Thursday, January 24, 2008

Calling all ‘stammerheids’

This will win the entry as the longest blog post yet...
An article from the
February issue of Scotcampus, national student newspaper about a planned collaboration between TAG and BSA Scotland:

What do Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Willis, Rowan Atkinson and Julia Roberts have in common? They are all famous actors who stammer. Stammering need not be a barrier to success, yet many people who stammer feel it does hold them back from
fulfilling their potential.

The British Stammering Association Scotland (BSA Scotland) and TAG are collaborating on a project designed to offer confidence boosting, limitation-busting drama workshops to young people in Scotland who stammer. This pioneering project is aimed at 16 to 30 year-olds from all backgrounds, including students. The first phase of the project will hopefully take place in Glasgow at the Citizens' Theatre from late February-June 2008, subject to confirmation of funding. If you stammer and are willing and able to travel to central Glasgow, you are welcome to take part. Weekly evening workshops will be offered free of charge, with some funding available for travel expenses.

Jan Anderson, of BSA Scotland, reports, “The workshops will offer a relaxed space to explore self-expression through games, discussion and improvisation. The spirit of the workshops is very much about play, spontaneity, creativity, having fun and letting go. In a second phase, after the summer, we will bring in a professional writer to explore and develop an innovative piece of theatre that will challenge the stigma attached to stammering. This will be performed by actors at the Citizens' Theatre before touring selected secondary schools in Scotland. Project participants can get involved in these later stages to the extent they feel inspired to do so. It’s an incredible opportunity.
Guy Hollands, joint Artistic Director of the Citizens' Theatre and TAG, says, “TAG has a long and distinguished history of developing pioneering projects which seek to broaden the use of drama as a powerful tool to enable people of all backgrounds to express themselves. This project seeks to provide a fun and supportive environment in which people who stammer can explore a wide range of ways of communicating. It is an initiative that is long overdue and rare in the UK. We are delighted to be embarking on this partnership with BSA Scotland.

Cian Bell, 21, is a film & photography student who stammers, who also volunteers for BSA Scotland. Cian started stammering around age 10 but comments, “My stammer and I weren’t properly acquainted until recently. I had chosen to take little notice of it. As a teenager, if I was in conversation and I stammered, I would simply pronounce ‘Hey, don’t laugh – I have a stammer’. Being upfront seemed like a necessary survival tool. I was able to counteract any negative reactions and keep my emotions intact. I was lucky to win over good friends who listened to me. On the down side, I was never really listening in conversation, but privately thinking, 'what should I say next?' to avoid stammering.”

Last year, the mystery of my stammering and how to deal with it became more of an issue. I contacted BSA Scotland when I read about the pilot workshops. It was extraordinary that they were organising drama workshops just as I had been wondering if and when such a thing might come up! I was interested in working creatively alongside artists and fellow ‘stammerheids’. I can only say the workshops unleashed unknown aspects of my personality and changed my whole perspective on communication. It was hilarious and very entertaining to watch my new friends express themselves in such a wonderful and wacky way! I think I also became more self aware, more patient and a better listener.”

Ros Urquhart, 26, is a former art student and recently qualified art therapist. Her experiences were quite different to Cian’s. Roz’ first memories of stammering were around age seven. She was painfully shy and hated speaking out in class. She reports, “It seemed the only people who realised I stammered were my classmates. Nobody else talked about it and I couldn’t understand why. My way of protecting myself was to not speak.

By high school, I avoided speaking out as much as possible. Most teachers thought I was just quiet or disinterested. Despite doing well academically, it was suggested I would never cope with University.”

On leaving school Roz gained a place at Art College. She reports, “A lot of tutors didn’t know how to approach my stammering. Attitudes varied from one who cut out relevant articles and spoke to me about it to another who, after almost four years, still put his head in his hands when I talked about my work.”

Roz has come a long way. She now practices art therapy with people with a range of mental health issues through several projects in Edinburgh and Midlothian.

On the pilot drama workshops, she comments, “I always thought drama was for people who were confident in themselves and their bodies. I never thought I could stand up in front of people and express myself. The workshops allowed me to find a voice that was deep inside that hadn’t come out very much. We didn’t talk about the fact that we stammered. We just had fun!

Campbell Lauder, 30, graduated in screenwriting for film and television. He was first aware of stammering at school, in primary two. He comments, “I began to be bullied about my speech. The odd thing was, I hadn’t actually realised I had a stammer, despite the fact that it apparently started around age three. I was too interested in what any six year old boy should be interested in – friends, toys, playing games, watching television, consuming fizzy drinks and getting into trouble.

In the years since, my stammering, and people’s reactions to it, has cast a dark shadow, which to this day I struggle to cope with. Attending the pilot drama workshops opened my eyes to the possibility that I could try new things and not be afraid.” Richard Perry, 22, is a final year civil engineering student who also participated in the pilot workshops. In addition, he has attended group speech therapy and a self-help group. He reports, “I was apprehensive at first but I got a lot out of the experience. The workshops undoubtedly increased my confidence in expressing myself in verbal and non-verbal ways. In the past I held back from speaking, but I have recently felt more able to put myself forward. This is a change I noticed in others as well.” Comparing the sessions to speech therapy he noted, “They took the focus of communication away from just speech. I am much more aware of how tone of voice, gesture and other aspects of body language affect self-expression. "

Join the project: Weekly evening workshops should hopefully start in late February at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow. Details TBC. If you would like to take part or find out more, please contact: Phone/text: Jan Anderson 08453 303 800/Cian Bell 07731 302 018 Email here

Cian adds, “It doesn’t matter if you stammer a little or a lot – my own stammer appears unexpectedly, then disappears under my skin in the most mysterious fashion. You don’t need experience of speech therapy or drama either. Everyone says how different this is to anything they have experienced before – no dodgy play reciting, or performing in front of an audience…unless you really want to, that is. We hope you’ll consider coming ‘cos it could change your life…

More info will be made available on TAG's website once funding is secured!

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