On Saturday 7th September I led a workshop presentation on (Some) History of Deaf Theatre for the UK’s only professional deaf-led theatre company, Deafinitely Theatre, at the Diorama Arts Studios, London NW1.
Deafinitely have recently established a working group called The Hub composed of professional deaf actors and writers. The group is formed of both established and up-and-coming artists and they are engaged in a series of workshops and presentations designed to enhance their theatre training and knowledge. The Hub enables these deaf artists to access training that remains largely inaccessible to them via the majority of available theatre courses and training.
My session was the second in their series and enabled them to reflect upon their own heritage by focusing upon the history of the semi-professional British Theatre of the Deaf (1960-77) and Interim Productions that followed it, (1977-83).
In addition I also took the group through a range of international Deaf Theatre including the first professional deaf theatre company – the Moscow Theatre of Sign and Gesture, and, without doubt, the most renowned Deaf Theatre company in the world, the National Theatre of the Deaf in the USA.
The deaf artists present included Paula Garfield, the Company’s Artistic Director (a Bulmershe College Theatre of the Deaf alumni), and several actors who had appeared in the BSL version of Love’s Labours Lost, presented as part of the Globe to Globe International Shakespeare festival in the Summer of the 2012 Olympic year. They were able to assess their own practice by analyzing the historical incarnations of Deaf Theatre and theatre incorporating deaf sign language. Questions of aesthetics and access were vigorously and constructively debated at a time when Deafinitely Theatre is preparing a four year business plan for the Arts Council which will argue for their continued existence and development. Having recently celebrated their tenth anniversary the Company is, as with most arts organisations funded by the Arts Council, concerned about their future funding.
They have asked me to write an endorsement of their work for this vital document.
Despite the amount of Deaf Theatre and drama there has been within the UK, largely through amateur work in deaf clubs, prior to the end of the twentieth century, the existence of the first and only, deaf-led professional theatre company in the UK is something worth supporting and developing.
I believe the session has also stimulated a range of debate about Deaf Theatre on twitter.