Sunday, September 11, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Hello smiley faces of the world,

My apologies that the interview is only in audio format. I'm working on writing a transcript of the interview but am having trouble as I need to consult with Johnny about a number of the phrases he uses before I can put an accurate transcript of the interview online.

I will endeavour to have this done over the next few days.

Thankyou for your patience with my technological ineptitude,

From the horse's mouth

Hello blogosphere,

Today I was lucky enough to interview a friend of mine who had the fortune to work in at The Victoria School in the UK in which it is mandatory for all students to learn sign language. In the interview we discuss deaf theatre in relation to a number of subjects which have come up on this blog including the impact of deaf theatre on different audiences, the naturally heightened physicalisation in productions and the current funding crisis and limited deaf theatre companies in Australia today.

I apologise in advance for the background noise, the interviewee, Jonathan (Johnny) Ware is currently working at the Victorian School's Spectacluar and I was lucky that he found the time for an interview. This was recorded on the 11/9/11 and the voices are myself, Chloe Bunting and Jonathan Ware. Warning: This interview contains slightly coarse language. If this offends then please continue browsing other posts on the site.

A sincere thank you to Johnny to doing this interview and for your insight and opinion on deaf theatre in the UK and Australia.

Well that's it for a bit,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Asphyxia and Grimstones

Hello munchkins,

Have you ever heard of Asphyxia? No not the fatal kind, this kind, the inspiring kind
This is Asphyxia, one of Australia's most prominent deaf performers. She has experience in ballet and circus performance. She now tours with the performing troupe, The Grimstones and their puppeteering show. The show includes an incorporation of signing (Auslan), music, voice and puppets and captions in the style of silent films. The decidedly Tim-Burtonesque show is visually stunning. Take a look at the video of The Grimstones first story.
Currently on an international tour, Asphyxia hand crafts the puppets and scenery of the shows. In her 'about me' page on The Grimstones website she states that "Nothing in the world gives me greater pleasure than creating things - whether by stitching, performing, drawing, sculpting, writing or building.". Her energy and passion for performing has led to her a valuable love of integration between the performer and the performance and also deaf and hearing culture. Again from her 'about me' page is a beautiful summary of her goals as a deaf person working in theatre;

As a Deaf artist, Asphyxia creates works that reflect and strengthen Deaf culture and values - providing positive modelling and validation for Deaf audiences. She provides education about Deaf culture and lifestyle to hearing audiences.

I fully believe that this is reflected in her work and can be seen even in the clip above as the characters accept the 3 legged baby for who he is. Her latest work Mortimer Revealed is currently touring. For more information and to see some more of the stunning visuals head over to

Well enough from me atm, ttyl bff.

Threats to Deaf theatre...

Hello chickadees,

In the previous blogs I think I've shown you a number of reasons why Deaf Theatre is a beautiful and integral artform for both the deaf and theatre communities. This blog however is going to take a brief look at the threats that are faced by companies who strive to keep their work available for audiences.

In 2006 the New York Times reported a funding cut from Deaf Theatres in the U.S, that had occurred months prior. As most deaf theatre companies such as Deaf West and NTD (National Theatre of the Deaf) rely primarily on the governement for funding such cuts were devastating. In response their was a campaign launched by the deaf community to see that this funding was reinstated. This is a video made in 2007 in response to the issue.
To find more information on the campaign take a look at this blog which contains a number of interesting snippets from the media surrounding this issue

In 2009 Australia's only deaf theatre company, Australian Theatre of the Deaf (ATOD) faced a similar situation. The Southern Courier reported that ATOD had been cut from federal funding and unless they were given state funding the company would inevitably face its demise. Although ATOD do alot of touring around schools to educate children about deafness, their financial situation really depends alot on government support. The article about this can be found at this link

Thankfully ATOD found a haven in Arts Accesss Victoria and the theatre company is making the transition to its new home. They haven't had any major shows since 2008 due to the financial disruption and an increase in touring local schools but check out for upcoming productions and to fill out the National Survey.

Tha- tha -that's all folks,

Deaf West: Big River and Beyond

Hello there chipmunks,

Deaf West are quite possibly the most well known Deaf Theatre company of the west (at the very least they get alot of Google hits). Beginning in 1991 the Artistic Director/CEO of Deaf West Ed Waterstreet states that he wanted to give 'cultural opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing individuals'. Since then Deaf West have gone on to become a Tony award winning theatre compancy. You may remember the clip from my first post from 'Big River' in 2004 and what you may have noticed in this clip that this production was  an amazing collaboration between musical theatre and signing.
The big costumes, cast and heart of this production made it a broadway hit and really placed Deaf theatre into the spotlight of critical and public attention. The success of 'Big River' has allowed Deaf West to continue create heart stopping theatre with a recent production of 'Pippin'.

 Although I could probably spend a long time posting about these guys I found this amazing video which contains an interview with the artistic directors of Deaf West that best describes the amazing dreams that they have for the deaf and hearing communities.

Thats all from me at the moment have fun watching these inspiring fellows explain their vision.

And if I don't see you again - Good evening, good morning and good night.

History? Hmmm... Well...

Hello there lovely people,

It's impossible to write down a 'history' of deaf theatre just as it is impossible to write a 'history' for all of hearing theatre. Like language the development of deaf theatre is incredibly localised which has led to a number of different styles. In July 1987 Hilary Cohen was priveleged to attend the Tenth Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf in Helsinki. Her article 'Theatre By and For the Deaf' identifies two main differences in the presentation of deaf theatre.

1) The more familiar of these techniques, largely influenced by the U.S. is the interpretation of spoken texts into sign language. The interpretors can be at the side or on stage performing, although this is generally a theatre mainly aimed at hearing audiences.

2) A more deaf-centric set of techniques emphasises the physicalisation of a work. The work will generally be performed by deaf actors and include a kind of 'theatricalised signing'. The intention of these works is to show off the skill of deaf actors to both a hearing and non-hearing audience.

Although both are valid forms of theatre the first is not truly a theatre of the deaf but more like watching a foreign-language film with subtitles, there is no way to fully understand and appreciate the nuances of the language. For example of Cohen notes that 'it is possible to produce Shakespeare in sign language alone, but whereas signing together with speaking expands the work, singing on its own may actually be constricting'.
Willy Conley had a similar experience when he went to see hearing plays in comparison to deaf theatre. He says that
'very few were sign-interpreted; most turned out to be static, with talking heads agains pretty backdrops. I kept thinking how theatrical deaf actors were, naturally filling the stage space with ASL along with their inherent physical and emotional qualities - and how invisible they were as a culture and as theatre artists.'
The discontent within the deaf community to simply be forced to watch hearing plays with an interpreter has led to the development of the second set of techniques to become more prominent in Western theatre.

The enhanced physicalisation that so enhanced Conley has become the key to deaf theatre. The nature of sign-language makes it a highly emotive form as along with hand and body gestures come a number of facial expressions that would be heightened and dramatic for a hearing audience, but which is just a part of communicating in sign-language. At the Congress which Cohen attended there were too many styles of theatre to effectively describe to you in this blog how sign language and the body completely recreated the theatre-going experience, I can only recommend her article to you with the highest of commendations and link this video which I believe shows a combination of artists working together.

I apologise for not being able to put the video on my blog but technology has bested me once again. The thing I would love for you to note in this clip from 'The Maps of Shadows' written by a Bosnian poet, is that despite the fact that you won't be able to understand (unless of course you speak fluent German or that dialect of sign-language) is the interaction between the deaf performers, the speech actors and the puppets. Also note the facial expression and energy of the deaf performers.

Hope you enjoyed that brief not-history lesson,


Hello there fellow theatre-goers,

If you have found your way here to my humble sight then like me you a) love theatre and b) are actively interested in exploring and understanding the impact of deaf theatre as it sweeps through the community. With the Festival of Deaf Theatre fast approaching this blog is here to help guide and inform you of the rich culture of deafness in performance.

I think that one of the best ways that I can introduce you to the beauty of deaf theatre is to show you this clip from the Tony award winning musical Big River which was performed by Deaf West Theatre in 2004 (who we'll be learning more about some other time).

This production was absolutely amazing as it enthralled both hearing and non-hearing audiences with their beautiful physicality, energy and musical prowess.

Well that's all from me for the moment. I hope that this short look into deaf theatre has inspired some of you to become as obsessed as I have.

See you later alligator,