ADHD is not a handicap, it’s a superpower

UCC student John Doyle tells COLETTE SHERIDAN about his theatrical success and his recent ADHD diagnosis
ADHD is not a handicap, it’s a superpower
John Doyle.

THEATRE director, writer and a mature student of law at UCC, John Doyle is adamant that his recent diagnosis of ADHD is not a handicap.

The Tralee native, whose latest production, No Borders 2, opens at the Granary Theatre on April 16, says theatre “has kept me grounded. When I work on artistic stuff, I’m hyper-focused. That’s why I love ADHD.”

John’s mother once commented that she thought her son might have the condition. But it wasn’t until last December that John, aged 38, received an official diagnosis. It explained his troublesome nature at school and other behaviours. He has chosen not to take medication and talks about ‘neuro-diversity’.

“Labelling someone as being different and disordered because their brain is not the same as the mainstream is something that doesn’t register with me at all,” he says. I just have another brain type.

“Loyle Carner, an actor and rapper with ADHD, calls it a superpower. He’s right. I consider it to be a gift. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t ADHD.”

John takes on a lot and has incredible energy, often getting by on just a few hours sleep. He has the assistance of the Disability Service at UCC to help him with the practicalities involved in being a student.

Nor is he fazed at the thought of directing a production during college term time. He will be doing his exams in the autumn and will study during the summer.

John’s first calling was acting. He studied drama at Kinsale College of Education in 2009 and a year later, moved into directing. A few years ago, he staged No Borders, which dealt with the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers.

“It was supposed to be one tiny performance at Camden Palace Hotel. But it became this big thing and ended up in the Everyman and at Smock Alley in Dublin. The idea for it came from that picture of the Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on a beach in the Mediterranean. There was a huge reaction to that photograph.”

It heightened awareness of the Syrian crisis. John, who has a background working with refugees and asylum-seekers, says he wanted to do something for Syria. So he put his show together, comprising eight one-act plays, six of which he wrote himself.

He is directing his follow-on production, No Borders 2 for UCC STAR Society (Student Action for Refugees). It’s described as “an exploration of time, memory and connection through trauma, telling the stories of individuals affected by abuse and other hardships in times of conflict.”

John Doyle and his cast Chukwuemeka Taylor,Claudia Connell,Sean Cosgrove,Noma Mpofu.
John Doyle and his cast Chukwuemeka Taylor,Claudia Connell,Sean Cosgrove,Noma Mpofu.

There will be six one-act plays, all focusing on African characters. This production will be more experimental than the original No Borders.

Having started studying law at UCC, John says: “I think I had a reaction to the academic thing. I felt quite restricted by it. And I could see how multi-cultural the campus is. So I came up with the idea for No Borders 2.

John says he has an affinity with Africa, having worked with African refugees and asylum-seekers.

“Even though the show is about people overcoming trauma as a result of human rights violations, it’s not saying that Africa is a bad place. Through paying tribute to the people from there, I’m paying tribute to the continent.

“Obviously, I needed African performers. I started casting six months ago. I knew some of the people and a few of them are in direct provision. There’s a cast of ten doing plays that I’ve written.”

The short plays include the story of a woman who is a victim of gender-based acid violence. There is a play called Caged which is about a man living in direct provision. Tsi Tsi is about an African woman who befriends an Irish kid that has run away from a foster home.

One of the performers in No Borders 2 is 24- year-old Raphael Olympio who has been living in Cork for 18 years. He has a rap act called Though Shall Not Steal.

Raphael was just six when he moved from Togo in west Africa to Togher. His parents were fleeing conflict, arising from a civil war.

“My father did everything he could to flee from Togo. He had been working in a politician’s house, cooking for him, living and sleeping there. But he stole a watch which was worth a lot of money. He did that so the family would be able to come to Europe. My piece in John’s show is about my father’s story.”

Raphael has four younger brothers. He is studying nursing at the Cork College of Commerce and hopes to attend UCC to qualify as a general nurse. What drew him to that?

“My mum was quite ill when I was young. There were quite a lot of nurses around. That encouraged me to help others. My mum is now in good health.”

Since completing his Junior Certificate, Raphael has been rapping.

“I used to write poetry and stories and I joined a group called ‘Ground Floor’ at the YMCA. I saw mates of mine rap and do every type of artistry. I was asked to rap one of my poems. So I went for it. The first song I did was called Jesus Music. In it, I talk a lot about my faith. I’m a Christian. My faith and music are the two things that encourage me.

“I used to be very shy and reserved. Faith and music gave me confidence and helped me open up and speak up. So I started recording in a studio. Then I released the music. People enjoyed it. I released another song and kept going. I got signed to ‘Outsiders’ Entertainment’ in Cork. I’ve performed at Electric Picnic and I was in Dublin performing for the St Patrick’s day parade there.”

Raphael says John Doyle has been supporting his music for years.

“He wanted me to get involved in a few plays. But acting was never really my thing. Then he asked me again explaining the background of what he wanted to do. I thought it sounded quite interesting. I come from that background (that is dealt with on No Borders 2) but I never thought of writing about it or expressing my feelings about it.

“Growing up in Cork for 18 years, I don’t know much about Togo apart from what my mother told me. I’ve only been there once for a holiday.

“I can’t even communicate properly with my grandmother because I can’t speak the language. So I was really interested in what John is doing. I said I’d give it a shot.”

Has Raphael experienced racism in Cork?

“Not a lot. A little bit when I was younger. When we came to Togher in 2000, we were the first black people living in our area. You get good remarks and bad remarks.”

Through his drama piece at No Borders 2, Raphael hopes to raise awareness.

“If you hear a song about asylum-seekers and if you see a story being re-enacted on a stage, people will connect more readily to the issues that are being raised.”

John says that one of the aims of No Borders 2 is to call for “migrant solidarity”.

The show is made up of a cast “that is a huge melting pot of different people from different cultures and backgrounds.”

No Borders 2 is at UCC’s Granary Theatre from April 16 to 18.

Tickets from /www.eventbrite.ie, cost €9.24 to €11.40.

For more see UCC STAR Society on Facebook.

STAR is a UK based charity of 26,000 students aiming to welcome refugees. The UCC branch is the first in Ireland.

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