The event, on Saturday 23 June, honoured the programme’s unique history and marked its legacy. Many current and former members of TAEDS and Theatre of the Deaf joined the celebration and were treated to the world premiere of this production of Moonbird, an adaptation of the children’s story by the deaf author Joyce Dunbar. Moonbird was performed most movingly by Handprint Theatre Company which was formed by programme alumni and employs deaf actors and workshop leaders.
Described by many attendees as “poignant”, “really perfect” and “chilled and magical”, the day achieved a fine balance between joyful celebration and the sadness that a goodbye brings. Students from the BA Performance in British Sign Language and English at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland sent a moving but lively filmed message of support which was warmly received. Programme Director Simon Floodgate commented on how interesting the various speeches had been, in which some deaf people explained how they had “found” themselves through TAEDS, while others described how their lives and careers had been informed by the programme. He said:
“It is the many, many deaf and hearing graduates who are, ultimately, the Theatre of the Deaf and TAEDS. They are the community that everyone speaks about and their work as actors, directors, teachers, sign language interpreters, LSAs and TAs, speech therapists and all of the other associated careers that all of the students have gone on to ARE the legacy of this unique course…in terms of MY working life I doubt there will be anything of which I will be more proud.”
Professor Catherine Tissot, Head of the Institute of Education said:
“The TAEDs celebration was a fitting tribute to the wonderful legacy of the programme. It was lovely to see so many graduates and hear of their successes since graduation. I want to thank Simon Floodgate and his team for creating such a fond memory despite the programme closing.”
Sir David Bell, VC said:
“It is, I know, a day of mixed emotions. Sadly, the course is closing but, on the other hand, there is much to celebrate. As well as paying tribute to the students from this year and previous years, I want to acknowledge the work done by Simon Floodgate, our Subject Leader for PGCE Drama and the Programme Director for TAEDS. I also want to acknowledge Cathy Wardale and, indeed, all of those who have contributed to the programme over many years.”
Theatre director and founder of Deafinitely Theatre, Steve Webb said:
“I never dreamed that the course would lead me to the place where I am now and the experiences that I’ve had, setting up professional theatre companies, Deafinitely Theatre and D-Live!, becoming a theatre director and writer and working with a large variety of mainstream theatre companies….
The TAEDS course leaves a legacy and an impact on the British Theatre landscape that should be celebrated. We see many alumni who have gone on to become professional actors, writers, directors and theatre-makers and this is something to celebrate.”
Professor Lib Taylor of Reading’s school of Film, Theatre and Television said:
“[From the first] time I worked with TAEDS students … I didn’t teach them, they taught me… they gobbled up every bit of knowledge and experience they encountered and they developed beautiful, creative responses to the material in their own theatre practice. I have taught Asian Theatre to many different groups of students now but none has understood it and connected to it in quite the way that TAEDS students have. They understand it fundamentally, its abstract forms of telling stories, its use of spectacular gesture and physicality and its calm restraint as inherent to its meaning.”
Stephanie Back, alumna of the programme, who started to go deaf in her mid teens, spoke very movingly about how TAEDS changed her life.
“There is a quote … from Winnie the Pooh…: ‘How lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’.
“But this is not the end of TAEDS … think of the image of a flower, and how one flower can make many flowers and it spreads and spreads and suddenly it’s not just one flower standing tall in the middle of a field, but 5000 flowers in every field all over the world. That is what TAEDS has done. We are a community and that is beautiful.