Art & Events Interview Caro Meets

Cian Binchy: Performance Making Diploma For Learning Disabled And Autistic Adults

By | Published on Friday 2 July 2021

Just last week I was alerted to the fact that there’s an important deadline coming up: it’s the closing date this week for applications for the Performance Making Diploma For Learning Disabled And Autistic Adults programme from learning disabled theatre company Access All Areas and the Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama.

It’s a brilliant two year course for neurodivergent people who are looking to make a career in the performing arts, and I thought it would be great to find out more about it.

One successful graduate of the course is Cian Binchy, whose work we’ve seen up in Edinburgh, with Access All Areas, and on the telly. I spoke to him to find out more about both the course and his career progression.

CM: Can you start by giving us a brief idea of what the Performance Making Diploma For Learning Disabled And Autistic Adults from AAA and Central offers? How long is the course? What level of commitment is involved? What are the classes like?
CB: The course offers a chance for neurodivergent people to access the world of the arts, and help them with training to access all areas of the arts. It helps them to explore their own styles of performance and think about the kind of work they want to do after graduation. When I did the course it was only six months, but recently it was made into a two year course.

The commitment level was challenging as it was so varied. Sometimes it would be two days a week, and other times, when there were rehearsals, it required more of a commitment, which could be challenging. The classes are very physical, intense, it was a big learning curve. I learnt a lot of things about acting that are second nature to me now but at the time made me think how challenging it is to be a performer and how disciplined you need to be.

When you graduate, you’ll hopefully get more acting, you’ll get a certificate – a Level Two qualification in Performance Making – and you will definitely gain more confidence in the world of performing arts and hopefully have more opportunities.

Things covered in the classes include clowning, cabaret, satire. Nothing should be off-limits to neurodivergent and disabled people! It would be great to do a modern interpretation of Shakespeare.

CM: Who is involved in the running of the course?
CB: When I did it, Nick Llewellyn, who is Artistic Director of Access All Areas, set the course up with The Royal Central School Of Speech And Drama. Now Helen Bryer and Katy Cracknell lead the course together. Katy graduated from the diploma and now she’s teaching on it!

There have been some brilliant teachers from the theatre world on the diploma. When I was there, Mat Fraser taught us a couple of lessons, which was great as he’s a big inspiration to me, and I look up to him and most importantly, he’s a very nice guy. We worked with disabled performers and non-disabled performers, and we worked with the Access All Areas Performance Company that I am now a member of.

CM: How is it different from other kinds of performance qualifications? In what ways does it cater for learning disabled theatre makers?
CB: It’s specifically for neurodivergent people and caters for the needs of all of the individuals. It’s a Level Two qualification in Performance Making. We created all the work ourselves.

When I got on the course, I thought, oh my goodness, I’m finally being accepted into the mainstream world of performing arts. Finally all my work, my poetry, my acting, is being taken seriously. It was very overwhelming and I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.

It got me prepared because it kind of opened up my eyes to realise that I am better than just community theatre; that I’ve got more talent than I think, and not just me, all of us have. We devise all our own work. It opened big doors and big massive opportunities for a lot of us that people like us never get.

Since I graduated nearly seven years ago I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of things, using things I learnt from the course and working with Access All Areas. I’ve been doing various shows with Access All Areas, including my one man show, which I took to the Edinburgh Fringe, and on tour, and I even got a chance to perform it in Mexico. I never believed I could end up doing so much.

CM: As someone who has completed the course, you must have great memories from doing the diploma: what stands out for you?
CB: I have many great memories and it’s hard to choose one, but if there is one it’s meeting Mat Fraser, one of the leading disabled artists. It was great performing one of my poems for him. He really enjoyed listening to it and that meant a lot to me.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the audition process for the diploma? How did it go for you?
CB: The audition process involved a lot of improvisation and doing stuff with an object and thinking on the spot. It also involved me talking in an interview about what my style of acting was and what I wanted to gain from the course. There was a lot of movement, it was quite physical, but I’d expected that as I’d done stuff like that in workshops before. I didn’t know what to expect and I suppose I was slightly nervous or overwhelmed, so it’s hard to remember much about how it went for me. But I got in, which was good!

CM: Can you tell us more about the impact the course had on your career? How has it benefited and equipped you?
CB: It’s made me better at acting and performing and I’ve learned more about myself as a performer. I’ve realised I’m more of a performer than an actor. There is a big difference between being an actor and a performer – as a performer you can be more yourself, and although I can act in different roles, and have done for TV and theatre, I prefer to perform as myself. It gave me more confidence and it really toughened me up as I was quite vulnerable before. It made me realise that if I’m in the right place at the right time I can get to where I want to be in life.

CM: Can you tell us about your work now? How did you progress after finishing your diploma and where are you now?
CB: I have been doing lots of immersive theatre and stage theatre. I’ve done my own one-man show ‘The Misfit Analysis’, which I toured across Britain, to the Edinburgh Fringe and, as I said earlier, I even took it to Mexico! I’ve also appeared on TV in programmes such as ‘Doctors’, a detective drama called ‘The Level’, and another detective drama called ‘Grace’ for ITV. I joined the Performance Company at Access All Areas and I also got signed by agents Simon&How, which has been great for my career. Where am I now? I performed in ‘Living Newspaper’ at The Royal Court and I’m currently doing some top-secret work that I can’t talk much about just yet!

CM: Did you always want to work in the arts?
CB: Yes ever since I was a kid I wanted to work in the arts but I never in a million years thought it was actually going to happen!

CM: What aims and hopes do you have for the future?
CB: To get more successful and get more work to make a better life for me and my family. But I’m already pretty happy with what has happened!

CM: The pandemic has affected everyone working in the arts. How did you get through it?
CB: Well it wasn’t easy, and I don’t know how I got through it, but I guess being able to work from home has helped a lot, and being able to talk to the people from Access All Areas that I work for. We’ve had lots of Zoom and group meetings.

CM: Are you busier now that restrictions have eased? What are you working on at the moment?
CB: I’m currently working as a digital influencer for Access All Areas and I’m working on a lot of really exciting projects which, as I say, I can’t talk about at the moment. You’ll just have to watch this space!

For more details about the Performance Making Diploma for Learning Disabled and Autistic Adults course, and to download application forms, head to this page here. The closing date for applications is 9 July.

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