Riva (opti)

With the advances of assistive technology and support in education and the workplace, dyslexic traits that were traditionally seen as barriers can now be overcome. One issue that still prevails though, is the self-deprecation caused by negative reactions to the quirky neuro-diverse ways.

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It is estimated that 40% to 60% of dyslexic children experience anxiety, depression and attention deficit. “Although most dyslexics are not depressed, they are at a higher risk of intense feelings of sorrow and pain.” Says Pennie Aston, Director of GroOops counselling service. Playwright and actor Francesco Riva’s new play, “Dyslexia… Where are you, Albert??” tackles some of these issues head on. The play focuses on the life of the main character, a young boy called Giacamo and his experiences growing up with dyslexia. Giacamo is a misfit in school and misunderstood by teachers and students who believe he is stupid.

The play comes in the form of a monologue and explores the reality of how Giacomo deals with the reactions from the character’s that surround him on a daily basis. Riva explains that this is a “problem many children and teenagers have to face in a scholastic and social environment.” This can be overwhelming, which Riva powerfully illustrates as he morphs and embodies new characters, like a scattered brain filling with ideas and thoughts. The story builds when Giacamo encounters an inspiring teacher who understands the way he thinks and depicts the world of learning to him in a fresh light. Prior to gaining this essential help, Riva discusses how he goes through a physical “shutdown” which sends him into a state of depression.

Being dyslexic himself, Riva is able to explore anecdotes from his own experiences, “I remember when I was a kid, my father had to teach me the months of the year … He uses a song to teach them, otherwise I wouldn’t remember the order.” Art and creativity is something which many dyslexics excel in, discovering new ways of learning and building them into their coping strategy. Riva himself sought inspiration through art, explaining how he was previously inspired by an Indian movie called Taare Zameen Par (Stars on Earth), which focuses on similar issues.

Riva has hopes for his own work to inspire people; during the play Giacamo transforms into the persona of many famous dyslexics, “I talked about them just to say, even though you are a dyslexic, that doesn’t mean … you can’t reach your dreams.” With Riva’s play storming across Italy; it would appear it has worked as a driving force to bring about a sense of change, within the dyslexic community and beyond. Riva reflects, “People who don’t have dyslexia, they’ve come out of the monologue and they say, ‘Listen I finally understand why my classmate had this problem.’”

The play has not only made waves within the education system but has captured the hearts of the general public, filling 1000 seat capacity venues. I have suspicions that Riva’s work isn’t finished here. Stay tuned for more tour dates in the near future!

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