“You can’t teach me to chop vegetables on paper….show me once and that’s all I need”. Stuart, Chef and Co-owner of The Loom Lounge Café and Roastery.
We all learn differently. This has been one of the most important lessons I’ve absorbed as a professional actor. Between 2 and 15 (or more) people can turn up to rehearsal on day one and over the coming weeks, script, music, dance, harmonies, movement, props and instruments are introduced into the arena of work. Each of us has our own unique process of mastering a journey, into staging a story, with the tools that are placed before us.
We must be sensitive to each others process – otherwise the ensemble does not reach complicity or cohesion and the audience will not be taken to their imaginative peak.
Whilst gabbling to myself one rainy afternoon in Halifax, exploring Sissy text, I got chatting to Stuart, who co-owns The Loom Lounge Café at E Mill, Dean Clough, along with his partner and one of his “role models”, Karon.
“I wanted to do Shakespeare, German and Spanish (at school), but was never allowed because my ability, my grades weren’t high enough to do those subjects…regardless of whether I want(ed) to do them or not…”
This moved me and I consequently asked Stuart if he would allow me to interview him for our Broadsides Blog. It was evident that he had the hunger for these subjects: as an actor and education practitioner, I believe that hunger and interest are crucial to any individuals learning journey.
Stuart was diagnosed as dyslexic at age 10:
“…I had a reading age of a 5 year old and a spelling age of a 6 year old…I would say up to the age of 18, when I was in an educational format, I’ve always found (reading) quite hard, it’s never been pleasurable.”
“…standing up in primary school, reading in front of the class next to the teacher it was torture…I hated it with a passion…and once I started to flounder, I couldn’t read the word, it was horrendous.”
It took the attention and courage of his mum to march up to school and ask why her son was sitting on a mat, alone, looking at pictures in books, during Math lessons, to begin his journey into understanding his particular brain and process of learning. Being formerly diagnosed as dyslexic meant he could attend specific lessons, which fortified him with a toolkit to enable learning rather than disable passion and interest.
“…When you’re struggling to learn large amounts of information, you need to break it down and put it into little boxes and then attach something to that box so that you’ll remember it and then it just suddenly, you’ll remember that label and it brings it back…. it’s very difficult to explain”.
I respond: “No, no, that makes sense”.
Another key player and role model in Stuarts journey, was Mr Trevelyan – Headmaster at his primary school, previously engaged as Headmaster, for 3 years on The Falkland Islands. He was instrumental in confirming that Stuart’s mother was right to notice that her son needed a different kind of educational toolkit. Mr T fought for Stuart to attend a mainstream secondary school and to attend lessons for dyslexia. He believed that Stuart should be pushed, because he had the appetite and that appetite needed to be encouraged rather than subdued or stunted and in Stuart’s case, turn into frustration manifesting itself in unruly behavior.
And finally, Stuart speaks fondly of Mrs Phipps, another of his schoolteachers, dyslexic herself, who was also instrumental in his journey and his individuality when it came to learning. She taught him to break down words, say them in his head before spelling them out – eliminating the panic and the sweats and allowing space for him to work with clarity and confidence.
Up until age 18, Stuart did not read for pleasure. I asked him where the turning point lay:
“(After discovering Stephen King’s IT) …I picked up (books) from Dean R Kootz and Richard Layman who are Horror Writers….they got me within the first two pages and held my interest.
Sue: What was it that got you?
Stu: My imagination. I could read a book like that and picture what was going on in the actual text.
He goes on to tell me of his current passion for factual reading. Again, I ask why this resonates with him:
“History for me at school was an absolute dead loss…Since I left school, college, history is a real passion of mine, I’m really into history…”
Sue: And what sparked…what made it interesting for you when you were older?
Stu: “I went to The Battle of Flodden in Scotland and it was an enormous field, where the English and The Scotts fought, massive loss of life, huge death toll and it was the most eeriest place I’ve ever been…
And I just stood there and remember thinking “wow, this is quite eerie, when you read the actual factual, X amount of 100s of 1000s of men who actually died on these fields, you just think, Jesus….”
Imagination. Truth. Humanity. As actors, that’s what we strive to release in a live stage production, on screen, through music, song and poetry. It’s crucial to learning, to empathy, to debate, discussion, to feeling, to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and walking their path for a while. We can take you on the most stupendous flights of fancy, but what you’ll remember is how it engaged your belly as well as your brain. We all struggle with being human and we all need to feel understood – never underestimate the capacity of the arts to shape a rounded, thinking and connected individual.
Stuart”…for me, it’s far more enjoyable, when you’re reading about things, especially in nature, things that are around you, things that are from every day life…
I remember reading a fact…years ago, that basically said: if a flea was the size of a human being it could jump over the Empire State building, without breaking a sweat. “
Sue: So it’s almost humbling to know these things, when you say it to me, I just think, well, it puts me into perspective.
Stu: …we mightn’t be alpha beings. Put us in someone else’s arena, we’re not…
Stuart’s journey is nothing short of incredible. He combines cerebral with physical learning, which is evident in his and Karon’s two thriving businesses, at Dean Clough. They’ve just opened The Loom Lounge Roastery in addition to the Café. The newest addition was constructed with their own hands: Canadian wood beams make up the shelves, an 1860 coffee grinder has pride of place in the window and all sorts of treats entice you through the doors.
Stuart is now also a Governor at his children’s school. He laments Government legislations, crippling and curtailing teachers time and energy into number crunching and box ticking. However, he has observed a force against this adversity at his children’s school.
“…an NQT, a newly qualified teacher, what she brought to that classroom was phenomenal. She had two year groups in her class, she had some very challenging children in her class, the school was in a socially deprived area…even trying to get children to school, properly dressed, that was the first challenge of the day, never mind what goes on in the classroom…but every single child in her class was engaged and was with her and stayed with her through the entire lesson. The amount of tools she brought in to help her do that was extraordinary. Simple stuff as well…use of white boards, media boards and physical stuff and then getting them up and getting them to move round…constantly engaging them, constantly getting them to think about what they’re doing rather than just sat in a chair…
I’ve…seen the power of what a well-managed school can deliver to its children. And a school that’s full of passionate teachers. “
We end our chat by talking about the importance of role models, the need to be tenacious in the face of adversity and never letting go your hunger to develop.
We agree that our personal success and learning should never be formed in isolation: it is to inspire the next person and the next. We are never walking a lone path to fulfillment; one person’s courage is another persons beginning…
I’d like to extend my huge and sincere thanks to both Stuart and Karon for their time, their candid reflections and their gorgeous generosity. They are an inspiration and Halifax is blooming lucky to have them!