Theatre performance artist Nye Russell-Thompson, previously supported by our Unlimited arts commissioning programme, shares his experiences and insight through a short Q&A in honour of International Stuttering Awareness Day...


So, what is stuttering & what would you like to highlight about it?

Stuttering, or stammering, is knowing exactly what you want to say, thinking something utterly coherent and even brilliant in your head, taking a deep breath as the confidence to speak up grows… and hearing it trip out of your mouth, maybe pulling on your face muscles and making you twitch, and finally snagging on your dignity and smashing it to the floor.

Stuttering is also learning patience, becoming a good listener, making strategies to help yourself, learning to accept yourself and your flaws.

It’s through my stutter that I found theatre and drama to be a brilliant speech therapy, and without either my speech impediment or drama, I would not be doing what I love as a job.

Tell us a little about yourself & how you identify with International Stuttering Awareness Day?

International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) is significant to me because all through school I used to have a severe stutter, and it wouldn’t always be acknowledged as a condition I was going through. Most times it would be difficult for me to get past a syllable, and if I was among the right people, I’d be given the time I needed - but if someone didn’t understand how tricky and upsetting my stutter was for me, they’d mimic me or finish my sentence for me. Sometimes a new friend, distant family member or the odd teacher just would not understand, and I had to call them out on it. ISAD for me is symbolic of that absolutely massive need to be understood that everyone shares.

In September 2015, I set up StammerMouth, a theatre brand aimed at raising awareness of stammering and communication difficulties. I had been performing my [Unlimited-supported] one-man show 'Just a Few Words', to Edinburgh that year, where it was nominated for the Total Theatre 'shows by an emerging artist' award, and decided StammerMouth was a fitting name for my company - I had the insult "stammer-mouth" thrown at me once at school. Thought I'd reclaim that!

How important is it to raise awareness and provide access services?

Raising awareness of stuttering is the whole reason I wrote 'Just a Few Words'. Having people say they now understand what it's like to have a speech impediment is always affirming to hear after a performance. 'Bounce! Festival' in Belfast and 'Unlimited Festival' at Southbank Centre in London were the first performances where I've had audio description, sign language interpreters and speech-to-text facilities available, and they really paid off! Not only did this mean accessibility for a wider audience of people who could appreciate the show for its message, but it also changed how I want to perform the show, as now I'm looking to incorporate these accessibility options wherever I perform.

Have You Overcome Your Stutter?

I still wonder about this, and I'd say there's been a massive improvement over the years! I had it worse all through school, until I found drama and realised I didn't stammer when I was portraying a character. The next realisation was in the final year of my performing arts course at the University of Chichester, when I started to realise that between my shy self and these ridiculous characters I'd play on stage, there was a middle ground where I felt most comfortable. Theatre and drama helped me to come out of my shell, but it was only by 2014 that I started to feel confident and comfortable. I'd always recommend drama to anyone who has trouble getting the words out. Always! But I do still stutter occasionally, especially on the t's.

Tell us about your Unlimited-supported work, and how it came about?

I very wonderfully tripped into Unlimited Impact - I was searching for theatre programmes to get my one-man show 'Just a Few Words' on, and came across Unlimited who were fantastic at guiding me through the funding application process. My show is about someone with a severe stammer trying to tell someone how he feels about them, and I wanted to tour it (after a very successful run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015), as I felt it was a great way to get audiences to understand what it's like to have a stammer, the effect it has on self esteem and anxiety, and so on. Unlimited awarded me a funding grant to take the show around the UK, which eventually took me to the British Stammering Association open day in London, Ryde School on the Isle of Wight, Komedia Studio at Brighton Fringe, Lyric Theatre for Belfast's 'Bounce! Festival', and Southbank Centre for the 'Unlimited Festival'. At the end of the funding period I'm now extremely enthusiastic about disability arts festivals and the less heard voices getting a platform through the arts. Maybe I hadn't really seen stuttering as a disability until now.

Applications are open now for the next round of Unlimited commissions funding and R&D awards - would you encourage others to apply?

Absolutely. If you have an idea for a piece of art or want to get your work out to a larger audience, Unlimited are very supportive with the funding application process, and are often available for advice and even event opportunities. It's been one of the best years for me as a theatre maker largely thanks to Unlimited!

Thanks Nye!


The Unlimited Application Portal has launched and is open for all disabled artists to start applying. Artists have until 7th November to submit Expression of Interest applications for all three Unlimited commission strands: Main, International and Emerging – Unlimited are looking forward to seeing your ideas! 

Shape provide disability equality training and access audits for organisations looking to become more accessible. More info can be found at shapearts.org.uk/making-your-organisation-inclusive

Nye's website StammerMouth can be found at www.stammermouth.co.uk


Banner image credit: Holly Cade Photography