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Learning Lines with Dyslexia

11th March 2021

International Women’s Day was on Monday, a day I can not let pass without a formal recognition and to give a salut to all you women out there. There are many women who deserve special recognition but for now I would like to celebrate my female friends, you know who you are, who are always there in times of crisis or fun. A women’s support network is a powerful thing and something I do not take for granted.

On the day, I was asked by a friend to name my favourite film in which a woman or women have played central roles. It started an interesting conversation in my household. Have a think, what would you choose?

The conversation also made me think about the work behind the scenes of a film. A good Actor makes you believe in the character, you forget it is not real that it all began with words on a page.

Those ‘words on a page’ maybe easy for some but for others this can be daunting. How do dyslexic Actors learn their lines? The reading and memorising must be a challenge? Due to International Women’s Day, I thought I would look at some Actresses who succeed together with dyslexia.

In the 70’s and 80’s, dyslexia was not often spoken about or recognised. However, there was one actress who spoke out and campaigned to raise awareness:

Susan Hampshire

Susan Hampshire has been on our stage and screen for many years but admits she could not read properly until 12 years old. Her mother formed a private school in order to support her child. When talking about her school days Susan says;

“Arts were very important and we danced every day. What mattered to her (mother) was encouraging children and finding a way to bring out the best in them.”

They put on shows and visited museums but also learnt the necessary academic requirements.

Susan confesses that she always had the ‘gift of the gab’ (verbally able) but still it takes her twice as long as others to learn her lines. She was only diagnosed with dyslexia in her 30s.

The Bigger Picture Book of Amazing Dyslexics and the Jobs that they do‘, is a great book to encourage young dyslexics. Reading success stories are excellent to provide the motivation to strive for your goal. I would like to highlight one of the ‘success stories’ within that book:

Lauren McCrostie

Lauren McCroiste

“I am Lauren McCrostie, an actress, writer and sustainability activist and PROUD dyslexic.” Quote from an article on the British Dyslexia Association website.

As Lauren confirms when learning how to overcome some challenges you may have can be a ‘trial and error’ process, not all dyslexics are the same and what works for one may not work for another.

Lauren puts a lot of work into ‘becoming the character’, in her mind she can see how she will play the character.

Within the ‘bigger picture book’ Lauren says:

“Line learning isn’t difficult when it makes sense for a character. I change the lines from words into something else in my head, like a picture, song or smell.”

Visual mind maps are also what she uses to store information in her long term memory.

Within my post for World Book Day I mentioned an Actress and Narrator:

Linda McDade @LindaDMcDade.

Castupload - Linda McDade

When I asked Linda what helped her to ‘learn her lines’ she answered as follows:

“I often will throw and catch a ball while learning my lines. Or walk around, it helps me to put them to a physical action. And a LOT of repetition.”

Linda also has the ‘gift of the gab’, very successful with her verbal communication as is evidenced in her narrating of the Maggie MacCormack book.

An actress who has been very vocal with her experiences as a dyslexic, especially recently for the ‘Made by Dyslexia’ community, is:

Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley - Movies, Husband & Age - Biography

Keira Knightley talks about her supportive parents as a child. From an early age, through the exposure to literature at home, she was a great storyteller. She has said that she

“I have always loved words, which is a strange thing given I couldn’t actually read them.”

This quote interested me as it seems to reflect on what I have previously written in other posts. It is imperative to start early, to develop that love of words and stories before the hard work of phonics. If there is an interest first then there will be more motivation to overcome the challenges.

Apparently Keira knew she wanted to be an actress by the age of 3, this desire was used as a ‘carrot’ for her to learn to read. She learnt to read by reading film scripts!

Keira confirms that more time is needed for her to digest and learn a script. If this time is given then she has no difficulties whilst acting.

The above are only a selection of examples of talented actresses who are fulfilling their dreams as well as being diagnosed with dyslexia.

There is still reading to be done, still memorising of information but all the above have found ways to overcome these challenges. So they can jump over the hurdles and achieve their goal.

RobinStyle photos

What made them have this ‘goal’ in the first place? This is what I also find interesting. According to ‘The Dyslexic Advantage’ book by Dr Brock Eide & Dr Fernette Eide, due to High I strength the Acting profession is a popular field for individuals with dyslexia.

I-Strengths is explained as Interconnected Reasoning skills. Looking at things and concepts in a unique way. Making connections, whatever they see or hear always reminding them of something else. ‘One idea leads to another’! To be able to see the ‘likeness’ or ‘similarity’ of a concept or experience.

TOP 25 CHILD ACTORS QUOTES (of 71) | A-Z Quotes

Dyslexics have also been known to have strength in retaining information in their ‘episodic’ long term memory store (memories of their real or imagined experiences) for retrieval when necessary.

I-Strengths can also enable the individual to see things from a different perspective, see the big picture rather than just the fine details.

To be able to take all the relevant available information, see a general view and see other possibilities and alternatives.

Maybe as an actor this could help when given a script and visualising a different way to play a character that maybe even the writer hadn’t thought of?

Within the ‘Dyslexic advantage’ book it explains studies the researchers undertook and found that “When long passages contained helpful background context, we often find that the comprehension of even the severely slow and inaccurate readers is surprising strong.”

Maybe within a script which explains the background and ideas behind the words with the same characters and settings a dyslexic with I-Strength can comprehend the connections, see the big picture and think of new ideas for the characters?

Lauren McCrostie explained that “every inch of the script’s page is filled with scene detail. In my mind I can see how I want to play the character. I want to rinse out every last piece of information.” Being able to unite all kinds of information from the script into a big picture view of the character.

As I have discussed in a previous post it has been suggested that ’empathy’ is also a strength a dyslexic may possess. Maybe as a dyslexic actor with empathy there is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of the character, to see things from their perspective?

One thing the above Actresses have in common is the support they received in their formative years from parents, teachers, mentors etc. Keira Knightley explains how her self esteem was lifted when a teacher recognised she was a great storyteller but with bad spelling. When that teacher saw past the complications to the contents. Saw past the words on the page to the ideas and imagination that formed them.

In todays society with the development of software and technology some difficulties can be compensated for, overcome. However; the imagination, creativity, innovation still needs the human mind and they are the skills we need to celebrate and develop for the future.

Any comments about the above are always welcome. If you are an Actor yourself and have any further strategies that may be of some help to budding thespians please leave details below.


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