Hijinx recommendations for new screen industry standards for casting learning-disabled (neurodivergent) actors
- REFLECT DIVERSITY: of society in film and TV productions, creating more storylines involving learning disabled (LD) characters
- AVOID STEREOTYPES: develop nuanced, true-to-life LD characters
- CAST AUTHENTICALLY: bring an end to casting non-disabled actors as learning disabled characters
- AUDITION APPROPRIATELY: offer non-script-based auditions to actors who find reading challenging, and relaxed auditions to actors who find both time pressure and waiting distressing
- WORK IN PARTNERSHIP: with experts in the field of learning disability to understand and meet the needs of LD actors
- INVEST IN TRAINING: upskill staff to know how to communicate well with LD actors and freelancers
- PROVIDE EXPERIENCE: for LD actors to experience life on set
Reflect Diversity and avoid stereotypes
Create realistic neurodivergent characters by spending time in Hijinx Academies in Cardiff, Carmarthen, Aberyswyth and Prestatyn where neurodivergent actors are trained on a weekly basis. www.hijinx.org.uk/academies . Workshop character ideas and lines with Hijinx Actors, with support from Hijinx staff.
Use Hijinx’s casting platform www.hijinxactors.co.uk to identify the right neurodivergent actor for your production. Hijinx Actors is a database of 70 neurodivergent actors, known and trained by Hijinx, with conditions which include Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Down’s syndrome, Williams Syndrome and other learning disabilities.
Traditional auditions often exclude neurodivergent actors because of a heavy reliance upon text, quick turnaround of audition scripts, and the time-pressured process of the auditions themselves. Tips for running accessible auditions for neurodivergent actors include:
- For script-based auditions, provide scripts as far in advance of auditions as possible, to allow for actors – supported by a Hijinx assistant – to prepare thoroughly;
- Accept self-tape submissions, to allow actors a low-stress environment to show you their best work;
- Run workshop-based auditions to assess actors through improvised or devised scenes or exercises, rather than text-heavy scripts;
- Respect the needs of neurodivergent actors to be accompanied to auditions by an assistant.
Hijinx can facilitate workshop auditions at our Academies in Cardiff, Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Prestatyn.
Work in partnership
Through 20 years’ experience of working with neurodivergent actors, Hijinx has developed expertise needed by the Welsh screen industries to support these actors at every stage of the filming process – from casting to contracting. Hijinx will:
- Prepare Hijinx Actors for auditions and filming, including line learning;
- Travel with Hijinx Actors to auditions (and on overnight stays if necessary);
- Accompany Hijinx Actors on set;
- Deal with contracting and logistics on behalf of the Hijinx Actor.
Invest in training
Giving staff greater confidence in communicating with neurodivergent actors is vital to ensure actors produce their best performance and you get what you need on camera. Sourcing disability awareness training or communications training is strongly advised.
Hijinx offer communication skills training specifically for frontline staff who interact with vulnerable and neurodivergent adults. Through role play with neurodivergent actors, staff have the chance to practice every day scenarios – tailored to their work life – in a safe, non-judgmental small group environment. Hijinx already work with a range of public and private sector business, such as Cardiff Airport, Legal & General, Hugh James solicitors and Cardiff University. Visit www.hijinxtraining.co.uk for more information.
Giving neurodivergent actors the chance to familiarise themselves with life on a film or TV set will help to increase their confidence and sense of belonging in the screen industries. This could include a tour, a short term work experience placement, or a more structured internship on a specific project.
Hijinx work with partners in the screen industries to facilitate experience on set for Hijinx Actors. If you have opportunities to offer, contact Hijinx on firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning disabled person: A learning disabled person has a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities which affects them for their whole life.
Neurodivergent: sometimes abbreviated as ND, means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal.”
Neurodivergence: The state of being neurodivergent, can be largely or entirely genetic and innate (e.g. Autism, dyslexia), or it can be largely or entirely produced by brain-altering experience (e.g. trauma), or some combination of the two.
Neurotypical: Often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.”
Neurodiverse: A group of people is neurodiverse if one or more members of the group differ substantially from other members, in terms of their neurocognitive functioning (ie. a mix of neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals).
On paid work: People with a Learning Disability are far less likely to have a job than the general population. Only 6% of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work (HSCIC 2015 via Mencap UK) BY COMPARISON: 74% of working age adults in the general population in England are in paid work. No Welsh equivalent available.
On training: Only one in three people with a learning disability in the UK take part in some sort of education or training. Mencap UK
In the broadcasting sector: People who have a disability and working on-screen in the broadcasting industry are vastly underrepresented in comparison with national population estimates. Only 6.5% of respondents to the broadcasting industry diversity data survey (Project Diamond) identified as having a disability (in 2016/17), versus the national population estimate of people with a disability at 18%. There is no break down available as to type of disability.
THE GUARDIAN: Sixteen percent of all the best actor and actress Academy Awards have been portrayals of disability or mental illness.
THE RUDERMAN WHITE PAPER: 95% of characters with disabilities are played by able-bodied actors on television.