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New signs of the times: Deafinitely Theatre's Paula Garfield writes about life in lockdown

The artistic director of the company writes about her experiences thusfar

Paula Garfield
© Becky Bailey

So it's now mid-May and we've all been in lockdown for the last 8 weeks. My team at Deafinitely Theatre and I have become used to video-calling on Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp and multiple other video conferencing platforms. As a Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) user, I have to say that video-calling technology has absolutely saved my life and my sanity. One of the positives from this lockdown (if we can find some) is the amount people who are now able to video-call each other and have mass gatherings but safely online at the moment.

The first few weeks of lockdown for me personally were quite positive. I was able to work and go for regular runs (the time seems to vanish when you're in the cycle of travel to work, work, travel home and repeat) and I could feel my mental and physical health improving. Then I broke my wrist. For a Deaf woman who uses BSL (yes sign language with the hands/arms), my broken wrist has had a huge impact on me (and even delayed me submitting this article). I can now feel myself becoming a bit low as I can't run and communication is tricky. But it will repair and things will get better.

I'm grateful to be in lockdown with my family – my partner and two daughters who are wonderful company. We're all working/schooling from home and it's been a struggle at some points. I'm not sure how our Wi-Fi has coped with all of us on different devices! I've struggled personally with being a teacher as well as Mum as well as Paula, the artistic director. It's a lot to juggle, as well as a broken wrist and a cat with diarrhoea (but that's another story!).

I'm concerned about the wellbeing of our deaf young people

I've been regularly communicating with deaf actors on group text/video chats. We're all exchanging information about the theatre industry as it's so important to have this information in BSL. We've also been doing small arts video projects that are available on social media. It's been lovely to still be creative in these strange times.

Our work for Deafinitely Theatre has continued but in new ways. All the meetings we'd been having with some high-profile venues for possible productions together have paused and I hope they will re-ignite positively when the situation is improved. This is a worrying time for everyone in the theatre industry. I've been having regular catch-ups with my wonderful ED (Frankie) and our chair (Ben) to discuss many different budget scenarios. Excel has become my new best friend (and I hate spreadsheets!).

I'm concerned about the wellbeing of our deaf young people. We run a youth theatre programme (DYT) and usually have face-to-face workshops as part of it. We're busy planning online activities but the uncertainty of this situation is worrying. 90 per cent of deaf children have hearing parents (I'm in that group too) and so I worry about some of our young deaf people not having BSL access at home. In our face-to-face DYT sessions, they are free to express themselves with their peers and they don't have that option at the moment. And there aren't many accessible resources for Deaf-BSL users to access.

Speaking of BSL, there's a new sign for Coronavirus that is now being used in the community. BSL is a living language and evolves the same as spoken languages and so it's nice to see a new sign in these times. (If only the Government would provide a BSL Interpreter at their daily information briefings – I am hopeful to see this one day in my lifetime).

One project we've set up to provide more BSL online is the Deafinitely Digital project. I'm so proud of my team for making this happen. Some of our previous Deafinitely Theatre productions – in BSL and spoken English – are now available online for audiences to watch and enjoy. Putting our work online is something we've been considering for a while to reach deaf and hearing audiences across the UK and this lockdown period has given us the opportunity to do it. All our productions were filmed for our own archive purposes and I am so pleased to see this archive getting a new lease of life and new audiences online.

It's lovely to re-watch some of these productions and it makes me hopeful for the day that we can all meet face-to-face again and produce new productions and more work with deaf young people.

The day will come. I can see a sign.

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