Staging theatre for deaf and hearing audiences
Summary: The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble is a group of D/deaf and hearing artists whose work includes British Sign Language (BSL), spoken English, projection, movement, mime, music and soundscapes. All of our work is accessible for D/deaf, hard of hearing and hearing audiences.
Here, we discuss our latest project, People of the Eye, written by Erin Siobhan Hutching and based on her experience of growing up with a deaf sister, learning sign language and being introduced to Deaf culture.
Erin Siobhan Hutching, writer and performer
This project is based on the experiences of my family and friends who are affected by deafness (directly or indirectly). It celebrates the performative beauty of sign language and Deaf culture without shying away from the complex idea of culture versus disability. I used a mix of theatrical conventions including audience participation, physical theatre and video projections, striving to make accessibility part of the aesthetic instead of a tag-on. I wanted sound to be conveyed visually for the D/deaf audience, while allowing the hearing audience an insight into what the D/deaf experience of the world may be.
I organised the script visually, with each section (physical action, sound, film, subtitles) colour-coded to explain how it would happen simultaneously. A few scenes were changed significantly in rehearsal as sometimes visual elements that were right in my head didn’t translate in practice. As the project develops we plan to have a D/deaf and hearing creative working together in each aspect of production, to present a balanced viewpoint.
Everyone involved in the process brought their own experiences to the table, even the sign language interpreters, who were generous enough to share their own insights as hearing professionals in a D/deaf world. As well as assisting in the performers in terms of access, watching them also helped improve my own sign language skills. I use New Zealand sign language, which is similar to BSL but not exactly the same; the difference is a bit like someone speaking in a very strong accent.
Sophie Stone, performer and company co-founder
I feel a responsibility as an artist to represent things authentically within the realms of imagination. There’s so much more to play with when there’s a richness of diverse experience (which the ensemble and story certainly has).
As a D/deaf performer, working in the room with two artists who can sign, Jen and Erin, helped my own personal access. Working with the sound and visual teams also meant we could align digital manifestations to sound so D/deaf audience members could experience changes in sound visually. It meant that, for example, both D/deaf and hearing audiences could experience a hearing test and the projected internal breakdown as equally as possible.
This project and being part of a collaborative team has taught me that my perspective is my voice, which can be “heard” within every aspect of the creative process as much as everyone else’s.
Oliver Savidge, technical manager
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