SQ2: Is it okay for a serious character (such as Hamlet) to be played by an actor with a learning disability? Is it okay for a non-disabled actor to play a character who has a disability?

It is common in the theatre for an actor to represent someone else, a person with a different identity. Are there any boundaries that should not be crossed? 

Interview with a professional dancer, CZ

R – researcher, D – dancer

VýzkumniceHow did you perceive the fact that the serious characters, which originally have no difference are being portrayed by actors with a disability? 

Avatar I didn’t pay much attention to it. 

AvatarAnd if potentially an actor with a disability played a comical character? 

AvatarThat’s fine too if I see he’s not embarrassed by it and that it’s a part of his expression. However, the director cannot use it as some kind of mockery, it would have to be approached with care. 

AvatarAnd how do you perceive the opposite situation when a non-disabled person plays a character with a disability?  

AvatarThat’s fine with me too. However, I wonder what people with disabilities would think of that, that’s up to them. If they’re fine with it, I have no say in that matter. 

Monologue section

I think that in both ways it’s completely fine. We could see it clearly there – when Creon became duplicated, it still felt like one character and each actor gave it their special quality. And it all made sense together. woman, CZ
I think it works either way, and I think it’s encouraging that nothing should be off limits. So it’s lovely that everybody’s included and everybody gets the opportunity. I mean, yesterday with Frankenstein, it was wonderful.woman, UK
If you’ve got a part in a play or a film that requires a disabled actor, use a disabled actor. Do not use an able bodied actor. There’s plenty of them out there.woman, CZ

I mean, me personally, it doesn’t change my view on the play. I love to see how different types of actors are getting representation and normalisation, basically, because very rarely you see a play with disabled adapters or even like films and TV. And if there are disabled actors, it’s usually something about disability. There’s never another storyline. So it was nice to see disabled actors just in a normal setting.theatre student with autism, UK

When the director says to the actor: “Do a person with DS,” and he starts to act dumb and make silly noises, it is never going to be good. However, if he had rehearsed it with precision, it could be well done… It depends on what your motivation is. I suppose the reason behind it is to bring the difference to the stage, and during the rehearsing the person understood you well, so you didn’t have to apply any other approach to him.theatre studies student, UK

Because I know that when our director first said, we’re going to do Shakespeare and Hamlet, I was sort of intimidated, like: “Oh, my goodness!” But it’s just amazing – the guys were able to learn the Shakespeare lines in Old English. They went beyond my expectations as well. So I sort of realised that maybe that even I have some learning to do. volunteer for Blue Apple Theatre, UK

Yes, absolutely. I mean, in Blue Apple, we’ve performed quite a number of Shakespeare texts in the past. I regard these people with amazing abilities rather than disabilities. And what they can bring to any text is something quite different to what many other actors bring to the text. In my experience they have amazing stage presence and always bring a fresh approach. Blue Apple Theatre trustee, UK

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