Devising for a Deaf and Hearing Audience

Recently I have worked with an up and coming theatre company in devising a production that aimed to be
Beginnings of rehearsalsaccessible to a mixed hearing and deaf audience. Theatre is a passion of mine that I feel should be experienced by all despite of age, background or language. Theatre has taken steps to make mainstream productions accessible to deaf audiences through Sign Language Interpreters or captions. These methods do provide access but I am searching for a process that can combine British Sign Language (BSL) and spoken English to fully integrate an audience who use two
different languages.

Devising from a script skews the focus to English so we tried to find other starting points for our production. Beginning with props and items

linked to our theme, playing with these encouraged a physical style of work that broke the barriers of structured language. To enhance the physical sequences that came from this process text was easy to find, write and translate, but how could ‘text be written’ that originated in BSL?

The key seemed to be in pictures. As BSL is a visual language, pictures were collected and described in sign language which then in turn was translated to spoken English to provide access for the hearing members of the audience.

The finished piece attracted our intended audience and seemed to be received well. Is devising the best way to create theatre that can be appreciated by an audience, some who use a visual language and some who require the spoken word? How much can we do with an existing text to be enjoyed by all? Or do we need deaf and hearing writers to collaborate? Camden Fringe theatre was the perfect opportunity to take some risks but only time and much experimentation will tell.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. You need to see what we are doing in Liverpool. Next performance will be based on a murder and the audience will need to work our who done it.

    Reply

  2. There is never a right or wrong way to go a sign song. The beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder. There is a huge range of style in voice-songs (Opera, Pop, Foll, Rock, Jazz and I can go on), So the signer create a style of their own and it takes a few years to develop. You mentioned Caroline Parker and she has created her style with a mixture of drama and dance movement. Riccardo Weare developed a contrasting style that

    There are resentments from the Deaf Community of cultural hijacking if hearing people claim ownership of an artform that include sign language. It is acceptable if hearing people are providing access and they are on stage with the singer.

    I directed a musical called “Oliver!” We had amature dramatics volunteers doing the singing and they were seated in the front row of the theatre. The Deaf performers were on stage.

    I was involved with a professional theatre company where Deaf perofrmers were devising the poetry (in sign language) and movements, then the musician came later to create the music based on what they were seeing.

    I`m not perfect I have been both criticised and praised. There is only one Simon Cowell in the hearing community, but in the Deaf Community, there are thousands of Simon Cowells!!

    Reply

  3. Thanks for the comment. It is great to find out things from your perspective!
    I agree, song sign is an evolving art form, with much variety, that I think needs to take risks. Unfortunately for some that does mean it will be criticised. However I see criticism as a good thing, it helps us learn and improve. I used to fear the Simon Cowells of the Deaf world but it is great to see people that are so passionate and willing express their view. That attitude gained rights and made BSL an official language. I hope that will continue so that the benchmark is raised in the Arts and accessible/inclusive work will be created to the highest possible standard.

    Reply

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