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Review: Christmas at the Snow Globe!

Someone has *gasp* stolen the magic of Christmas from Snowdrop the fairy and we all need to help them get it back! Thus is the plot for ‘Christmas at the Snow Globe’ and excuse to get everyone involved – and included – in a fun, pun-filled festive show that didn’t take itself too seriously, or very seriously at all.

A towering tin-not-tin soldier, a surprising sibling, a miscast fairy and a stage manager who must have wondered what they’ve got themselves into are just some of the characters that join co-creator and director Sandi Toksvig on stage to solve this terribly naughty deed.

It was a lovely celebration of Christmas and hggye; narrative meets panto with a flavour of The Play That Goes Wrong. There was randomness, audience participation and carols helped along by a suitably fabulous choir. We were also called upon to assist with making some colourful decorations, a great festive activity that got strangers working together to make the place look as Christmassy as possible. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

In and amongst it all, a ghostly yet cheerful king pranced and signed everything. Not only part of the action, they were part of the show, with their own lines, and interacted freely with the other characters. And this was every show. Yes, people, every performance of Christmas at the Snow Globe was BSL integrated. And both performances on the 22nd were captioned as well. I ended up seeing the show more than once, partly simply because I could (and because I loved it). How many pantos have a BSL interpreter for one performance, captioned for another and pretty much inaccessible for the rest of the run? And how often do we get to see carols in BSL?

It was interesting to see how the audience reacted to the interpreter, at first it didn’t seem as if the audience was sure what to make of it all but it didn’t take long before it felt like the interpreter had been fully accepted. It may have helped that weren’t afraid of a bit of visual, panto-style physical humour and after the very last carol, everyone, BSL fluent or not, knew how the interpreter really felt about figgy pudding.

My heart was already full of good cheer on seeing THAT video of the kids from Eastbury Community School performing the carol ’12 days of Christmas’ proudly playing on every screen in the Globe front of house and the fully involved BSL interpreter but when Sandi and the cast signed along with the penultimate carol… I defy the scroogiest deafie not to have a little melting puddle where their heart used to be.

Much kudos to Becky Barry the creative BSL interpreter, Daryl Jackson the BSL consultant, The Globe for being so proactive in including BSL this festive season and to Sandi Toksvig and all involved in the show. Maybe next year, a deaf elf joins the cast? Just putting it out there 🙂

Merry Christmas, one and all!

https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/christmas-at-the-snow-globe-2019/

(THAT video is at the link – it’s well worth a watch to get in the festive mood 🙂 )

Happy Sign Language Week 2018

This week, 12th – 18th March, is Sign Language Week in the UK (The international one will be in September), as the week that BSL was formally recognised as a language of the United Kingdom, on 18th March 2003.

15 years later and it’s arguable that not much progress has been made. BSL still does not enjoy the same legal status that other indigenous language of the UK do (Welsh for example) and recently, on 6th March, the proposal for a BSL GCSE was completely stonewalled despite clear support from various MPs in a parliamentary debate broadcast live on parliament.tv – the first live parliament debate to be broadcast with simultaneous BSL interpretation – after a petition started by Wayne Barrow gained thousands of signatures.

That said, other recent events have given me hope for the future. On 4th March, The Silent Child, a short film about a 4 year old deaf girl who lives in the proverbial world of silence until a social worker teaches her sign language, won an Oscar for best Live Action Short Film. An Oscar! And to make it even better, the writer and actress Rachel Shenton signed her acceptance speech because she’d promised the film’s star, the amazing Maisie Sly, that’s what she’d do if they won. Sign Language in an acceptance speech hasn’t happened since Marlee Matlin won her Oscar in 1987. The speech hit the headlines and the cheers of the deaf community went up around the world. Also, this video of Maisie’s father telling her how proud he is of her is the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time.

On the same evening, Deafinitely Theatre won an Off-West End award for Best Production with their play Contractions, which had been performed in BSL and English at the New Diorama Theatre in November 2017. It was just their luck that the Offies clashed with the Oscars or they’d have been the big news of the day. As it is, congratulations are richly deserved by in that production as well.

And just last week, on Tuesday 13th March, I saw Hamlet, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company no less, interpreted in BSL. Not just interpreted, integrated – instead of being shuffled off to the side of the stage and respectfully ignored by the cast as usually happens, this interpreter was in amongst the action, shadowing Hamlet and the other characters, running with them, occasionally offering comfort and *gasp* emoting. She interpreted Shakespeare non-stop for three hours and thoroughly deserved the flowers she got from the cast at the end – who also signed “thank you for coming” in unison to the audience. I take my hat off to Becky Barry, and to the RSC for having the wherewithal to have BSL interpreted / integrated and captioned performances – here’s a link to their upcoming assisted performances, they definitely deserve a look.

Shakespeare in BSL is not a new idea; Taking Flight Theatre in Wales have put on a BSL-integrated Shakespeare play every summer for the last few years and I was lucky enough to see Love’s Labour’s Lost fully performed in BSL by Deafinitely Theatre in 2012.

BSL is a beautiful language, and I can’t wait for the day that it has full legal recognition and protection in British Law. And a GCSE…

In honour of Sign Language Week, I decided to have a go at filming a Shakespearean sonnet, hoping to emulate Shakespeare’s eloquence in English in BSL. I hope I do it justice – both the sonnet and BSL!

Also, I thought it’d be a laugh to perform “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” on a snowy day in March 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=2J28-rWwyms

Playing with Poetry at EdFringe!

More about that show at Edinburgh Fringe, feeling lucky, feeling nervous, excited, terrified, all of the above! Here’s my BSL video with more info and transcript 🙂

Transcript:
Hello, my name is Donna Williams, I also use the name DeafFirefly… I just like the name 🙂

I’m a poet using both British Sign Language (BSL) and English. I love BSL and I also use English because I’ve become really interested in translation and how it works, how can perform poetry in two languages at the same time, if it works, will it work well?

I’m going to find out with a show at Edinburgh Fringe on 11th Aug at 1.30pm at Spotlites. I will have interpreters and I’ll be performing poetry in both BSL and English in varying levels, for example one poem may be more BSL, minimal voiceover, another may be BSL with just a visual script (no voiceover), another I’ll perform spoken with SSE, and so on.

I want to try different styles and combinations of language and get feedback from the audience on what works well. It’s called “Playing with Poetry” and that’s what it is! Hopefully it’ll answer lots of questions. Hope to see you there! 🙂

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/deaffirefly-playing-with-poetry

A poem for National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day and this years’ theme is Water. Since it’s chucking it down outside, that seems very apropos.

Lately, as well as composing BSL poems, I’ve been looking at translation; English to BSL and vice versa. I first became really interested in this when I went to the Signing Hands Across the Water poetry festival in America last year; it really hit me that all the ASL poets had voiceovers, but none of the BSL poets did.

That and a hilarious misinterpretation of one of my poems by a non-signing member of the audience and various discussion panels between the poets made me think about how poems might be translated across languages. I’ve had poems that I’ve written in English published, but struggle to translate them into BSL, and when trying to put English words to my BSL poems, all I can come up with are basic scribbles that do no justice to my meaning (in my mind anyway…)

Thanks to the Deaf Explorer project I had the opportunity to travel to America to meet The Flying Words Project, a poetry duo comprising Peter Cook, a Deaf ASL poet and Kenny Lerner, his hearing interpreter. They work together to create poems using ASL, English, mime and movement, effectively creating a whole new performance art.

They’ve been performing for decades, and they are amazing to watch. Seriously, check out their first poem in the video; they’re so well-rehearsed that Kenny can literally do it blindfolded. Respect. And Peter’s signs… wowee. And the poem about the dog (called Charlie) gets me every time. The show starts at 5.25, but if you watch the speech at the beginning with automatic captions, please do not be alarmed; it is indeed the Flying Words Project being introduced, and not the ‘violence project’. I think YouTube needs to work on their software…

In America, I was able to chat with them about their creative process, a fabulous experience, which only fuelled my interest in bilingual poetry. So can written poetry be translated into sign language and vice versa? Of course they can, but it’s not easy! So many grey areas, literal translation versus meaningful translation; translating whole lines versus just a few words here and there; everyone has a different way of looking at a poem, how to give as many possible versions or just one depending on the poet’s vision? Etc. Etc, etc.

So I thought, in honour of National Poetry Day, I’d have a go at translating a water-related English poem into BSL, and after some thought, the poem I chose was ‘The Rainy Day’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of my favourite poets.

The text of the poem will follow the video; this way people can choose to read it before or after watching the BSL translation; hopefully it will all make sense and I’ve done the poem justice!

Feedback welcome 🙂

And yes, I know this was posted over an hour after National Poetry Day officially ended. Technical issues. Bloody iMovie. Ahem.

Seriously, feedback welcome!

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still sad heart! And cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Farewell, Vitalis.

Today, the funeral of Vitalis Katakinas is being held in London. I can’t make it, but Vitalis and his loved ones are definitely in my thoughts.

He was an actor, a poet, a playwright, a biker, a sportsman, a father, a lover, a charity fundraiser, a friend, a positive spirit and influence for many. He was a beautiful man, with a beautiful fluency and affinity with sign language to match, and had talent pouring out of his deaf ears. The world is poorer without him.

I remember him at Deafinitely Theatre, attending workshops with him, watching him perform in the showcase, and watching him in Love’s Labours Lost. From royal intrigue to Shakespeare, he took it all in his stride. I remember chatting with him, and being impressed by his smile, his can-do attitude and his confidence; when he moved from Ireland to London, one of the first things he did was go straight to Deafinitely Theatre with his acting CV. He certainly didn’t hang about and wait for life to come to him – he went out there and took it by the scruff. He was a good foot taller than me, and he may have looked ‘tough’ with his hair and his leathers, but was always sweet and kind, the proverbial (to little me) gentle giant.

I remember he came to the Bristol BSL poetry festival a few years ago, and we worked together in one of the poetry workshops; his ideas were gold. I’ve been looking at some of his poems, which are still available on the Metaphor in Creative Sign Language project website. I especially like ‘Graduation‘, where he takes on the perspective of one of the University of Bristol’s oldest buildings. His command of BSL was – at the risk of repeating myself – beautiful.

I remember seeing him, alive and well at BSL day in London just hours before he was injured. He looked good. He still had that hair and that smile. His injury and his death a week later, having never woken from the coma, was unbelievable and tragic. How could such a strong guy, with such a zest for life, be comatose, be dead? It didn’t make sense then, it didn’t make sense when I was tying some flowers to his memorial tree and it doesn’t make sense now.

I don’t think it ever will. All I can do now is to repeat and reinforce the message that was on his memorial tree: one punch can kill.

I have no doubt that his funeral will be extremely well-attended, as will the gathering afterwards. He had a positive impact on so many lives, and I know I’ll always remember him. He had the soul of a poet. I’m sending lots of vibes and prayers for Vitalis and his loved ones; I hope all goes as well as it can today, and he gets the kind of send-off he deserves.

This poem by Ramas Rentelis perfectly sums up Vitalis and how much he’ll be missed.

Farewell, Vitalis.

Donations can be made at vitalistribute.wordpress.com.

Donna Williams: Becoming even more deaf – and accepting it (even if I miss those ‘tsh’ sounds)

My latest article for the Limping Chicken, a great deaf news site. Check it out! I love the image art, created by Twitter user Ciaran Moloney (@cmoloney13), inspired by a quote from the article 🙂

https://limpingchicken.com/2013/07/31/donna-williams-becoming-even-more-deaf-and-accepting-it-even-if-i-miss-those-tsh-sounds/

 

The Limping Chicken

I see myself as being quite secure in my deaf identity. I’m part of a diverse community and a rich culture, and I have a generally positive view of my deafness; I firmly believe that any disability I have as a result of my deafness is that caused by communication barriers and not my medical status.

Medically though, I was already profoundly deaf, with an average hearing loss of about 90 dB. I wear hearing aids, and whilst they’re far from perfect I get a lot of sounds – although they’re jumbled and don’t make much sense.

I like music, but in order to appreciate a song, I need to learn the lyrics by heart and then learn the song and where they fit in; only then can I listen to it. Radio? Don’t make me laugh. Speech is audible but totally unintelligible without visual cues.

But lately, it seemed…

View original post 997 more words

SAVE THE CENTRE FOR DEAF STUDIES!

It has been an amazing week. It started with the CDS Ball in Bristol on Saturday, where I performed a poem, then went to Birmingham on Sunday for InteGreat Theatre’s big hurrah, where I performed a poem, then back to Bristol on Mon only to bounce back again on Weds for meeting and prep for Thursday’s Deaf Explorer Unconference where I was due to present a summary of my trip and perform a poem, then last but not least, BSL Pride day on Saturday where, with the madly talented Jason Sharpe, I was due to perform – you’ve guessed it – a poem.

The CDS Ball, though. Talk about bittersweet. Lovely to see everyone, and pay our respects to the Centre for Deaf Studies and celebrate the fact it’s been around for 35 years. If that sounds somewhat contradictory, it was. Yay, 35 years! Aw, this is the last year of undergraduates.

The CDS undergraduate programme was axed in 2010. This did not pass without comment. There were protests, local news coverage, letters, general outrage. All to no avail. This year will mark the last group of undergraduates to pass through the CDS. So the third years took it upon themselves to organise a Ball in honour of the CDS and all it represents, and I have to give them lots of kudos for rolling up their sleeves and organising it all, I can only imagine the stress. And on top of exams too! KUDOS. *bows*

It was at the M Shed no less, MC’d by Matt Jenkins and featuring a few special guests from the history of the CDS. It was surreal. Everyone was dressed in their finest, including myself, I’d picked out a black velvet jacket, a proper dress shirt, and borrowed some cufflinks from my father. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the stone in my ring matched my navy blue bowtie. Well you didn’t expect me to wear a dress, did you…?

We even managed to raise a few laughs for Gavin Lilley’s stand-up comedy and the slightly anarchic raffle (where I won a sweatshirt – go, me!) and the golden girls’ speeches – and I hope I don’t get lynched for calling them that, but it was inspiring to see them all on stage and equally depressing to know why we were all there.

Yes, depressing. The Centre for Deaf Studies scored a lot of firsts, from the first use of the term ‘Deaf Studies’, to the first textbook in BSL, which is still in use today; it was at the forefront of research into Deaf Studies, developing that unique field of sociological research, joining up with other areas of sociology, providing safe haven for deaf and hearing academics and students alike. They gathered a brilliant dedicated interpreting team and having a degree from the Uni of Bristol is / was a great start for any would-be terp or academic.

I myself have been a research subject; I was lucky enough to be part of Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence’s Metaphor in Creative Sign Language Project for several years, and I credit my involvement with this project for my development as a poet, both in skills and confidence. I had the opportunity to hang out with some great, talented BSL poets and help with poetry festivals and in return all I had to do was sign a few consent forms and allow Dr Sutton-Spence and her keen research fellows Dr Kaneko and Dr West to film my performances and the occasional informal discussion / interview so they could write papers to their hearts’ desire. For me, it was a fantastic deal. I owe the CDS a lot.

Not to mention the fun I’ve had helping with the interpreting student’s roleplays. As well as giving me a chance to flex my acting muscles, it was fun to see their reactions to the scenarios (given to me by the tutor, so don’t blame me) and also an interesting insight into what goes into a terp’s training. Everybody starts somewhere, including BSL terps. Bless. They’re so cute. I’m going to miss that.

And now tomorrow, there is a meeting. On the 5th July, 2013, it will be decided whether or not to completely and permanently shut down the CDS.

The University of Bristol is insane. It’s like they don’t know what they’re throwing away.

Help them see the light.

There’s still a day in which to send your strongest objections via email to:

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor, via his exec assistant:  jami.west@bristol.ac.uk

and

Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council: denis.burn@bristol.ac.uk and also via  Clerk to Council: hugh.martin@bristol.ac.uk

Advice from savedeafstudies.org.uk updates: http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/?p=468

Tell them:

1.     we want the subsidy the Vice Chancellor announced in December – honour the promise!

2.     we want an independent review of the finances

3.     we want a proper impact assessment – the decision affects the Deaf community and the hearing community

Please write now!

For my part, this is what I have sent, with a tiny little bit borrowed from Dr Emery’s letter at the end:

For the attention of Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council of same.

My name is Donna Williams (BA, MA) and I wish to register my surprise, dismay and extreme disappointment at the prospect that the Centre for Deaf Studies may be permanently and completely shut down. I hold degrees in Deaf Studies with Philosophy and Ethics and Social Philosophy, and it was my hope that one day I would be able to do a cross-departmental Phd between the Centre for Deaf Studies and the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, both of which are highly-renowned academic centres that the University of Bristol should be proud to own, and should, in my view, defend to the last.  The Centre for Deaf Studies has been at the forefront of exciting sociological research of the highest order, research that has contributed to changes in perception of sign language and deaf people. The work of the Centre for Deaf Studies over the last 35 years has been invaluable, both in terms of research and in terms of producing high-quality graduates with good prospects of employment, and the international regard in which it is held is well-deserved. Closing the Centre for Deaf Studies would be an act of academic vandalism.

I cannot believe that the University of Bristol would let such a valuable asset, one that it should proudly boast of, die. Furthermore, it is my understanding that a subsidy of £100,000 was offered in order to keep the CDS open, which was then withdrawn. This only serves to further my disbelief. Why has the University of Bristol not honoured this promise?

I urge the University of Bristol in the strongest possible terms to give a great deal of consideration to any decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies, including an impact assessment; decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies will affect the Deaf community and the wider hearing community as a whole. I also urge you to begin an independent review of the finances so that the Centre for Deaf Studies may demonstrate its financial worth as well as its academic worth.

I appeal to you to rethink your plans to close the Centre for Deaf Studies. Please commit to your original promise not to close the Centre and to offer a subsidy.  That would enable the Centre to focus on developing a top quality institution of research into sign language and Deaf culture, and sign language Interpreting.

It is not too late to put research into the rights of Deaf people ahead of the economics of the current ‘austerity’ climate. In the long term the University will be a great beneficiary.

Please don’t throw away a Centre for learning that is held in such high regard across the world. It should be possible to work out a solution with political will and commitment. If the University is prepared to give the Centre a long term plan, there is no doubt it can continue to be a pioneering Centre for Deaf studies related research.

Yours Sincerely,

Donna Williams, BA, MA

Get writing!