Each week, Sam Hooper walks through the doors of Charing Cross Church is an opportunity to show off his ‘superpowers’.
Sam said: “It took a long time to ask if I could join in – and as soon as I finished my first lesson, I felt I could do anything. I felt like a superhero.
“Coming here gives me a chance to show everyone what I am made of.”
Sam is one of the dozens of members of RAWD, a disability-led theatrical group based in Birkenhead.
He has been attending the group for nearly five years – and each session he attends leaves him feeling more empowered than the last.
Sam said: “I used to be very shy, and it took me a while to do big roles. But each time I came in, I felt better and more confident.
“I always wondered if I would be good enough to be an actor. I didn’t believe in myself at first – that’s why it took so long for me to come here.”
Self-doubt and lacking self-confidence are no doubt familiar to anyone with a dream to pursue the arts.
Yet for actors with learning disabilities, the sentiment can be much more prominent.
“I really wanted to act, but for a long time, I thought that having a disability would make me a rubbish actor…this made me feel sad, angry and very frustrated because it made me feel I wasn’t allowed to have a go.”Sam Hooper, actor at RAWD
RAWD’s mission is to open doors for members of the community who would otherwise struggle to break through barriers and engage in the arts.
Their mission is essential because around 1.4 million individuals are living in the UK with some degree of learning disability.
Research released by Mencap suggests only 34% of the public have seen actors or actresses with learning disabilities on the screen.
Just one in five recalls seeing performances featuring disabled actors in the past decade and, what’s more, only 5% of successful disabled applicants took on a significant role.
So, what’s stopping disabled talent flocking to the stage?
In Sam’s eyes, the lack of visibility hurts his chances.
Sam explains: “When I grew up, I didn’t see people like me on the stage or television. Not a single person.
“I really wanted to act, but for a long time, I thought that having a disability would make me a rubbish actor.
“This made me feel sad, angry and very frustrated because it made me feel I wasn’t allowed to have a go.”
His imposter syndrome could not be further from the truth; in fact, Sam proved to be far from a ‘rubbish actor’ from the get-go.
From Beauty and the Beast to murder mystery extravaganzas, the talented actor has entertained audiences across the North West, and flourished in an environment which nurtures his passion.
Over the years, Sam has also performed at the DaDaFest – an international drama festival showcasing disabled talent on the stage – and he was one out of thousands of applicants to be selected to audition for a national TV show.
Sam said: “Since I got involved with RAWD, they have given me a push to go out and do big things.
“Graham even helped me to apply for auditions for a big TV programme. I won’t tell you where it was for – that’s a secret – but I was invited for an interview for a big role, and I was very excited.
“RAWD helped keep my spirits up, and everyone wished me lots of luck. It was good because, five years ago, I wouldn’t have applied.
“I was born to be an actor, and I will make it one day. I want to be on Eastenders, playing as a proper character – maybe even one of the bad guys!”
“I feel better every time I go on the stage. It’s made me understand people better, and I feel like I am part of something which values me.”Adam Carragher, actor from RAWD
Many who pass through the doors walk in with visions of performing in pantomimes and getting stuck in.
Yet in Adam’s case, his primary reason for approaching the group was far detached from dreams of stardom.
Adam Carragher, who is on the autistic spectrum, came to the group after suffering a personal bereavement and leaving college.
He told Mersey Community News how the sudden disruption from years of college had left him feeling of the loop.
Adam said: “I spent two years building my skills in business, only to realise it just was not for me.
“Not only that, but I suffered a bereavement which really affected me. I was clueless about what to do.
“I wanted a job in business, yet I felt there was a lot of barriers for me to join in socially. In some ways, I did not feel equipped to find one, because I have always felt very different.
“I know it’s not bad to be different, but people misunderstand my intentions. This has made me anxious, and I did not have a lot of self-esteem.”
From Adam’s point of view, joining RAWD has given him a chance to be ‘part of the circle’ and express himself.
Adam told Mersey Community News: “Confidence will always be a problem, but I feel better every time I go on the stage. It’s made me understand people better, and I feel like I am part of something which values me.
“I am definitely more stagnant, and I know that I have excellent ideas. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be acting on the stage today, I would have told you to get out of town!
“It’s good to be with like-minded people who understand what it’s like to feel outside of the bubble because here, I can be myself.”
Director and local drama teacher, Graham Hicks, has seen the
group move from strength to strength over the years.
Graham said: “Each year we bring something new into the mix, and our team rise to challenge on every occasion.
“I could not be prouder of our RAWDsters; they work hard, play hard, and keep smashing barriers.”
The North of Arts Council England, who fund the RAWD project, have said that they are committed to providing a ‘voice’ for the local communities and promoting diversity.
Alison Clark, Director North, Arts Council England said: “Arts Council England believes that arts and culture is for everyone.
No one should have to face barriers in accessing and enjoying artistic experiences.
We want to ensure that there are opportunities for people from all sections of society, no matter their background or circumstances, to take part in cultural activities or develop their craft.”
RAWD Ltd meets every Wednesday for weekly dance and drama sessions – and are always looking for new members to get stuck in the fun.