Brief Encounter With … Deafinitely Theatre's Paula Garfield & Andrew Muir
Date: 21 September 2009
Double Sentence is the latest play from Deafinitely Theatre, a company set up in 2002 that creates theatre that's accessible to both Deaf and hearing audiences. Here, Paula Garfield and Andrew Muir, the play's director and writer (who are also the artistic director and dramaturge of Deafinitely Theatre), talk to Whatsonstage.com.
What’s Double Sentence about and how did it come into being?
AM: Double Sentence
is about a young deaf man who is sent to prison for twelve years for GBH. It is is about his experiences in prison and the difficulties he faces as a deaf man in an environment where there is no deaf access.
The idea came about after Paula was talking to someone and they started telling her about someone’s experience in prison from a deaf perspective. It was tackling a subject matter that neither of us had dealt with before or had even thought about before, and for those reasons, it became a very exciting proposition.
It seems that the collective experience of the theatre has a significant role in overcoming the issues raised in Double Sentence, and for that matter other Deafinitley productions. Is that a fair comment?
AM: Deafinitely Theatre was established initially to create a place where deaf artists could practise their craft within an environment that was supportive, passionate and dedicated. Too few opportunities has meant that talented deaf artists find it difficult to pursue a career within the arts as a professional, and so more often than not, find themselves neglecting whatever talent they may have for something that is far more secure. We are attemting to give opportunities to these deaf artists, to explore their artistic instincts and give them time and space to think seriously about their craft. Too few deaf artists are currently working in today’s society, and Deafinitely Theatre is determined to change that.
Setting the play in a prison clearly allows the play to function on a number of levels. Do you feel the play also has a resonance beyond the issue and issues surrounding deafness?
AM: Of course, setting the play in a prison creates many metaphors for being deaf in society. Feeling isolated is a significant problem within a community that is biased towards the spoken word, can often feel like being locked up and the key thrown away. Also there is the problem of being looked upon as someone who is unable to fulfill a role within society as well as a hearing person. During our research we discovered that certain jobs in prison that can help the inmates earn money, are not offered to deaf inmates because they are thought of as being ‘unsafe’. These are everyday issues that being deaf means you have to deal with, but the real issue here is the lack of deaf awareness not only in prison but also in everyday life. By simply making people more aware, and using theatre to highlight certain issues, then the company is doing its job.
Do either of you feel that the play reflects your own experiences in the theatre industry?
PG: My experience as a deaf child growing up in hearing society, I faced lot of oppressed at school, workplaces etc. I was forced to learn to listen which is very hard and stressful experience for me as a proudly deaf person. I had to learn to listen and speak as a hearing person. It meant I lost confidence when I couldn't achieve the same level as a hearing person. My experience is not rare; it has happened all time to the deaf community. In this respect, the central character Tom reflects my experience and it also reflects some actor’s experience when growing up.
As the play uses British Sign Language (BSL), captions and the spoken word, do you think of Double Sentence as being an experimental piece?
AM: It’s a new chapter for Deafinitely Theatre. We want to establish the company as a theatre company producing quality work that is not only accessible to a deaf audience, but also to a hearing one too. We feel now that the time is right to explore new ideas, raise fundamental deaf issues, and work towards an integration of both deaf and hearing worlds, for the purpose of making exciting and innovative theatre.
As well as Double Sentence the company is also developing a number of exciting projects aimed at younger audiences. Could you tell us a little about that?
AM: We feel it is vital that children have access to theatre whether they’re hearing or not. Allowing children to use their imagination, and communicate using performance, is so important for the development of the child. Many Deaf people have a limited experience of live theatre, and some have none. We want to encourage an early interest for theatre amongst Deaf children and young people to invest in future generations of actors, directors, designers and audiences. Theatre is a universal language that can be enjoyed by all, and we are adamant that no one will miss out, whatever age!
Double Sentence is at the Soho Theatre until 26 September