Dr. Petronilla Whitfield’s professional output

Applying Shakespeare. Exploring learning style preferences to advance a grounding of Shakespeare’s language for acting students with dyslexia

Symposium – Published 9th Mar 18

What affordances does Shakespeare’s language offer those with dyslexia towards perceiving and remembering meaning when processing the text? How might actor-trainers meet the needs of student-actors with dyslexia, especially when interacting with Shakespeare’s words? ‘Working with Shakespeare is for me, like a mathematician’s delight in working with numbers’ states a dyslexic acting student. For some acting students with dyslexia, Shakespeare’s text creates a paradox; the unfamiliar language can hinder their ability to read it, whilst the abundant images and active language excites a visual and kinaesthetic simulation and documentation of meaning. When devising strategies of support for dyslexic acting students, Shakespeare’s employment of sensory signals that work beneath the surface of literal meaning, offer a rich exploratory field, in stimulating psycho-emotional experience, accuracy of word, and developing meta-cognitive strategies to support the act of reading. In this paper, I will give an overview of my (concluded) PhD research investigation into some dyslexic acting students’ rationale for creating visually embodied constructs to represent the text, and describe some of my case-study/action-research trials with the participants; 2nd year Acting degree students with dyslexia, during their work on the Shakespeare Acting unit. This paper will centre on my dyslexic research participants’ deviation from conventional acting methods wherein the written text is the singular source, into the utilisation of drawing, PowerPoint image-slides and choreographed physical actions; translating the alphabetic text into a parallel semiotic language, afforded through Shakespeare’s metaphors, connotations, active verbs, and ‘little word pictures’. This paper will offer practical teaching ideas, which can by-pass the blocks caused by dyslexia.

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