Friday, August 31, 2012

Unlimited Day 1: 'Making creative performance for Deaf and hearing audiences' and Writing Workshop with Kaite O'Reilly

Yesterday was the kick-off day at the Southbank Centre for the Unlimited Festival. The first thing I attended was a talk about how to make creative performances accessible for both Deaf and hearing audiences.

Obviously, it is fairly commom to have a BSL interpreters standing on the side during a performance. However, all the artists at the talk where passionate about their belief that making a performance accessible can be a creative element in itself that should be explored and played with.

Ramesh Meyyappan, who shows his play Skewered Snails at the Unlimited next Thursday, explained how he uses 'performance language' and a 'visual vocabulary' to transcend the boxes of spoken English and British Sign Language. He uses neither in his very physical plays and completely relies on visuals, facial expressions and movement.

Sophie Woolley, meanwhile, who starred in the brilliant TV show Cast Offs and wrote a play for Children for the Unlimited called Bee Detective, said that in earlier work she relied on captioning, and tried to make the captions look beautiful and very much as part of the set design. For Bee Detective this approach did not work, however, as the main audience are young children who might not be able to read the captions. Instead, performers speak and sign simultaneously, something that can be difficult as sometimes sentences are structured completely different in BSL than they are in spoken English, so Sophie had to play around with some of the text as the rehearsals went along.

Jenny Sealy, artistic director of Graeae and artistic co-director of the Paralympic opening ceremony, and Kaite O'Reilly, who has her play In Water I'm Weightless performed at the Unlimited, very much agreed that the play or performance should inform and influence the way a play should be made accessible.

Towards the end of the talk, an audience member asked the four creatives how they market their plays. Ramesh, Sophie and Jenny all said they try not to emphasize that it's a 'deaf play', as this might scare off non-disabled audiences. Kaite, meanwhile, gave a very passionate shout out to 'crip pride' and says that she fully embraces her disabled identity and the disabled identity of people she works with.

This sentiment left me with a lot of excitement for Kaite O'Reilly's writing workshop, which I attended next, and those were indeed extremely versatile, fun, educational and encouraging two hours.  During the workshop we talked about the way disabled characters are usually portrayed and how the basic structures of a play, or of storytelling, may be partly responsible for the widely metaphoric use of disability - the protagonist has to overcome obstacles - and hey, who isn't better at that than disabled people? The first part of the workshop gave everyone a lot of food for thought and was absolutely inspiring in the best sense of the word.

In the second half, we talked about audio description in theatre and how this might be used creatively, especially in combination with making a play accessible for deaf audiences. I loved how Kaite embraces not only own disability, but truly believes that including everyone both on stage and in the audience makes for better, more exciting theatre and leads to new experiences and insights, which is a sentiment I share wholeheartedly.

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