Wednesday 12 December 2018

Blue Diamond sets the scene for students with intellectual disabilities to excel

Left to right: Cian O’ Connor, Aimee Richardson, Lisa Cox, Anneke Walsh, Tara Mooney, Daniel Ryan, Sile Maguire, Deborah Bolton, Sinead Friel, David Johnstone at the Blue Diamond Drama Academy graduation Photo: Maxwells
Left to right: Cian O’ Connor, Aimee Richardson, Lisa Cox, Anneke Walsh, Tara Mooney, Daniel Ryan, Sile Maguire, Deborah Bolton, Sinead Friel, David Johnstone at the Blue Diamond Drama Academy graduation Photo: Maxwells

The Blue Diamond Drama Academy was set up in Dublin two years ago specifically to address the needs students with intellectual disabilities who also have a talent and a passion for performance.

It offers a two-year training programme with modules including introduction to Shakespeare, voice, dance and movement, improvisation, script work and singing.

The academy was the brainchild of Dr Anthony Walsh and his wife Susan, whose experience with their daughter, Anneke, brought home to them the lack of training opportunities for students with learning disabilities who wanted a future in the performing arts.

Dr Walsh recognised the value of the performing arts in helping people with intellectual disabilities to express themselves and as a way to continue learning, and found inspiration in similar models, such as the Blue Teapot Theatre Company, Galway and ventures in the UK.

Anneke was among the academy's first 10 graduates at a recent ceremony in the Dublin's Gaiety Theatre. Twelve new students have started, while there are another 40 on a range of Blue Diamond part-time programmes.

One graduate, Daniel Ryan, landed a role in the Virgin Media One drama, Blood, and has another TV series lined up. The graduates have also formed a company and are in rehearsals for their own production, One Love, being staged in Smock Alley in January.

The Churchtown-based academy operates under CEO Kate Sheridan and artistic director Niamh Dillon, with guest tutors who include directors, playwrights, actors, artists and musicians. At three days a week, the students' workload is comparable to any performing arts training course.

Sheridan says it's about including adults with disabilities in employment and doing this through the arts. "There is no reason why they cannot work in the performing arts," she says.

Blue Diamond relies on voluntary donations and Sheridan says if they were properly funded, they could at least double in growth.

Irish Independent

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