One of Scotland’s leading theatre production companies has today (25 June) announced the launch of a new project to increase involvement in theatre for Deaf people both as audiences and professionals.
Award winning Solar Bear, who have been producing inclusive theatre since 2002 and have run the Deaf Youth Theatre since 2008, have teamed up with a range of organisations in order to achieve this aim. These include: National Theatre Scotland, National Deaf Children’s Society, Promote YT, the Federation of Scottish Theatres and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. This collaboration will enable Solar Bear to develop a multi-stranded approach to what is an ambitious project .
Most importantly perhaps, they will be working closely with seven major venues across Scotland where the productions which form part of the project have been programmed to be staged.
Beginning with a signed production of National Theatre Scotland's Macbeth on 27 June at Tramway, Glasgow, their BSL signed presentation of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play will include what 130 Deaf theatre goers told Solar Bear would enhance their experience of going to the theatre. These include: programming Deaf Theatre Club performances on weekend evenings, rather than them being marginalised into midweek slots; having website and publicity material in British Sign Language (BSL), as well as written English; and facilitating feedback to be delivered in BSL.
Crucially however, Solar Bear are working towards making the signed performances themselves more dynamic and exciting by incorporating signers into the set and production through costume and staging, as well as training signers to use more expressive and engaging style. Deaf audience members experienced such a technique when attending National Theatre Scotland’s A Christmas Carol last December where the sign-language interpreter was in costume and sat inside the set as part of the performance.
Ian Munro, director of Creative Development at Creative Scotland, observed: “Solar Bear leads the way in engaging with Deaf audiences through signed interpretation and we hope that this inclusive initiative will be embraced by an increasing number of theatre venues in Scotland.”
To this end, part of the project includes working with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to improve the quality of signed interpretation in the theatre and increase the amount of signed performances. One aspect of this drive includes Solar Bear running short training courses at the Royal Conservatoire in Signing for Performance. These classes begin in the next academic year.
Work with Promote YT has also had an impact on increasing participation in theatre for those with ambition to tread the boards themselves. Through this collaboration, all of the performances and workshops at the recent National Festival of Youth Theatre were signed, allowing Solar Bear’s Deaf Youth Theatre to be completely included in the whole of the festival.
Additionally, by building on their links with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Solar Bear is also working to extend the opportunities for further drama training, working with them to create an accredited BA Acting Course. In the meantime, their collaboration has brought about the launch of a pilot actor-training programme for Deaf students – the Deaf Theatre Skills School. This is designed to offer training for talented young Deaf actors and to develop formal routes into working in the profession.
Of this aspect of the project, Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae and patron of Deaf Theatre Skills School said: “This partnership marks a significant moment in history where a high-profile training institution is recognising and tapping into a wealth of talent to be nurtured. This is tremendous news for the Deaf community and the theatre world.”
Solar Bear have not only identified aspects of performances and the need to be able to participate in learning stage skills as important factors in increasing inclusion and access to the theatre. Key findings from their working with Deaf audience members also raised the issue of communication in the front-of-house aspects of the theatre experience. For this reason, Solar Bear are also working with theatres across Scotland to train box-office and front-of-house staff at all the venues taking part in the Deaf Theatre Club scheme in Deaf awareness and BSL.
Due to lack of access in the past, Deaf people may well see theatre as off limits or not something they think can be accessible for them. Solar Bear are also addressing this matter of previous exclusion by organsing discounts on tickets and arranging theatre tours and meet-the-cast events to enable people who may have previously felt excluded feel included by finding out about these new and exciting developments.
Iain Munro, director of Creative Development at Creative Scotland, who are a major funder of the project, said: “We are delighted to support this important development, opening up theatre performances to be fully enjoyed by the Deaf community.”
For information about Solar Bear's Deaf Theatre Club productions see our listings (from 27 June).
For more information about other aspects of the project, visit Solar Bear’s website.
Are you planning on attending any Deaf Theatre Club performances? Fancy writing us a review or presenting your response on video in BSL? Get in touch with Marian Cleary and let us know which production you hope to see and a bit about your writing / presenting and your reviewing experience or ambitions! We might be able to get you a free ticket... !