloud. I frantically counted the number of people before me, so I could work out my paragraph. I needed to familiarise myself with it enough to pass for someone who could actually read.
Unfortunately, my maths is as bad as my reading and when it was my turn, I found myself cold-reading a section of Jacobean theatre I’d never before laid eyes on.
That excruciating moment led to a needs-assessment test, which resulted in my being diagnosed dyslexic, with the reading age of an eight-year-old. There I was, the only person in my family to go to university and it looked like I’d have to re-sit primary school.
Surely, with so many dyslexic actors out there, uncomfortable auditions should be a thing of the past?
Since graduation, I’ve had countless embarrassing auditions: “That prepared monologue we asked you to do was lovely, now can you just flick to page 96 of the script and read this other random monologue for me?”.
I know I am not alone. People with dyslexia often exhibit exceptional creative skills and this industry is bursting at the seams with them. So, surely, with so many of us out there, uncomfortable auditions should be a thing of the past?
I write this shortly before going to an audition, sides on arrival. They are aware I’m dyslexic but they need to protect the confidentiality of their script and unfortunately that comes ahead of my learning needs. I am going two hours early to prepare. I want the part so I’m willing to do that, but wouldn’t it be nice for more solutions to be offered for dyslexic actors?
So this is my call to arms. First, to those with dyslexia: speak up. Tell agents and casting directors that you are dyslexic. Second, to the powers that be: if you don’t already, please make compromises for the many dyslexic actors you have auditioning.
If you have a script that’s confidential, a non-disclosure form could be signed. This will allow us access to the script and the extra time we need to prepare. This isn’t an advantage over others; it will merely give dyslexic actors a fair go when in the audition room.
Unexpected cold-reads are a stone-cold nightmare and unexpected monologue reads are distressing. It’s time this invisible disability was brought out from the wings and talked about centre stage.
Sian Polhill-Thomas is an actor currently working as a live continuity announcer for BBC1 and BBC2. Recent credits include Coronation Street, Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Vaudeville Theatre, as well as Ugly Lies the Bone and Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre