Thursday, 29 August 2013

Forest Fringe: Future of Accessible Theatre

Recently I went to the Forest Fringe where they made performances accessible for deaf people. It was a great day. There was interpreters there. There was artists willing to have interpreters in their performances. This is the attitude that theatre makers/directors should be having. A willing attitude and to allow accessibility happening. It gets me excited but it is still a long journey in the future and it will take time for it to happen...

It started off with a discussion about accessibility in theatre. There was two groups, one for the audiences and one for artists. I joined the "artists" side as it is something I feel strongly about. I raised my hand up to say something but we ran out of time in the end sadly so I spoke to Andy about what I wanted to say. I wanted to raise the point about the word "deaf". When people talk about deaf, they tend to generalise "deaf" and assume it means someone who can't hear anything at all and signs. This is not the case. I am profoundly deaf with a cochlear implant and I prefer oral over sign language. I've only been learning sign language for 3 years now but I prefer to speak. There was talks about "problems" with deaf people when really the only way to "solve" the "problem" is by communicating with the deaf person via email or text. They will tell them about their preferred communication methods. Interpreter or no interpreter? It is up to them and if they don't need it, they don't need it.

There was two shows that really stood out for me, "I wish I was Lonely" and "Hoke's Bluff". They were fantastic productions. "I wish I was Lonely" was a show that involved using phones. At the start, we had to write down our phone numbers on a card, give it to the performers and sit anywhere in the audience. Once everyone sat down, the cards got passed around with someone's number on it. We had to text one another saying why we needed our phone. I got someone number who I've been working for that week so therefore it was a bit funny. I had awful signal in that room so my text couldn't be sent through and I couldn't receive their text until later. Sadly. The performance made me think about phones in general. I admit I usually spend my time with my phone in my hand checking facebook or twitter occasionally. One of the performance said that you should go out without your phone in your hand and take in everything around you. Get on the bus and look out of the window, admiring the scenery. So far have I done it? Not yet but I will... Only problem is that the interpreter can be difficult to see. It's to do with the positioning and sometimes the actors can go in front of it but that's just a minor problem. Apart from that, fantastic performance. Possibly the best performance I've seen this year.

The other performance I saw was Hoke's Bluff. This was filled with energy at the start. Cheesy songs, a mascot dancing in the middle of the stage, someone with a tray filled with popcorn, a referee. This made me feel like I'm in an American Football game. High energy. But this play focuses on the couple, one was a cheerleader and one was a football player. It was great. The football player was called Tyler and what I love about it is that they used the audience and refer to a member as "Tyler". It was something different and hilarious. It was like the audience were actors and characters. Great. I love their use of the interpreters. They've integrated the signing into the performance. They didn't make Yvonne Strain in a corner just standing and signing away. They got her to be a part of the performance. They got her dressing up as a coach and reacting to what was happening on the stage. They showed a great example of using interpreters in a performance. They balanced the tragic side to the story and the energy side of the story. There wasn't a slow transition between them, it was face paced. It was fantastic. I was dancing along with the cheesy songs and sympathised  with the characters on the stage. It was fabulous. GO WILDCATS!

Forest Fringe is the start of something new. I cannot believe it existed for 7 years and I wasn't aware of this. I have subscribed to their newsletter and hope to see future productions with them. Fantastic day. Met a lot of wonderful theatre makers and artists. They were the loveliest bunch of people I have ever met and I hope there will be more people like them. It is still a long hurdle. A long wait. But it will be worth it. 

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