BBC training and showcase opportunity for disabled actors leads to all participants securing auditions

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The BBC’s pioneering new training programme for disabled actors has led to all 32 participants successfully securing BBC auditions. The development programme, called ‘Class Act: a nationwide search and skill factory, comes as part of the BBC’s ambition to support and raise the profile of disabled actors.

A group of disabled actors throw their hands in the air

Class Act Participants. Photograph © BBC

During an intensive three-day workshop the participants, who include experienced actors as well as up-and-coming talent, were tutored in audition and camera technique, acting and business skills, script and character work, as well as working with directors on their showreels.

The disabled actors also got the opportunity to build their contacts and showcase their talents to professionals across the industry, leading to them all being offered auditions by Julia Crampsie, Casting Executive at BBC Studios.

The BBC has set challenging new diversity targets for disabled people to ensure our content reflects the public we serve, and this training is part of the BBC’s commitment to improve disabled representation on screen to 8% by 2020.

On-screen portrayal of disability is increasing with more disabled performers represented across the BBC’s output and platforms. Recent examples include BBC Three’s ‘A Brief History of Tim’, BBC One drama ‘Silent Witness’ and sitcom ‘Ability’ on BBC Radio 4.

Two people sit at a table, as if in an interview situation

BBC Class Act Workshop. Photograph © BBC

Ruth Madeley, a guest speaker at BBC Class Act said:

“I think worrying about it being a tick-box exercise is something that every disabled actor does fear. Having that fear that I’ve only been picked for a role because I’m in a wheelchair or I’m disabled. Another big challenge is you think you’ll be typecast as only being able to play the disabled roles. These people here have all proven that’s not the case, they’re able to play anything and everything – they are actors and that’s what they do. I think that’s a massive challenge that’s hopefully been knocked on the head a bit with things like this.

The fact that this three-day workshop has been put on is an incredible opportunity for people to be in front of directors and casting people that they never would be able to sit and have a conversation with, and ask questions to, without a situation like this – this is key for them. This isn’t an easy industry to be in, but when you feel the progress and you get where you’re going there’s nothing better. The best thing about it is being able to change people’s perceptions for me and make that change, make people challenge everything they ever thought about disability, and I’m excited to keep doing that.”

Jessi Parrott, a BBC Class Act participant said:

“I realised at an early age that acting made people look at me because they weren’t looking at my chair, they were looking at the character that I was playing, so that’s how I first got into it. Then I realised that actually my chair could give a different and interesting spin on the character, so acting helped me realise that my chair wasn’t something to hide away from. A really inspiring element of this course is that for once our disability isn’t the first thing people notice about us and we can just be here on the basis of our acting ability and our skill, so that’s been a real novel feeling.

The arts are meant to reflect society as it is and so we need people like us to be on stage and on screen. Because the arts have been so impactful for me in understanding that I’m a valuable human being, I want to hopefully give that back to other people like me. When you are disabled, people can feel even more isolated. So to know that there is that sense of community and to be in a room where everyone just accepts you as you are, rather than making your difference the most important thing about you, has just been really refreshing and validating.”

A further BBC Class Act showcase event is planned for 24th January 2018.