Much to the joy of creatives everywhere, it’s time for the annual release of Methuen Drama’s Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook.
This well-established and respected directory will support you in your training and search for work in theatre, film, TV, radio and comedy. The only directory to provide detailed information for each listing and specific advice on how to approach companies and individuals, saving hours of further research.
From agents and casting directors to producing theatres, showreel companies, photographers and much more, this essential reference book editorially selects only the most relevant and reputable contacts for the industry. Simply put, it is the essential reference book for actors and performers everywhere.
Covering training and working in theatre, film, radio, TV and comedy, it contains invaluable resources such as a casting calendar and articles on a range of topics from your social media profile to what drama schools are looking for to financial and tax issues. With the listings updated every year, the Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook 2024 continues to be the go-to guide for help with auditions, interviews and securing/sustaining work within the industry.
This new edition is fully updated and includes a newly commissioned article by actor Mark Weinman, a new foreword, 4 new interviews by casting director Sam Stevenson, giving timely advice in response to today’s fast-changing industry landscape, and an article by Paterson Joseph.
Below is an article from the yearbook by Zak Ford-Williams for disabled actors.
First steps (as it were) as a disabled actor
We are living in interesting times – globally, as a country and therefore inevitably as an industry. As a young, disabled actor starting out in 2020, within these interesting times, here are some things I’ve found useful:
Find your tribe
Feeling you’re doing this alone is a weight you don’t need to carry. I’ve entered acting via a traditional route: mainstream education, theatre youth groups, drama school, industry. Although I’ve been very lucky to do so, my disability means I’m not a traditional figure within this route, and this was at times isolating. When you are growing up in a society created for and by people who are not like you, surrounded by people who are not like you, the sense that you are somehow not enough grows with you, threaded into your bones, your organs, and your dreams. Finding your tribe makes this thread light up, illuminating instead of restricting, as a source of focus, direction and even decoration.
Seek out other disabled actors and discuss everything. Several years ago, when I was exploring pathways into the creative industry, I was fortunate enough to attend the very first DANC networking session. DANC, the Disabled Artists Networking Community, are part of Triple C, and together provide D/deaf and disabled people with access opportunities within the arts and media. Attending sessions in person or remotely, following them on social media and signing up for their email newsletters were my first experience of finding my tribe within the arts. However different the viewpoint and aims of the individuals within it, to be together with other disabled people who work or want to work in the arts was hugely affirming.
Social media, for all its flaws, is at its very best when connecting minority groups. Follow the disability organisations in this yearbook: follow who they link to, read their articles, listen to their podcasts. Let their experience of this challenging field become your normality.
Join Equity. They are our professional safety net. We are their tribe.
You will sometimes, even today, be an ambassador for disabled people. That’s okay.
A conversation I had with a good friend in a drama school dressing room stuck with me. They questioned the priorities of actors who, in their view, focus ‘too much’ on activism instead of focusing on the job of acting. They wondered whether presenting yourself to the world as an activist for social change could have a detrimental effect on an audience (and casting director)’s ability to view you as someone different when performing.
To be fair to my friend, we were about to enter the industry post-drama school and their focus was very much on increasing their chances. To be allied with any cause that might be contentious to some could be something they wished to avoid at that time. I can see the point they were trying to make. Acting requires people to put aside what they know about you as a person and embrace a carefully constructed character as if it was real. Should you then help them with this by focusing on your job and sidelining activities that may affect people’s view of you? Absolutely not. In addition to this viewpoint seeming condescending of an audience’s ability to discriminate, a person has beliefs and passions to live by and express, and the very beauty of our industry is in weaving the curtain between life and art.
For my friend, political activism, campaigning and being an ambassador for causes were worthy but unnecessary add-ons to their primary job as an actor. For me, as for many who visibly belong to minority groups, it is different. To modify something a bloke once said: some are born to a cause, some adopt causes, others have causes thrust upon them. For a visibly disabled person, disability awareness is a cause you are born into; living within our society, disability equality is one you are thrust into; disability activism, or what you want to do with your experiences, is one you can adopt.
Despite the huge developments being made in the field of D/deaf and disabled arts, being a visibly disabled actor at this time you still become an ambassador for disability issues whether you want to or not: it’s inevitable. When people see someone like them doing something they would like to do, it gives them permission and encouragement to try. I don’t consider myself to be an authority on anything, except myself and how my condition affects my place in our world, and this is enough. If an ambassador role means being open about the challenges and successes I encounter, if it means highlighting our society’s shortcomings and workarounds within a social model of disability framework, and if – like every person from a minority group – by doing so I provide validation for others to do it too, then do it I can and will, and happily.
It’s more than okay that you can’t do everything by yourself: it’s a creative strength.
I recently attended the press night of Village Idiot, a joyous production from Ramps on the Moon at Nottingham Playhouse, which had D/deaf and disabled and non-disabled cast, creatives and crew. A main plot dynamic of a couple struggling with the fact that, because they couldn’t live independently, those around them weren’t giving them the autonomy they deserved really rang true. Notably, in a neat example of collaborative working, an actor who did not retain lines was fed them through an earpiece. I only found out about this afterwards; the actor did such a brilliant job that there was no way for the audience to know.
Like many D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled people educated in mainstream, I had a hangover feeling that being unable to access some things without additional help was a weakness in me, not in the system. The social model of disability calls this out entirely, and I needed to internalise its message that disability is something that is created by society.
By prioritising disability inclusion, organisations tap into unique skills, perspectives and talents of disabled people, building a more diverse, innovative and inclusive environment within our industry. Look at the word ‘creative’ in creative arts. We are perfectly placed to create environments in which to do our best work. The energy that the presence of disability creates within a production is a resource of creative potential.
In precarious financial times, accessible culture and arts can continue to develop by embedding disability equality as standard practice within our industry’s systems, processes and organisational structures. Embedding accessibility within the arts prevents it from being a gracious indulgence of a plentiful time. In trickier times such as now, when the portcullis rattles down on the cultural stronghold, when the rations are strictly controlled, what conversations are had about who is in and who is out?
There will always be a place for a disabled actor to play the tropes and stereotypes of a character there ‘to be ill or be killed’, but let’s continue developing arts where D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled people are integrated within every aspect, as cast, creative teams and essential backstage and crew roles. Let’s have more instances of normalisation, until this integration becomes invisible, expected and accepted and therefore nothing to shout about.
Get a good access rider and don’t feel awkward to use it
An effective access rider is a document which lists the reasonable adjustments you require in order to be able to do your job effectively. I’ve worked with my agent to create an access rider that communicates clearly with each project I’m involved in. Currently, it’s an evolving document, as with each job, we discover more about what adjustments work effectively for me.
Be open about what you need in order to do your job the best that it can be done. I was initially hesitant with my access rider as a fresh graduate, somehow convinced that putting everything I needed in order to work on that piece of paper would mean I would be far less likely to be employed. As if I would scare off directors and casting directors simply by asking for wheelchair-accessible rehearsal spaces and a chair to occasionally rest on when performing standing up. These are reasonable adjustments which allow me to do my job. Providing them means the project comes out much better as a result.
Issues will arise if you ask for less than you need, as your well-being and your ability to do your job will be impacted, then nobody wins. Remember at all times the social model of disability: it is not your impairment or condition that disables you; you are disabled by the barriers within society and its unwillingness to adapt to an impairment or condition.
As ambassadors through circumstance, I feel disabled actors help normalise access requirements by fully accepting our own, thereby encouraging it as standard practice. We each deserve an environment in which to do our best work. An access rider in essence could help the working conditions of everyone, not just those who identify as disabled. What of the access rider of the non-disabled people who work with you? What can you provide for them?
Save your spoons where you can
Spoon theory describes energy in terms of spoons. We have sufficient spoons to tackle the expectations of a normal day. Learning how to manage my spoons when working has been a key fundamental thing for me to learn, starting out.
Being disabled takes a lot out of you: for example, navigating a crowded pavement in a wheelchair on the way to the theatre loses spoons I could well do with holding on to for the performance. Training my young tallyho brain to pace itself and rest when it can takes a lot. I’ve learnt from people who have spent decades in the industry that it is perfectly fine to nap when you can, and to build nap-taking into a hectic schedule of filming or stage performance saves spoons. Mentally, spoons are easily lost through encountering ableist practice; embedding disability equality preserves them.
People are okay. Or they can be
As I write this, social media ripples once again with purposefully inflammatory invective, as a high-profile mainstream presenter asks whether disabled people should be given out-of-work benefits funded by working taxpayers (who are implied non-disabled) in perpetuity. They asked the question to be contentious, to provoke a reaction. However, within this country at this time, we do not have the luxury of casually tossing out ableist rhetoric. To ask the inflammatory question to a country with an artificially constructed cost of living crisis is highly irresponsible and dangerous to a minority who are vulnerable because the society they live in is made for someone other than them.
A view this cynically provocative can only exist in the cracks of people’s lived experience, the unknown gaps in our social narrative. Our industry can fill these gaps via its unique access into the front rooms, mobiles, stages, and hearts and understanding of audiences. This is why it is essential for us to embed D/deaf and disabled equality within it.
Early on I experienced shocking ableism from a known name who felt making reasonable adjustments for disability restricted their creative scope. Perhaps instead their creative scope was something they struggled to expand.
There’s a peculiar thing about encountering ableism as a visibly disabled person. In my experience there’s very rarely genuine malice or bigotry behind it. It’s often a lack of exposure, particularly in early life, leading to a distinct lack of understanding and therefore hesitancy or fear. People are often simply scared of getting it wrong.
At a time of imposed paucity on our industry, we can make a clear statement that rolling back opportunities and shrinking spaces for marginalised groups is not an option. For those with invisible disabilities or for disabled people with less-visible roles, the statement for change happens within the industry.
As my experience is involved with the normalisation of D/deaf and disabled inclusion, listening to a recent Ramps on the Moon podcast made my brain pop with possibility. They discussed how it felt time to move beyond normalisation, move beyond this thing which seems still to be a goal. Imagine. Amid the cynically provocative ableist mass media narrative, there’s a clear voice to not simply continue normalising disability arts, but that it is time to elevate and celebrate it. That’s certainly what we experienced with Village Idiot.
I feel amidst the advances being made embedding D/deaf, neurodivergent and disability equality within our industry, a disabled person on a stage or screen is still a political act. The presence of marginalised groups can bring about social and political change: the normalised presence of marginalised groups cements it. The rest is celebration.
Zak Ford-Williams is an actor on both stage and screen. Credits include: Better, A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story and the upcoming production of The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man. He trained at the Manchester School of Theatre.