How to make British Sign Language seen for it’s aesthetic rather than for making theatre accessible

Convener(s): Abigail Hiester

Participants: Elise Davison, Martin McLean, Roger Nelson, Chris Grady, Laura Kriefman, Carloine

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations

  • Before one member worked with Dorothy Miles and saw Deaf West’s production of ‘Big River’ in USA. Not much around today?
    • Suggestions of Deafinitely, Graeae, Krazt Kat, Commonground, Stage Hands
  • The focus of the discussion addressing British Sign Language not signed languages.
  • What do people want from integrated/Deaf theatre?
  • Deaf story tellers such as Jackie Beckford ‘Mohammed Ali and me’ – involving the sign language on stage rather than on the side.
  • Deaf performers are great storytellers – maybe create jamming/scratch sessions to do some stories.
  • When creating an integrated performance the d/Deaf person of translator should be involved asap. with the script. Also within the whole creative process so it can work as another multimedia layer. There has to be communication between interpreter and director and artistic objective/understanding.
  • Comments on sign interpreted performance
    • Attending a BSL interpreted show and not finding the performance/interpreter accessible ( accent – regional differences in BSL)
    • The embodiment of the music with physical/visual input – ‘fabulous’
      • Inspired to create performance/dance from poetry using sign language to embody the text and soundscape.
      • DV8 and Commonground – 2 dance companies that do this.
      • Companies such as Taking Flight strive to ensure all performances are interpreted – using shadow interpreters integrated into the performance.
    • 20 years ago (and in fact this year!) audience members would complain about BSL interpreter distracting from the performance by being at the side of the stage. Now audiences have become more aware due to greater access to theatre. Using BSL because it is beautiful and recognizing its beauty and how it can add to a piece of theatre rather than a barrier to be overcome.  Important for d/Deaf performers to be able to develop their natural skill of sign language to be able to say ‘Hey, I have an amazing skill…’ so perhaps then access becomes less of an issue aesthetically.
      • 80% of everyday communication is through physical and visual modality
      • captivating the form as a bi-lingual form for a bi-lingual audience
    • Using sign language aesthetically is slightly different from interpretation as Shakespeare and English or spoken word on stage and everyday Darren Chaise – ALRA, Kenny Gardener – Krazy Kat Theatre
    • Sign Theatre is a form developed at Reading University on a course called Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies. Though the course is struggling at the moment and it’s future is uncertain, there are many ex-students and future graduates who have a high understanding of using sign language aesthetically so look out for them!
    • Issue of using film and TV for d/Deaf performers. The issue of not using d/Deaf performers to play deaf roles (why?).
    • Some deaf audiences or performers do not use BSL but communication modes such as sign supported English or lip read. So BSL interpreted and captioned performances are only accessible to certain groups of audience members and performers.
    • How can performances be accessible to all of these?
    • The combination of different languages and communication modes should be carefully considered
      • g. Static by Graeae – 3 different stories in 3 different communication/language modes – led to confusion and debate about the degree to which the performance was accessible.
      • Graeae’s work is a new aesthetic and experimental. Won’t always get it right – have to be able to try and succeed/fail and keep trying to strengthen the form and techniques rather than ignoring the process.
      • The play could be difficult to understand to all audience members no matter what their language/communication preference.
    • Deaf Theatre is different from Sign Theatre – it maybe considered that Deaf Theatre is the reverse of mainstream interpreted performances so the dominant language is sign language and voice over is off stage or non existent.
      • d/Deaf people are hesitant about integrated theatre and hearing people using and perhaps manipulating BSL. The language should be honored for itself.
    • Is this the time to learn from abroad – USA should we be forging links to companies such as Deaf West and Gallaudette University. We are behind in developing Deaf Theatre in England and Europe – much more developed in the states.
    • Discussion about pros and cons of Eastern Dance/Drama forms which use signed languages such as Kathakali and Noh Theatre - these forms are accessible to everyone regardless of language.
    • Problems with funding is not ACE reluctance to fund d/Deaf artists or integrated performance but that sometimes the quality produced is not very high – as in all aspects of Theatre. Training or lack of accessible training is a big issue/element within these forms.
    • Why are there no good musicals in BSL? Discussed the possibility of producing one with links to USA where this has been a success – though is the UK ready?
    • Discussion of a further open space to further these issues/debates in the pipeline for march/april – contact [email protected]