Published: 7 September, 2012
by AMY SMITH
THE statement “May contain spelling mistakes” is splashed across all the marketing for the DYSPLA festival, a five-day celebration of dyslexic writers and creatives, due to take place at a Covent Garden theatre.
Festival director Lennie Varvarides founded DYSPLA in 2007 after graduating from MA Writing for Performance at the Central School of Speech and Drama. This year will mark the seventh DYSPLA and will once again offer a programme of plays, speakers, poets, musicians, film screenings and workshops.
Ms Varvarides was inspired by both positive and negative experiences of the education system. At primary and secondary school she felt pigeon-holed as an underachiever.
“I’m talking about school in the 1990s,” she said. “A lot has changed since then but not quick enough. I was told dyslexia would ruin my life and ruin my chances to be successful.”
However, when a teacher at art college noticed a spelling mistake in her work, and encouraged her to leave it unchanged, Ms Varvarides had an epiphany.
She said: “It was the first time I had been given permission to discuss dyslexia as another colour in my palette, to use it as another medium like oil paint, watercolour, or pen and ink. I started to think of dyslexia as a positive. My thoughts were no longer restrained; I had complete freedom. Whatever I did, I felt was better because of the dyslexia.”
Ms Varvarides aims for the festival to encourage other people to celebrate their dyslexia and rebuild their confidence.
“Dyslexics can write, they just don’t like exams,” she said. “They’re visual thinkers and learn through imagination.”
Recent findings have located the gene for dyslexia and it has long been suggested that there is a link between dyslexia and creativity, with famous dyslexics including author Agatha Christie, TV writer Lynda La Plante, director Steven Spielberg, novelist Esther Freud, songwriter John Lennon, actor Marlon Brando, sculptor Antony Gormley, inventor Thomas Edison and scientist Albert Einstein.
However, Ms Varvarides stresses that dyslexia is not necessarily a gift, she describes how a few years ago, she would wake up stuck and unable to order exactly how to get out of bed, whether to turn the kettle on first, to go to the toilet or get dressed.
“Dyslexia relates to the processing of how you live your life,” she says. “It’s not just about reading and writing.”
Ms Varvarides describes DYSPLA festival as her “playground” but is hopeful it will eventually attract some backers and grow in scale to rival the Edinburgh Fringe.
• The festival takes place at the Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden from November 6 to 11. For tickets call 020 7240 6283.
Ms Varvarides is looking for dyslexic West End-based writers to submit their work for the festival. Send submissions by September 20 to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on 07425089974. She is also inviting writers and artists of any age with dyslexia to submit a handwritten letter, a poem, monologue, song or short play to be displayed in the theatre and potentially collated for a book.
Post your letters to: Fourth Floor, 35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QA, or drop them into the Tristan Bates Theatre during the festival.
Published: 20 October, 2011
by TOM FOOT
THE country’s first and only dyslexic festival returns to Theatro Technis on November 1 – and this year’s showcase is not to be missed.
Dys-pla – in its fourth year at the independent playhouse in Mornington Crescent – pools the talents of writers, musicians and filmmakers with the lifelong learning disability.
Dyslexia impairs the ability to read, write and comprehend – but the acclaimed Dys-pla event has shown before how the condition can spawn unique and thought-provoking art.
Organiser and playwright Lennie Varvarides, 28, a young protégé of Technis owner George Eugenio, said: “People with dyslexia want to tell stories but in a different way.”
The five-day gala event celebrates Dyslexia Awareness Week.
The opening night on November 1 features guest speakers, including the Royal Court Theatre’s Nic Wass.
Productions from last year have been revamped for the opening night of the performance on November 2.
There is an exhibition by dyslexic artists on November 3, film screenings of shorts by dyslexia filmmakers on November 4 and on November 5 live music and poetry performances will be on stage.
The festival closes on November 6 with Ms Varvarides’ new play The Caretaker featuring children from the Mad About Talent troupe.
To book a ticket contact Theatro Technis on 020 7387 6617.
Published: 25 November, 2010
by TOM FOOT, Camden New Journal
LENNIE Varvarides is a multi-tasker.
Fixing the internet with one hand, phone in the other, juggling the launch of her boutique actors agency and organising a festival of theatre at Theatro Technis.
The 27-year-old has made herself homeless to fund the drama project – the only festival in the world dedicated to dyslexic playwrights.
“Multi-tasking is one of the traits of dyslexia,” she says. “But we have many talents.”
Dys-Pla – five nights of shows with a question-and-answer session with playwright Jim Cartwright – coincided with National Dyslexic Week in November.
Lennie says: “People with dyslexia are well suited to the arts – we’re made for it. We have an approach to writing that is very different. We don’t necessarily begin at the beginning. The result is quite unusual and unpredictable.
“There is one play by Matthew Scurfield that dips in and out of reality – it starts quite Shakespearean, then moves to a TV interview, to real life. That’s the thing with dyslexia – you kind of jump in and out of time.”
Then comes the crash.
She says: “It’s a bit like if you leave too many pages open on the computer. Sometimes I am just doing too many things at once and I crash. It happens all the time.”
Lennie was not diagnosed with dyslexia until she was 19 years old and at art college. Up until then, she had been struggled to understand why she couldn’t match her thoughts in writing.
She said: “It messed up my early years at primary school. I had come to England from Cyprus and I think everyone just assumed English was my second language. I had an extremely active imagination – I enjoyed making stuff up.
“At secondary, I was no good at anything except for drama. I thought I was a bit slow and I didn’t know why – I was frustrated. I didn’t understand sometimes when it was writing, but when people spoke to me I did. I was put in the special class.”
She added: “That’s why they call it the hidden difference. I think schools need to start thinking how to make people learn differently. There needs to be a new way to teach. They should teach more visual and kinetically.”
Lennie went on to direct shows in New York, coming back to London to get a drama writing masters.
Her Camden base is Theatro Technis in Mornington Crescent, where she counts its founder George Eugeniou as something of a father figure.
She said: “This year, I gave up my home so I could get the money for Dys-Pla.
“But it was all worth it. It’s been great. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve made any money out of theatre. I’m so used to losing each time – we started with nothing. It means we can reinvest in the next one.”
• For more information visit www.msftmanagement.com
Dateline: 9th February, 2007
DYSLEXIC’S CAN’T WRIGH’T!
From 19th to 24th March missfit productions are proving the above statement is false by celebrating a diverse group of dyslexic writers and poets in the DYS(the)LEXI festival at the Barons Court Theatre in West London, as well as showcasing animations and documentaries, live art, workshops, and lively discussions, created by dyslexic artists.
The organisers, including BTG reviewer Lennie Varvarides, believe that being diagnosed as dyslexic is not as much of a disadvantage as some people think. Although people with dyslexia often have problems with literary skills, organisation and other “left-brained” activities, they are often creative and imaginative, with stronger abilities on the right side of their brains than many other people. With that in mind they are holding this festival to encourage people with dyslexia to indulge their imaginations and prove to the world, and to themselves, that their dyslexia is not a disability.
Core practitioners involved include: Playwrights Nicola Werenowska, Adesola Akinleye and Dominic Mitchell; Performance Poets Justin Rhyme, Nim Folb and Emma Elliott; Performance Poet/Vidoo Artist Dann Casswell and Animator Tasha Hollywood. The festival will also feature a documentary by artist Mike Juggins.
We were on On the Fringe (a weekly adventure through London’s fringe and OWE theatre circuit, featuring reviews, interviews, guests and news) on 29th September, 2008:
“On 29th September 2008 we have acts from The Big Joke Comedy Festival and Dyssing Monadys which celebrates dyslexic writers, and a discussion on the government’s new free theatre tickets initiative, plus Naomi Woods on the spoken word scene. Reviews include Leaving (Orange Tree Theatre), Come Dancing (Theatre Royal Stratford East), The Girlfriend Experience (Royal Court Theatre) and Alvaro’s Balcony (Landor Theatre) with Claire Cooke, Alison Kirwan and Emma Betteridge.”