Actor Jake Sawyers recently took part in theatre company Extant’s Pathways programme, which is a year-long bespoke training scheme for visually impaired theatremakers. Sawyers tells Giverny Masso about performing in his first drag show and why he wants to do non-visually impaired roles…
Tell me about Extant’s Pathways programme…
It’s a year-long scheme. For the first six months we took part in workshops in London. That ended in a showcase, followed by a further six months with our mentor. The industry event was advertised as a showcase, but it grew from that and became half showcase and half visual awareness training and advocacy.
What can members of the industry do to be more inclusive of visually impaired actors?
Make yourself approachable and don’t be scared to ask questions. See visually impaired actors as professional people and don’t think of us as a box to tick. Be open and know that we can do the work. I think theatre is doing a good job of being inclusive to visually impaired actors. A lot of the other creative industries could learn from theatre. There are a lot of compassionate people who work in the sector, especially in Cardiff.
Tell me about a recent performance that was important to you?
I recently did my first drag show. It’s always something I’ve been interested in doing and I’ve done a bit of stand-up comedy around visual impairment. I was given the opportunity to do a 10-minute drag piece at Wales Millennium Centre with a drag queen I know. I thought that opportunity would never come up, because a lot of drag queens come up through the club scene, and being visually impaired, I thought that scene wasn’t for me. If I was ever going to do it, it was going to be in a theatre. My act involved a lot of advocacy for visual impairment, wrapped up in humour and singing. It’s something I’m going to carry on with.
What other work would you like to do?
I’m also looking to do non-visually impaired work – anything that comes up. I’m up for solid acting roles, because talking about visual impairment can get a bit repetitive so it’s nice to get into a role that explores another issues. I’m part of the agency VisAble People, which puts disabled actors in disabled roles, but I’m looking for a mainstream agent.
What would your advice be to aspiring disabled actors?
You are the expert in your own condition and how it affects you. Self advocacy isn’t always easy but its definitely a skill I use and practise every day. It’s up to you, and no one else, how much you allow your disability to define your career. My visual impairment has gotten me some great opportunities. I celebrate it and I let it inspire my work, but it’s not the only thing that inspires me. Don’t let people put you in a box, but also know when to take criticism, learn from negative experiences and always strive to grow as a performer.
Training: Acting BTec at Neath Port Talbot College (2011-13); BA in acting from University of Wales, Trinity St David (2013-16)
First professional role: Monthly slot as a junior chef on Blue Peter (2007-8)
Agent: VisAble People
Jake Sawyers is performing in a drag show on August 17 at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. For more information go to: wmc.org.uk