A Festival Less Ordinary

Are the young audiences theatres are striving for hidden amongst the Deaf community?
Whilst thousands attended the infamous Reading Festival this recent bank holiday weekend (27th August 2010) the Deaf community hosted their equivalent in and equally muddy field in Bristol. On the Saturday I travelled to Bristol Deaf Festival (BDF) to perform a devised theatrical performance, meet new people and get muddy! I had performed this piece two weeks prior to this event as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, London. We were based in a theatre with lights, raked seating and an audience who knew what they were in for.

Arriving at BDF on a gloriously sunny day and seeing the marquee that we would be our performance space, it was apparent that we would have to work super hard to create the ‘dark’ atmosphere our piece required. Scenes involving torches and shadows were quickly altered to comply with our new setting. A beautiful day, free-flowing local cider, and a serious play didn’t seem like a recipe for success but nevertheless, young deaf people flocked to the tent to watch our 30 minute production.

After the play people stayed to meet the performers, ask questions and give feedback. Many young deaf people stated that they loved seeing theatre and although the piece didn’t necessarily fit into the atmosphere of the festivities, they enjoyed it. In total there were 3 pieces of theatre performed that afternoon and all had large audiences. A comedic performance focused on the characters of Punch and Judy went down a storm. As I sat on the grass and watched it, I noticed the attentive audience members gripped to the on stage action and fully participating when required, something that is always tricky to get an audience to do.

Bristol Deaf Festival

Punch and Judy


The UK is always striving for young audiences with the old Government throwing money at hurried and unsuccessful schemes, justifying the coalition to make drastic cuts in the Arts. Perhaps young deaf audiences are the pioneers to start the trend that venues around the UK are praying for? If performed at a ‘hearing festival’ such as Reading I can say with almost certainty that the audiences would have been considerably smaller and less attentive even though all three pieces were deaf and hearing accessible. Maybe there should be more support to provide access for audiences who long to see a variety of genres of theatre instead of wasting money on people who simply have no interest.

However, just because a piece of theatre is deaf accessible that does not mean the experience will be. Train theatre staff in BSL a non-verbal communication and I predict young deaf audiences will attend performances and with any luck start the trend for young audiences in general.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sarah on February 18, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Bravo!! I agree with everything you have said here; and this kind of theatre has the sort of attitude that makes people sit up and take notice, whether they are deaf or hearing. Admittedly, if it was performed at Reading, there probably would not be a huge audience…Glastonbury, on the other hand, could be the target! As it is a total mix of people, young and old, and more deaf people are starting to go to Glastonbury…accessible theatre could be perfect for it! Anyway, I am waxing lyrical about my favourite festival here…so I will shut up…

    It is great to come across a blog like this, someone who is interested in something very similar to me and I am guessing you are deaf too? As I am, and often blog about it on my blog (along with this, that and everything…) so you are welcome to come and check it out if you want? The address is: starsandrainbows.wordpress.com

    Keep up with the great posts, I will be back… 🙂


    • Thanks so much for your post, it’s lovely to get feedback and to know people are reading my blog. I checked out your blog too, you seem like a very artistic lady.

      I am hearing, slowly on my way to becoming an interpreter to hopefully work in theatre and the Arts. At University I studied a theatre course that focused on creating deaf and hearing accessible and integrated theatre so my blog is basically my continuation of that.

      For a while now I have wanted to collaborate with a deaf blogger, maybe review a piece of theatre, and blog from both sides of the coin to explore if theatre can be truly accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences. I don’t know where you are based but if that sounds like something that would appeal to you, get in touch.

      Best wishes… Sami


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