12th January 2023
About to start in his very first lead role in a theatre production, lecturer and actor Chris Shoop-Worrall reflects on how performing has helped with his stammer.
It was a single laugh from an audience member: short, and swiftly bottled up, but a laugh nonetheless. The cause of the merriment? A long pause as I tried to say the word 'Girtonite' during a performance of the play Blue Stockings that I acted in last year.
I wasn't trying to be funny though… at least not on that line! It is just that I stammer.
It is far from the only odd thing to have happened to me when I stammer: bartenders assuming I am drunk and then, with widened eyes, apologising hastily; people wanting to guess the word I am trying to say (spoiler: it is rarely the right one). My own personal highlight? Being asked whether I occasionally played up my stammer sometimes because "people may dig it"… I mean, how does one go about answering that?!
It got me thinking about how much acting and performing had helped me become more comfortable and — literally — start finding my voice.
I am someone who stammers who, both through his job as a university lecturer and through his love of amateur acting, talks a lot and often in front of lots of people. I had not realised how relatively unique this was until I was contacted by a student who stammered, who had watched a video tutorial I had made.
They had reached out to say how cool it was to see somebody like them tutor them, as they had never before had a teacher or a lecturer who reminded them of, well, them.
It was cool for me too; I had never taught somebody who stammers before. It got me thinking, possibly for the first time, about working and finding fun in areas of life where seemingly so few people who stammer have a presence.
It got me thinking about how much acting and performing had helped me become more comfortable and — literally — start finding my voice. It got me thinking of my wonderful Year 7 Drama teacher, Mr. Walker. Mr Walker was a teacher who saw a scared little boy and helped him realise he could be okay, and that he could not only join in but could be good at and fall in love with something that he had told himself wasn't for people like him.
Thank you, Mr. Walker, and rest in peace. I am sorry I never got the chance to tell you that.
I had never thought of myself as a role model, or that I was doing things that could be seen as impressive. Honestly, I still don't. Even more honestly, I struggle a lot of the time to find value in myself. I think a fair amount of that is wrapped up in my being somebody who stammers. I don't like not being able to say things 'properly'. I don't like that I still value and use terms like 'speaking properly'. I am getting better at not doing that, though.
I am also getting better at appreciating what it is I do and how, yeah, it could be seen as pretty cool.
I had never thought of myself as a role model, or that I was doing things that could be seen as impressive.
In my job, I teach classes ranging from tutorials of a handful of people to lectures of over one hundred. In and out of those classrooms, I have students telling me how much they value my guidance and my quality of communication — whether explaining content, or helping with those last-minute assessment panics!
I am a (good?) lecturer, and I am a person who stammers.
My biggest role
In my favourite pastime, meanwhile, I have recently become a member of a local theatre community at the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse. I was cast in two productions in 2022: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (not as Billy!), and the above-mentioned Blue Stockings. I was part of two wonderful shows that got standing ovations, and kind comments from audience goers and local writers. A stranger messaged me over social media to say that my Martini – though I am sure not quite up to Danny DeVito's standards – was one of the best performances they had ever seen.
Now I am just about to start our production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which runs from 16th-21st January. I have been cast as Algernon: one of the principle parts, and the biggest role I have ever had in my life. I must have been cast for a reason, right?
I am a (good?) actor, and I am a person who stammers.
Being the person I am, I still remember the negatives more easily. That is why I started this little story with the memory of that single laugh. I always find it easier to focus on the let-downs, the mishaps, the moments that didn't quite go how I would have wanted.
Through writing this, though, hopefully I will continue my journey away from that way of thinking: to remember the good moments, and the successes that come from being exactly who I am. I hope, also, that you remember your good moments too, and the successes you have had through just being exactly who you are.
Hello: my name is Chris, and I am a person who stammers.
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