Ross Duncan interviews Steven Robertson – Actor ‘Shetland’

No one can fail to appreciate the atmospheric backdrop to the TV programme Shetland that almost gives you a feeling of being on a shelf, looking down on the rest of the world.

One of the main characters, Sandy, played by Steven Robertson, is a native of Shetland. He recounts having a number of bad experiences at school and often felt he had been left on the bottom shelf.

Even now Steven can think of instances of feeling demoralised and having nerve shattering experiences in not being able to do simple tasks like writing a cheque or fill in a form. However, it wasn’t till near the end of primary school that he was identified as being dyslexic. Prior to this he had to go through a number of torturous events. He would have to line up in class and spell out words, an impossibility for him. He was considered to be lively but a disruptive and stupid pupil in class.

Although in some ways being tested at an early age can have its benefits. Steven believes that early detection may not be the key; he believes that it depends on the person doing the identification and what they do with the information. Apart from that, dyslexia impacts on people in different ways so Steven believes it to be entirely personal and that it shouldn’t be generalised. From his own experience at Lerwick High School, having a talented remedial teacher gave him the confidence to believe in himself. That teacher was his saviour.

For someone who had struggled to orally spell in class, Steven was noticed for his oral story telling, a traditional part of Shetland culture. This was a big part of what eventually led Steven to becoming involved with performing arts and TV.

It was when he went back to education at Fife College that he first came across Dyslexia Scotland. He gained a lot from their information leaflets. It was whilst in college; he was fully assessed and given funding for IT support which was an invaluable aid with his written course work.

For Steve, returning to Shetland as an accomplished actor and recording on location still has its challenges. You might expect that any free time that Steven has prior to filming, he would spend it with family and friends.

Unfortunately not. The nature of Steven’s dyslexia means you’ll find him reading and running over his script; it’s an added level of stress. Nevertheless the role of an actor is dependent on being well prepared. This is something that Steven takes seriously and with a lot of training, effort and experience does not allow dyslexia to hamper or get in the way of things.

Steven freely admits that the acting industry has changed over the years and his coping mechanisms, in particular auditioning for parts, have taken a knock. This is because less and less time is given to prepare reading over scripts. Steven finds this frustrating and thinks that it may affect his chances of getting parts. He does, however consider himself lucky, but this may be down to his own determination, ability and skill as an actor.

In general, being a dyslexic actor can draw attention to yourself in identifying weaknesses and can make you self conscious. But Steven goes a long way to not “advertise it”. He has learnt this by own experiences and uses this to help and encourage other actors who would have struggled in the past. Steven now thinks that things are getting better all the time for all in the industry who happen to be dyslexic.

Ross Duncan

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