Tag Archives: Theatre

The Birds!

Well, well, well. It’s been a bit of a hiatus on the blog, but I do have some good excuses. For example, from 23rd April to 10th May I was in rehearsals for a play called The Birds. There, that’s a good excuse isn’t it? I mentioned it on here once or twice, but on 11th and 12th May we did it. We really did it. We put on an absolutely bonkers show with feathers, sequins and dance routines and got the audience on their feet every time!

I loved my costume. I can honestly say that, before this, the last time I wore a dress was 12 years ago. It was my mothers’… actually let’s not worry about which birthday it was, only know that it was a special birthday request from my mother. That’s what it usually takes to get me into a dress.

So imagine my trepidation when it was revealed I was not only going to be wearing a dress, it was going to be a flowing, ruffled tasteful ivory creation. Hmm. But, designed by Steve Denton and made by Bryony Tofton, it was fantastic! Because what went over it was a brilliant waistcoat made of sequins and feathers. And a crown.

Because I’m Eryr Euraid, baby, Queen of the Birds! For those who don’t speak Welsh, Eryr Euraid means ‘Golden Eagle’ and you’d better damn well do as I say, or it’s the mountain goat treatment for you. Look at those poor lickle goats.

And yes, I did watch this to help me get in character, as I was supposed to be the permanently angry / annoyed / regal Eryr Euraid and I was having trouble channelling this. Apparently I’m ‘too nice’ and ‘looked like you’re enjoying yourself too much’. For the record, that was meant to be an evil smile. These aren’t bad things to have said about one, I suppose, but not when you’re threatening to rip two of the other characters into tiny, little pieces.

This was my first real play, and I loved it. I loved being part of it and the camaraderie of the cast. It was also bloody hard work. I’m not just talking about the long days / weeks doing things over and over again in slightly different ways, or the fact that I can recall “peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers peter piper picked?”, “there’s a chip shop in space that sells space ship shaped chips” and “I’m not a pheasant plucker…”

The rest of the cast were hearing. Imagine it, three long weeks spending every waking moment with hearing people. I had interpreters for the rehearsals but I was staying in a hotel with the other non-local cast. No terps for the communal evening meals in various restaurants. The only thing that saved my sanity was the fact that all of them can fingerspell and sign a little bit, and the ones who for various reasons can’t, were willing to repeat things almost to infinity. Thank goodness for that.

But even so, after three weeks solid of near-constant lip-reading, I was starting to crack up. I was starting to remember why I’d rejected the hearing world when I realised there was an alternative. It’s because the hearing world is noisy. Noisy, noisy, noisy. And they rely so much on the noise. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Every damn day.

Towards the end, as I was starting to lose my grip on reality, I couldn’t help reflecting that I really was in the company of birds. Imagine it. You’re sat at a table in a forest, alone. All around you, in the branches, every bird in the forest is singing or chattering at the top of their voice, and waitresses are banging and scraping things. It’s a cacophony of endless, meaningless noise, drowning your hearing-aids. And occasionally, one of those birds will fly up to you, tell what they’re all chattering about, a couple more might fly up and for a while you’re included in the conversation. But in order to understand these birds, you have to focus on their beaks with 100% concentration. If you lose concentration, which is entirely possible after a long day, or the conversation wanders away from you, the birds fly away again. And you end up reading the news on your phone. Which I did a lot, because frankly I didn’t have the energy to lip-read constantly after a week of rehearsals, never mind three. I even started writing a poem on this theme – the being surrounded by birds, I mean, not the news on my phone.

Let me make clear that I love the cast. They’re a bunch of amazing, cool, talented people, and they can and do fingerspell and make the effort to sign and / or patiently repeat things. Some even learned new signs from me, and tried their very best to remember them. The only thing I could have wished for is perhaps more awareness of how little I actually understand of what’s being said around me, which if there’s no terp and I’m tired, is very little indeed. The rule of thumb is – if you’re not looking directly at me within a distance of about 6 feet, I haven’t understood what you’ve said. So all that chattering to each other, amongst each other; my lip-reading skills are decent, but they’re not THAT good.

Sanity issues aside, I did have a great time. It was a brilliant ride, and I’d love to do it again. It did no harm to my ego that in my first scene of the play, every Bird character had to bow and scrape to me. Who am I kidding? I loved that! Everyone should have a chance to be Queen for a day – and I did it for three weeks! Bow to me, peasants!

Overall, we adapted to each other very well, and we also came up with visual cues for me throughout the play. Case in point, my first scene, I had to come on while another Bird was singing beautifully. The two human characters were supposed to clap, thus attracting the attention of the chorus, at which point we’d chase them around before beating them up. Problem – we anticipated that the audience might clap too, and they did, every time. Kudos to you, Nightingale! Solution: Nightingale (who also answers to Andria) would smile and nod politely through the audience applause, then when the humans clapped, she would bow towards them. At which point I would notice them, and give the signal to attack. That’s because I’m the Queen, baby, did I mention? Don’t cross the Euraid!

And the director, Cheryl Martin, had the really cool idea to have the Birds as my chorus. This meant that as I signed my lines, the Birds had to say them, in harmony, hence my ‘chorus’. We even made a tape of the chorus doing their creepiest, meanest voices for the lines so that when it was played during the play, it would seem as if the voices of the chorus were coming from everywhere. I thought it was a great way to integrate my signs into the play, and illustrate Eryr’s authority, and I loved the idea of being followed around by a group of loyal servants whose only jobs were to bow to my every whim and voice everything I signed in creepy, birdy voices. I wonder if I could get my interpreters to do that…

Furthermore, every performance was BSL terped by Erika James, and had captions on screens all around the stage. I’m not sure what else we could have done to make this play accessible. And yet, how many deaf people came? Very few indeed. I won’t lie, I was disappointed. It’s at this point I’d like to thank Rosie and Ellie for coming all the way from London and Birmingham respectively to see the play – thank you! And thanks for the drinks, which really I should have been buying for you after you’d made that effort, and I’m glad you enjoyed the play! As for the one who said “oh, but if I’d known you were going to be wearing a dress…” what does that have to do with anything? I’M IN A PLAY YOU PEASANT! I digress.

We had amazing people working on the play, too, for example Ange Thompson who, as stage manager, was called upon to track down such things as a big fluffy penguin toy, a scroll, and some hearing-aid batteries (mea culpa). She was also in charge of my cues – and this was another brilliant thing – there were little boxes with two lights at eye level at each of the stage entrances, the green light meant get ready and red meant go. This was how I knew when it was time for me to regally enter the stage, and Ange, as well as looking after the captions, operating the chorus voices and various cues, was also in charge of cuing me. And she did it very well, bringing a new meaning to multi-tasking!

There are so many people who were involved in this, I’m afraid to start naming them all in case I leave any out! But I think you all did a great job, and this was a great opportunity and experience, and I’m really glad I was able to be a part of it. I love you guys.

Long Live The Birds!

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Signs of madness, hope and coolness!

Signs of various kinds are brightening the world at the moment, let me tell you all about them!

I’m in a play! It’s called ‘The Birds’ and it’s based on the Ancient Greek comedy of the same name by Aristophanes. I’m not sure how much I can reveal, but the rehearsals have been brilliant, and the play is mad and funny. How many plays have you seen where the cast burst into song whilst transforming into other creatures? None? Then come to this!

It’s completely bonkers and a good laugh, but it doesn’t pull any punches in its’ analogies between the ‘Birds’ and the political situation today. I don’t have many lines but I’ll have a certain… regal… air. Bow to me! The cast are great, and I can vouch for their comedic talents. Have I whetted your curiosity yet? Then come on down to The Sherman Theatre on 11th and 12th May! All BSL terped of course, plenty of signs of madness to be seen! And I don’t just mean the terp… 🙂

The theatre blurb says to expect the unexpected as Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School present their unique version of Aristophanes’s Greek comedy The Birds, directed by Cheryl Martin.

Expect the unexpected all right!

‘Signs of Hope: Deafhearing Family Life’ tells the story of a narrative inquiry with three deafhearing families. For many people, deafness represents loss and silence. For others, being deaf is a genetic quirk; an opportunity for learning, spiritual adventure and reward. (Yes, I lifted that from the official blog). The author, Dr Donna West, spent time – a lot of time – with three families, and this book is the result. What makes this book unique is the poetic and performative narratives at the heart of it; she has effectively communicated the families’ and individuals’ hopes and fears in an artistic, nuanced way.

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar Dr West gave about her research a while ago, and as part of it she showed us a poem that one of the deaf children, referred to as Bella, had written / created. It was a powerful analogy between penguins and a particular experience of deafness – you’ll have to read the book if you want that to make sense! But it inspired me to create a sign language poem based what I’d read, entitled ‘Bella’s Penguins’, that’s how expressive it was. This book may be well worth a read not only for its study of the experiences of a deaf/hearing family, but also for how these experiences have been described and narrated.

It will be launched at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol on the 25th April, see the official blog for more info! All welcome, BSL terps laid on.

And lastly, after being blown away by the leader of the United States being able to sign (and his wife!) my inner geek is geeking out at a video that looks like it’s gonna go viral – it’s up to 1.9 million hits so far! What video?

Sir Paul ‘needs no introduction’ McCartney has only gone and produced a video of Natalie ‘Star Wars’ Portman and Johnny ‘that’s Captain Jack Sparrow’ Depp signing his song ‘My Valentine’.

Signing!

True, it’s American Sign Language, not British (and that sign is not ‘tampon’, it’s ASL, and it’s the correct ASL sign for ‘appear’. Forgive me for giggling though!) but the actors used are themselves American, so maybe if this video gets popular enough, Sir McCartney will come back to his roots and do a BSL version with some Brit celebs, though how he’s going to top Natalie ‘just call me the Black Swan’ Portman and Johnny ‘cool is my middle name’ Depp I’ve no idea. Love to see him try though!

Natalie Portman definitely has a natural style, I’d love to know if she’s signed before rehearsing for this video, and how much rehearsing it took. Johnny Depp has a certain moody stare that will no doubt set some hearts fluttering but whilst his hands aren’t as fluid as Portmans’, he still carries it off in style (is there anything he can’t carry off in style?).

Love it!

Signs of madness, hope and coolness indeed – I always knew signs could express anything, but it’s time the world knew it too. Go Sir McCartney!

The Birds! The Birds!

So I’ve been alluding to a play that I’m in later this year. I haven’t revealed much, partly because I’ve not known much myself, but last Friday and Saturday I was at a long development weekend with Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School. I can now reveal that…

It’s called The Birds, based on a comedy by the same name by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes (and not the film by Alfred Hitchcock, in case anyone was worried). The original has the birds of the title rebelling against the evil humans who catch, torture and kill birds by creating their own city in the sky and blocking all messages to heaven, thus cutting off communication with the gods and holding humanity to ransom until their demands – generally, better treatment – are met.

Given the parallels, it probably comes as no surprise that it’s being adapted with the disabled in mind. Last Friday I saw a first draft of the script written by writer / director Cheryl Martin with (unnecessary I thought) apologies to Aristophanes; it was funny, imaginative and occasionally scathing! The read through was fun, as were the development workshops, and Cheryl’s going to revise and develop the script some more now. Certain references will probably be taken out or amended on the basis that no-one wants to be sued. It’d be great publicity but…

Actually on the other hand, maybe we should keep them in. A bit of publicity is what we need right now! Tickets have gone on sale, it’s on at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff on the 11th and 12th May; if you feel like watching a surreal, feathery subversive take on the modern world and treatment of the poor birdies / disabled, this is for you!

The theatre is accessible, guide and hearing dogs are welcome, tickets are bookable online, and for the play we’re going to have at least basics of script projected on screens all around the theatre, a BSL interpreter will be signing the whole thing, I’ll be doing visual poetry, and the director – Cheryl – has already started considering where it’s all going to fit in in terms of access and artistic flair.

Oh, if only more directors and theatres could be like that. I’m hoping this play can be held up as an example of how full access to theatre can and should be done.

We even have a great designer on board who’s taken our measurements and promised to come up with some fantastic bird costumes, so if for nothing else, come along to see me and various talented malcontents dressed up and having fun in our featheriest, birdiest finest!

And possibly saying litigious things 🙂

I just really, really like theatre…

Well that’s it – I’m officially a bit mad. Why else would I bounce across to Cardiff in the morning for a university seminar, then across to London to watch stabbings, mental breakdowns, a brilliantly twisted future and a visual story I could have watched all night?

At least it was an interesting day. I got up at just before 7 and got to bed around 1, having caught the late train back to Bristol. Sometimes that’s just the way it works out, when you have rehearsals on the Friday and Saturday, (more about that in a future post!) ruling out Thurs night as well, leaving Weds and a bonkers travel schedule. Why? All for the love of theatre. This is how much I love theatre. Specifically, this is how much I love theatre that I can access.

Deafinitely Theatre’s 4Play is a showcase of four short plays written by Deafinitely Creative competition finalists. I was lucky enough to be one of the featured writers last year, and I wanted to come and see what they’re up to now.

I wasn’t disappointed. The first two plays were quite dark, the first, A Sweet Slice of Life written by Steven Collins I found a bit hard to follow I admit, but it makes more sense now I’ve read Charlie Swinbourne’s review at Disability Arts Online. That’s not to say it wasn’t powerful and bloody surreal; and if I know Steven’s work, then his objective has probably been achieved.

Confusions of a Shadow Boxer by Matthew Gurney had an amazing twist that I didn’t see coming, and gave food for thought. The next two plays were much lighter, and being a sci-fi nut, I really enjoyed Lianne Herbert’s TwentyFortySeven, which turned the future on its head with a deaf-led government. Some moments were hilarious, with just enough dark undertone to keep it real. The last play, Absence in Time by Vitalis Katakinas was completely visual, with no BSL or speech, but still perfectly clear – and funny. Judging by some of the laughter, the audience were wetting themselves. Job done.

Congrats to all the writers, actors and directors on a great show, thanks for making my train tickets worthwhile! Was good to see some of the people around as well, even if I was babbling nonsense as I dashed out of the door to get back to Paddington.

4Play is on at RADA Studios until Saturday 25th February. It’s important to know this was formerly The Drill Hall, that way you won’t follow the directions on the bloody ticket and end up going round to the Malet St entrance of RADA and being directed to a theatre you know the location of by heart. Annoying. My feet were not impressed. Be told.

Today has been spent mostly sleeping or napping. Tomorrow I’ll be going to Cardiff for rehearsals for – ah, no. I think I’ll wait and see what’s going on first (I’m still not sure yet, these are the first rehearsals) and update on Sunday or Monday. Mind you I’ve built it up a little now, can only hope people won’t be disappointed when I reveal that…

Unusual Skills Week! (And HSBC)

A couple of weeks ago, in the last week of July, I was lucky enough to attend Unusual Stage School’s skills week. A Disability Arts Cymru project, and with me based in Cardiff / Wales for my degree, I was able to gate-crash an amazing week with an amazing bunch of people. We worked on script development, performance, voice, singing (yes, singing) movement (where I tripped over the instructor) improv and physical theatre (not, as I had imagined, a sort of hippy wafting pretending-to-be-trees exercise, but in fact a type of improv). My fellow skills week attendees all knew each other with a couple of exceptions, but I was made to feel so welcome it was incredible. Usually, I struggle a lot with socialising with non-signers, but this lot were so patient, apparently happy to repeat themselves ad infinatum, and even better, a few of them knew a couple of signs and the manual alphabet, which in some cases can make or break a conversation. I even ended up staying over during the course, despite my misgivings (leaving my parents unsupervised and I typically don’t handle hearing social situations well) and I can honestly say that at the end of the week I didn’t want to leave. I wanted another week! Hell, I would have stayed for a month. We could call it ‘Big Brother DAC’ and sell the TV rights to the BBC…

One of the happiest moments had to be sitting on a makeshift bench in Cardiff Bay with the usual suspects, nibbling ‘starters’ we’d got from Tesco’s (chargrilled mushroom pasta and three bean salad, mmmm) and chatting in the evening sun while waiting for our accommodation to prepare our (somewhat unimaginative) supper. The less said about Hamgate, the better. But I couldn’t really complain as we were staying round the back of the Millennium Centre, an incredible location, and I was staying with a great bunch of people. Have I already said that? Well they were. From the bass tones of Richard, to the sweetness of Gwilym, to the cuteness of our youngest member, to the outgoing Laura, well you get the idea, I’d better stop here or I’ll make myself sick. But I loved them all, I really did. From my Persian General to the PAs.

And let’s not forget the reason we were all there – skills week! I now know that I naturally sing in a low pitch (no Katherine Jenkins then) that my speech / vocal pitch range is wider than I had thought, that there are many, many ways to say ‘yes’ when really you mean ‘no’, that physical theatre doesn’t necessarily involve pretending to be trees and improv in all its forms can be a lot of fun.

I learned that coffee and toffee are a nice combination for ice cream, that a buffalo burger actually tastes quite nice, and that a Strawberry Capirinha is a lovely cocktail. I also learned that it’s possible to put on four pounds in five days. I’ve lost those extra pounds though, thanks to the virus I picked up as a souvenir. One of those viruses that reduces your IQ level by half and makes it hard to think while you sniffle into your tissue.

It was still worth it though and I’d happily do it again! Love you guys!

HSBC update: “we are looking into the matters you have raised and will contact you with a full response as soon as we have completed our investigations.” Yeah, right.

Liz Carr, London Pride and Signing Ticket Inspectors

Oof – an interesting couple of days has seen me attend a BSL interpreted performance of Liz Carr’s “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” at the Tobacco Factory, watch a play by Deafinitely Theatre, check out the main stage at London Pride in Trafalgar Square and be pleasantly surprised by a deaf-aware ticket inspector.

On Friday night, I got myself down to the Tobacco Factory, expecting that there would be a decent audience for a comedienne of reasonable fame; indeed Wikipedia describes her as “a British actor, stand-up comedian, television presenter and international disability rights activist”. I was surprised at the low turnout, but those of us who were in the audience enjoyed the show, and it was lovely to have another BSL-accessible performance so soon after Caroline Parker’s / Graeae’s “Signs of a Diva”, held in the same venue a few months ago. I see a bright future for the Tobacco Factory. Whilst it’s true that some of the humour was ‘lost in translation’ – plays on words for example – the show was signed with verve and good timing by the interpreter, who was at one point incorporated into the routine himself. I could identify with having an inner ‘evil’ voice making sarcastic comments and inappropriate outbursts whilst dealing with life, and some comments regarding the mechanics of disabled sex added some spice to the evening. It was just a pity the lighting technician kept dimming the light on the interpreter, making it at times hard to follow, but this is something can easily be improved, and my hope is that as the Tobacco Factory puts on more BSL accessible shows, they’ll get better at it.

Saturday saw me travel to London for a day out at the theatre and London Pride. Deafinitely Theatre’s new children’s play, “The Boy and the Statue” was visual, funny and enjoyable, and I enjoyed chatting to the actors after the show – I’ve known one of them since Uni and haven’t seen him in ages, it was very cool to see him performing in his first full-length play.

London Pride was amazing! Beautiful weather, loads of people, roads clear of traffic – but not of rubbish, despite the best efforts of roaming roadsweepers – lots of colour and a great atmosphere made for a great Pride event, and even better – they had BSL interpreters on the main stage with the performers! They even had their own little corner on the big screen, they’d even set up a little blue screen on stage that the interpreters could stand in front of, so they showed up better. Brilliant. I don’t know who was in charge of organising the interpreters, but kudos to them – and to the interpreters of course, who were signing everything from dance to rap to bitchy drag acts. Wonderful. More, please. Pride events, take note.

All in all, a pretty good day, but it was topped off by an unexpected delight – a ticket inspector on the train who waved a hand to get my attention, signed ‘hello’ and then signed ‘thank you’ after I produced my ticket. Wow! I can honestly say I think this is the first time this has ever happened in all my years of travelling via train, and I can only hope this is the start of a trend. Train companies take heed – start teaching your staff to sign and they might just make a deaf person’s day.

Signs of a Diva

What a brilliant show.

Signs of a Diva came to the Tobacco Factory, and Caro Parker played the lead – and only – role wonderfully, belting out classic power ballads one minute and taking us on her character’s journey to stardom and heartbreak the next. The captions were perfectly positioned above and centre of the stage, but they didn’t get in the way of the songs or the performance. They were clear, the timing was inch-perfect as the captions kept up with the monologue / lyrics, and the play itself was performed in both speech and sign language.

I’ve honestly never seen a more accessible piece of theatre – and as a bonus it was hugely enjoyable as well. Several songs have now been added to my iTunes list thanks to this show, though that can never compare with seeing them performed live by a talented and passionate performer. Long live Signs of a Diva!