October 11, 2016No Comments

The Auslan Master

If you told me last year that I would be working in the capacity of Auslan Master for a bilingual theatre performance, I would not have believed you. I enjoyed being a theatre-goer, but I never envisioned myself working in theatre.

Jess and Ilana approached me in early May with an opportunity to work on their inaugural performance as their Auslan Master. I saw this as a challenge...only that I wasn’t too sure of my abilities, as I had never done something like this before. My guts told me to grab the opportunity. I did.

I was nervous for our first full-team rehearsal. I wasn’t too sure of the team dynamics, as I was joining the third...or fourth rehearsal. I decided to dive right in, armed with my copy of the script, my linguistics knowledge, and my Deaf Lens. By the end of the day, I was mind-blown. We all fit in together. I felt I was a part of the team, not just some outsider.

Over the last four months, I started to see the importance of my role, and how it was essential to bringing the characters of Irene and Catherine to life. The signing styles were utmostly the responsibility of actors (Anna and Hilary), as they knew their characters better than I did. The script was heavy on metaphors, which meant there was a lot of translation work. I needed to utilise the entire team; Jess’s vision as the director, Ilana’s hearing perspective, and Hilary and Anna’s connectedness to their characters. I ensured the Auslan translations aligned with Jess’s vision of the performance.

I have never repeated two sentences so much in my life. “How do you feel about that?” “Let go of English”. The first sentence was essential for the actors because it helped them to reflect on how they signed each scene, and how it could be improved. Filming the scenes was important for the actors so they could watch and reflect, and discuss how they could improve the signing. If I couldn’t make to a rehearsal, scenes were filmed and uploaded onto our trusty Google Drive so I could view, and give feedback where necessary. The second statement was because I was responsible for ensuring the Auslan translation was done without too much reliance on English. Auslan is its own unique language, and I was responsible for it to flourish.

I really loved my journey as the Auslan Master, and I am looking forward to working on more productions for Deafferent Theatre. A massive thank you to Jess and Ilana for giving me this incredible opportunity, and to Anna and Hilary for being amazing to work with!

Here’s to more Auslan Mastering!

Sherrie x


September 20, 2016No Comments

Birth is Hard

My presence on this blog has been rather quiet recently because I’m elbow deep in rehearsals with the wonderful cast and crew for ‘Black is the Colour’.

I once read that directing is like being a midwife. You are assisting the birth of a production. Rehearsal/birthing is a private act. Audiences only witness the outcome. Blood, sweat, and tears litter the rehearsal floor, and some days it’s like a Jackson Pollock work of art. I work with emotions, imaginations, and language. Above all, I work with humans. Actors, and crew members are not robots (SURPRISE!) This birth was not your usual, run-of-the-mill birth. It required extra time, extra attention, and extra love.

We are translating a script written in English by Daniel Keene. With Keene’s generous permission, we translated it into Auslan. Auslan is a language of its own, with attachments to a very unique community, and culture. I’ve realised that hearing people love the sound of their voice. So much so, they will speak about what they do in the moment. This approach does not work in Auslan. Auslan is visual, and it’s about shaping and transforming two-dimensional text into a thriving, visible, and tangible language. No move is wasted in Auslan. This translation process took more time than I originally anticipated. Noted.

Working in a different language means I relay/process information differently. I wear different lens. In rehearsal, I’m not looking for the voice, nor can I look down and write notes. My eyes are fixed on the characters. My brain works with visual elements. Even when I wrote design briefs, they referred to visual language. My wonderful lighting designer asked me what does the show ‘look’ like. A response was ‘A long firecracker’. You’ll soon find out why.

This project is the first (of many) for Deafferent Theatre. What started as a conversation in a lounge room has now become a reality with ticket-holders and supporters (thank you). Ilana and I knew our first project would be something special. This production is not political theatre. We are not shouting from the rooftops ‘We are capable!’ It is more of a demonstration that good theatre is good theatre. Period.

We are labouring right now behind closed doors. Our due date is September 24, and we’ll be accepting visitors until October 1.

Gratefully yours,
J x

October 9, 2015No Comments

From Disconnection to Inclusion: An Aussie in Edinburgh

Disclaimer: This post first appeared on Auslan Stage Left.

I sat down to wait for the doors to open for the next show on my itinerary. I watched as a small lady dragged a large bag and unzip it to pull out a table. On top of the table, she placed a small suitcase and a box. The suitcase opened to reveal many audio description devices. The box perplexed me. Laid on its side, the box revealed a small set containing an upright bed in the middle of two side tables, an armchair in the corner, and items of clothing strewn next to it. I walked over to the table to peruse some papers about the show when I realised the box was a tactile miniature version of the set of the show I was waiting to see. Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth’s ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ was a must-see on my list, simply because it had captions for every show.

I was fortunate to attend the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival last August. In August, Edinburgh descends into organized chaos of theatre, dance and music. The population of the city doubled in a constant celebration of the arts. As a theatre maker, I was keen to watch as many shows I could fit in my schedule. As a deaf patron, I was keen to see what companies and venues provided access. While I could not see every captioned or interpreted performance (only because I would not be present for the dates available) I aimed to see at least two shows that incorporated deaf actors. ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ was a fluke. I went for the captions, and stayed for the story.

‘Solid Life’ tells the story of a married couple who tries to reconnect physically and rediscover their relationship after the birth of their stillborn baby. This was forceful and unflinching theatre. Prior to entering the theatre, I approached the lady at the table and asked where the optimum seats were for viewing the captions. She pointed to the miniature set on both sides of the small bed and a strip on top of the bed. I nodded, perplexed by the changing locations of the captions.

The show was about to start. The opening scene of the couple began with them in their bed. The ingenious design of the set offered the audience of a bird’s eye view of the couple in bed. With clever choreography, it appeared the couple was lying down in bed but the actors were standing up. When she spoke, the captions appeared on the bed head. He left the bed speaking, and the captions appeared on the ‘floor’ next to the bed where he was standing. When he returned to bed, the captions would appear on the bed head. Oh, this is what they meant by ‘creative captioning’. Used to the old format of the two large screens showing paragraphs of lines of the play script, this novel way of captioning meant I could follow the action and the words without turning my head off to the side to read delayed lines.

With its accessible tools such as audio description and captioning, it is not hard to see why this production won Euan’s Guide Accessible Fringe Award. Not only did the production offer accessible tools; Graeae is a theatre company who puts deaf and disabled actors centre stage. The couple was beautifully fielded by Arthur Hughes (Phil), and Genevieve Barr (Alice).

In Jack Thorne’s script, Alice is deaf; she prefers to speak than sign. Barr is a deaf actress. Hughes has a physical disability in that he is missing two-thirds of his right forearm, which ends with four fingers. The spectrum of deaf people and abilities in art is often shown in dichotomies, as in ‘us and them’. In this production, deafness was present but the tragedy of the loss took precedence. A life event drove the narrative despite the deafness and physical abilities of the characters. As a deaf patron, I identified with Alice. As a theatre maker, I was challenged by my limited artistic aims to cater to and for deaf people. Why not broaden the catering to other abilities?

Thorne’s writing punched me in the gut. His precision of delivery littered with funny, filthy, hopeful and devastating moments portrayed a heart-wrenching event. Yet, Amit Sharma’s direction and the performances by Barr and Hughes were done so with sensitivity. When the show concluded, I turned to the lady next to me who was still drying tears off her cheeks. I asked if she was okay.

‘I am. God, that was amazing… I have no words,’ she said. I realised I did not have any words either. That is the kind of encounter I want my works to have. Thank you ‘Solid Life’ for showing me it is possible to make theatre that is accessible and delivers with candour.

By Jessica Moody

© 2019 Deafferent Theatre. All Rights Reserved

© 2019 Deafferent Theatre.
All Rights Reserved


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