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October 21 2021

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thestage.co.uk/news

Theatremaker launches talent agency dedicated to neurodivergent artists

Giverny Masso

A talent agency for neurodivergent actors and creatives is being launched, with the aim of improving visibility and negotiating better working agreements for the artists on its books.

Writer, director, sound designer and performer Adam Welsh is behind Divergent Talent Group, which he believes is the first talent agency in the UK dedicated exclusively to representing neurodivergent practitioners across theatre, TV and film. Welsh, who has ADHD, decided to set up the agency after experiencing his own difficulties working in the industry.

“I was a theatremaker, creating and producing work, and I could no longer survive as a creative in an industry that wasn’t built for me,” Welsh told The Stage. “I want to do this because I feel energised to address some of the issues I faced when I was an actor and a creative.”

He said he had heard “horror stories” about the way neurodivergent artists had been treated. These include contracts that did not protect the specific needs of neurodivergent artists and production companies withdrawing job offers because the cost of hiring creative enablers to support neurodivergent artists was considered too expensive.

Divergent Talent Group hopes to protect the needs of artists by ensuring that adjustments for neurodivergent performers and creatives are written into contracts from the beginning. Adjustments could include ensuring a performer has their own dressing room to avoid overstimulation or hiring a creative enabler to support a neurodivergent artist. Welsh is in talks with other agencies and is also fundraising for the start-up costs of the business.

He added: “The creative industries can’t survive without neurodiversity. Neurodivergent talent needs representation in both senses of the word: authentic and fair representation on stage, screen and in literary works; and to be represented by agents who understand our specific needs, who will champion and advocate and fight for neurodiversity within the creative space.”

In August, a guide to supporting neurodiversity in the arts was published by new Manchester-based organisation Every Brain. The guide aims to raise awareness about neurodiversity and provide practical ideas on how organisations can support people who are neurodivergent.

Neurodiversity refers to variations in the brain, and types of neurodivergence include autistic-spectrum conditions, learning disabilities, Tourette’s, ADHD, personality disorders and trauma-related mental illness.

Adam Welsh

Mental health peer-support platform launched

Imagine Theatre launches staff well-being scheme

Giverny Masso

An online peer-support platform to help performers maintain good mental health and well-being has been launched.

Samwell – which stands for Supporting Artist Mental Wellbeing – will enable members to create profiles, connect with each other and join and create peer support groups, with a targeted online course available on how to manage a peer-support group.

The not-for-profit initiative will also offer members access to online events, talks, courses, articles by experts and educational resources.

Performer Helen Jeffery and business consultant Andy Thomas launched Samwell after commissioning a survey during lockdown to see what support female performers felt they most needed. Peer support was the top answer, identified by 58% of the 219 respondents to the survey.

The poll also found that 92% had struggled with anxiety, 80% had faced depression and 12% had experienced suicidal thoughts.

Performers were invited to test the platform from July, with Samwell officially launching to the public this month.

Jeffery, who is co-founding director of Samwell, told The Stage: “In a nutshell, it’s an online platform where there will be events, articles, courses, opportunities to meet other performers, connect with people, access resources and education all about the common things that cause poor mental well-being in actors.

“Let’s not wait for somebody to have a breakdown, let’s address what some of the issues are.”

Jeffery said that the platform aims to help actors with issues including building resilience, coping with rejection, dealing with finances, body image and knowing their rights and responsibilities.

Some of the experts who have contributed to Samwell so far include director Jude Kelly, intimacy expert Vanessa Coffey, psychotherapist Thomas Midgley and psychologist and mental-health consultant Sarah Feltham.

On joining Samwell, members will be directed to a group for either female, male or gender non-conforming performers, each of which has a community manager who works for Samwell. Anyone who identifies as a performer, including actors and comedians, can join the platform. Membership of Samwell is free for the first month, followed by a £4.99 monthly subscription fee that will be reinvested into the platform.

Andy Thomas and

Helen Jeffery angus matheson

Matthew Hemley

Pantomime producer Imagine Theatre has launched a well-being programme to support more than 500 employees, including performers and backstage staff, as they return to work over the Christmas period.

Imagine Cares comprises free-to-access podcasts and webinars aimed at helping employees across its 18 pantomimes this year, as they adjust to working life again following the lockdowns of the pandemic.

Imagine Theatre business and marketing manager Sarah Boden said: : “We wanted our staff to know that we’re thinking about them, they are supported and we care about their welfare and well-being.

“The objective of the programme is not to provide solutions, but to empower the listener/watcher to have permission to think, to give them time to reflect on themselves, to recognise signs in themselves of how they may be feeling and most importantly to know that we understand how hard this has been. It’s okay to not be okay – because at Imagine head office we feel exactly the same. We’ve been through it, and it’s affected us all too. It’s been incredibly tough on us all in different ways.”

Boden told The Stage that Imagine Theatre wanted to acknowledge that some people would find returning to work difficult. “It might not be on day one of rehearsals, it might hit people on day three, or it might hit people as we go into tech or as we open, and that is fine as we are all going through it,” she said.

Boden said the company wanted to encourage people to talk to each other, and share if and when they were feeling bad, so that it could be acknowledged. She said the company would encourage lunchtime walks, or a company ‘car park’ where problems can be shared and ‘parked’ each morning.

In addition, there will be a pre-recorded podcast led by creative coach and consultant Auriel Majumdar, who also hosts a webinar, aimed at helping people ease back into working life.

A third webinar will equip particular members of staff with the skills needed to support others and guide them to appropriate support.

Majumar said: “The pandemic has been an intense experience for everyone and, of course, has hit the UK theatre [industry] especially hard. As we emerge after being isolated for so long, it’s no wonder that people have mixed feelings about getting back to work – part excitement and part uncertainty and trepidation.

“As a creative coach, it’s my job to help people talk about these mixed feelings so they can be free to create and make the brilliant pantomimes we all enjoy.”

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