Interview with Adam Fenton
Adam Fenton graduated from ALRA North in 2019 and has since started out a career in writing. He’s recently written short play Cooped Up for Graeae Theatre Company’s ‘Crips Without Constraints’; an 11-week digital programme during the Covid-19 lockdown to celebrate the talent, creativity and resilience of Deaf and disabled artists.
Cooped Up was performed by Jack Hunter, directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin and introduced by Jack Thorne. You can watch the audio-described and captioned video here.
We spoke to Adam about his experiences as a disabled writer and what he’s been up to since graduating from ALRA.
Can you tell us about your writing career so far?
I feel as if I’m just getting started but I’ve had some amazing opportunities. I’ve written spoken word pieces for varies projects, taken part in workshops and had a script mentored by the BBC, performed an original piece for ‘Freshly Scratched’ at Battersea Arts Centre, and my latest piece ‘Cooped Up’ has just been released as part of ‘Crips Without Constraints’, an online project created by GraeaeTheatre Company and writer Jack Thorne.
I’m also working on a few new projects that have been put on hold for the moment, including development of my first full length play. I’m really looking forward to getting to show it to everyone, hopefully some time next year.
How has your training at ALRA influenced your writing? What skills are transferable from acting?
There are lots of transferable skills. Things like imagination and improvisation are really useful when thinking about ideas for scenes or conversations.
Being an actor and a writer lets me look at scripts from two different perspectives. When I am looking at theming, structure or story, I tend to have my writer’s hat on. It’s great to have the narrative freedom of the writer but it’s also nice to look at the words from an actor’s perspective. Does the dialogue feel right? Does the scene have a good rhythm? Would I want to play and explore this character? If not, then I can change it.
So basically, I’m performing little one man plays to myself where I play all the characters and then give myself notes at the end... which sounds really weird now that I think about it.
How has your disability affected your experience of working in the performing arts industry? Have there been any challenges?
Since leaving ALRA and entering the industry as a disabled creative, I’ve felt a lot of positivity. I’ve had meetings with lots of amazing industry people who were keen to understand my process and how I work. I used to worry about people disregarding me because of my neurodiversity but that hasn’t been the case. The people I have worked with have been hugely accepting of me and have helped me grow as a performer. The disabled arts community is also a very welcoming one, creating new art that is important and beautiful. I’m grateful to be part of it.
There have been some challenges. When you present yourself as a disabled artist it can feel like you’re putting yourself in a box and you can experience some tokenism. It’s a tricky thing to navigate because although Tourette’s is a huge part of my identity, it does not define me completely. Disability is just one element of a person but it can have a huge effect on how they are viewed and how they are cast.
My condition, for example, is hugely misunderstood, and it can be hard to break that stigma.That is part of why I write; to create these complex characters who can abolish preconceptions. And I act so that I can be the genuine representation I wish I saw more often.
What support would you have liked to have that industry and tutors could put in place in future?
I’d urge the industry to consider disabled actors for any role, not just the ones with a disability focus. Disabled people live rich and varied lives and their representation in the arts should reflect that. Why can’t Hamlet be a wheelchair user or visually impaired, or a twitchy guy like me? I think that would be pretty cool.
Tutors can show support by encouraging students to explore their differences.When I started drama school, I would try to hide my Tourette’s. I felt like I needed to in order to do what was asked of me properly and I really struggled, but when I started to use my tics as part of my acting, it gave me the freedom to produce my most authentic and interesting work.
Each person’s body is different so it makes sense that the training they receive should be tailored to them.This makes actor training more accessible, encouraging diversity to produce more varied and unique artists, which creates the best art, so in the end, everybody wins
What is your fondest memory of your time at ALRA?
I’d say winning the New Work Slam in my second year was a pivotal moment for me. Up to that point I felt somewhat lost in my practice and was struggling to find my identity as a performer. The day before the slam I decided to write a spoken word piece called ’10 Pieces of Really Good Advice’. I performed it the next day and was really surprised that I ended up winning. I talked to Chris Hill afterwards about my process and realised that writing and performing was how I wanted to work in the future. I'd realised that what was missing from my work was, well, me! The connection and belief in what I was saying helped me to understanding acting in a new way. After that day I had a new way of thinking of myself as an artist and it gave me the confidence to follow the path I’m currently on. Plus, it was my birthday, so it was a nice present!
What advice would you give someone who is thinking of going to drama school?
I’d say go for it. The journey you go on personally and artistically is so valuable. I’ve made some amazing friends, learnt so much, and feel part of a family that’s always there for me. Sounds a bit soppy but it's true. I’d recommend.
If you do end up taking the plunge my advice would be: don’t shave off your edges to fit into a mould of ‘generic actor’ or whatever you think they want to see. Your quirks and little idiosyncrasies are what make you special and that’s what people find interesting. This whole actor thing is about standing out so don’t be afraid to do things differently.Forge your own path, work hard and have fun.