Dr. Petronilla Whitfield’s professional output

Interpretive Mnemonics as a facilitation of dyslexia in actor-training: reconstructing the written text into Tableaux Vivants towards a performance of Shakespeare (Theatre and Performance Research Association Conference)

Conference – Published 5th Sep 16

This paper discusses some of the challenges that acting students with dyslexia can experience when engaging with classical text, and offers a pedagogical strategy which supports abilities while facilitating the reading, comprehension and acting of Shakespeare. In my teaching role as senior lecturer in Voice and Acting I regularly encounter acting students with dyslexia who struggle within the confinements of conventional teaching practices on text. It is re-iterated throughout much of the literature that those with dyslexia have problems with decoding, word recognition, working memory and automatisation of skills. Shakespeare’s writing contributes additional challenges with idiosyncrasies of word-use, mixed significations of image and multiple meanings. Through case-study observation and three action research trials with twelve dyslexic acting students, I noted their methods of translating the text into visual or physical constructs. Responding to my collected data, my fourth action research cycle drew from Kintsch and Rawson’s Text-Base (2005) to enable a comprehension and memory of the text, underpinned by the theory of the Lexical Retrieval hypothesis (Krauss et al., 2000). I developed a method of dissecting meaning and hierarchy within the text inter-linked with an appropriation of the physical practice of Brecht’s Gestus and Stanislavski’s Grasp, interpreted through visuospatial and auditory Tableaux Vivants. I titled this method The Gestus and Grasp Elaboration Strategy, which was finally trialled in a performance of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis with my dyslexic acting student participants. Additionally, the participants’ distinctive modes of processing the text were encouraged as components of the live performance. Feedback from participants and observers supported the view that this method is effective in assisting individuals with dyslexia in realisation of the words, feelings of self-efficacy and enriched performance.