Under the spotlight: Deaf Talent – Paula Garfield

paula garfield

Deafinitely Theatre’s artistic director talks about her powerful new 2015 show and how theatre is the ultimate way of raising Deaf awareness.

BDN: You just announced your new 2015 main show. What can you tell us about your new show?

I first saw Grounded written by George Brant, when it was performed by hearing actress, Lucy Ellinson at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

It’s the story of a woman pilot during wartime, flying a bomber aircraft; her life is abruptly changed as she becomes pregnant and has to leave the service. When ready to come back, she is looking forward to return to her bomber, however she is instead assigned to a different plane and her life is turned upside down.

My hearing friend interpreted for me throughout the play. It was fantastic. I came to see it again in London at the Gate Theatre when it was performed with captions. Grounded was a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival, won a Scotsman Fringe First Award and also won the Smith Prize in 2012.

It was written in poetic style, with snappy and stark text. I thought it would adapt really well in our visual poetic language – the power of visual BSL storytelling.

BDN: What can audiences expect?

The play covers so many issues – war, family, relationships, modern technology and feminism. I hope audiences will be more aware of how modern technology can be brilliant for our life, but can be also very harmful to our human race.

BDN: What has it been like working with Nadia Nadarajah?

Nadia is one of the most talented and amazing actresses. It will be our fifth production together. We work so well together, understanding and inspiring each other!

BDN: Was there anything particularly challenging about this show?

Every production with a script is always a huge challenge – as we face the task of translating from English into visual language. But all of our hard effort has paid off!

English has not always been my strong language and also I am dyslexic. To help me prepare for translation in rehearsal, I read the script over and over again, working with an interpreter to explain its meaning and its context.

It is a painfully long and slow process. But as soon a I understand its meaning – the work just flows! It allows me to work well with the actors and explain what my vision is in the production. Luckily, Nadia has a lot of skills and experience in translating text into visuals. She doesn’t follow English, so instead we discuss the script’s vision and produce it visually.

There is lot of planning towards any production, often needing at least one year to prepare. Normally rehearsals are between three to four, or five weeks – which is a luxury!

BDN: What are you particularly proud of when putting on great Deaf performances?

I am proud of deaf actors for their talent, their professionalism, their discipline and their desire to perform to audiences. There are so many productions that stand out for me – particularly our two Shakespeare productions at The Globe in 2012 and 2014. All the actors in these shows were outstanding. It was a magical moment that we will never forget in our lifetime.

We are very proud that we were the very first company to produce full BSL productions on The Globe’s stage ever!

At the end of the show, the Minister of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey went to the changing room to congratulate all the actors!

Deafinitely Theatre is committed to mentoring and nurturing both experienced and emerging talent, with both Deaf and hearing actors with BSL.

We run the Deafinitely Creative Hub programme which is aimed at deaf actors and writers aged 18+ to develop theatre skills and network with other professionals to increase employment opportunities.

We consistently encourage mainstream theatre companies to employ deaf actors. It is a very slow process, but one we are passionate about.

paula garfield with three others rehearsal

BDN: Are both Deaf and hearing audiences welcome at Deafinitely Theatre productions? 

Deafinitely Theatre is always and has always been aimed at both deaf and hearing audiences. It is important to me personally to have both deaf and hearing audience together in the same place, sharing experiences and laughing and crying together!

It’s not often that hearing audiences get to share in the experience of deaf actors – embracing their stories, their language and their perspective.

Theatre is the most powerful social medium – it is a brilliant way to raise deaf awareness!

BDN: How does getting involved in the performing arts from a young age boost confidence and self-esteem?

Deafinitely Theatre is one of the very few companies who can offer drama courses to young deaf and hearing people. Our youth are also part of the National Theatre Connection and they will perform two plays next year.

Getting involved in drama at a young age is so important to build up children’s confidence and self-esteem. But there is a huge gap. There aren’t enough opportunities for young deaf and hearing people with BSL skills, compared to the hundreds of national courses for young hearing people. It is not right. The imbalance needs to be redressed.

BDN: How do you think the landscape of Deaf theatre has changed over
the years – from amateur drama groups to now?

In the old days, there were loads of amateur deaf drama clubs but now there are very few left. Having a local amateur drama club is brilliant for the community.

I was a freelance actress from early 1990s to 2000, working as an actress, drama teacher, TV presenter. I worked in a range of theatre styles, from Theatre In Education, to Repertory theatre.

A lot of the talented directors I worked with had never worked with a deaf person before me. I began to notice there was no deaf leader in productions and began to get frustrated at the absence of deaf directors.

Now in 2015, the situation for any deaf professional actress is not that different to the old days. There are still very few acting opportunities for deaf people in Repertory and mainstream theatre. I would like to see more Repertory theatres employ deaf people in theatre – not just in acting roles, but in assistant director, writer and stage manager roles.

BDN: What’s your advice to young Deaf people who would love to follow in your footsteps and lead a theatre company?

Be brave and be bold. Follow and feel your gut. Believe in yourself and be creative. Be friendly and be approachable to anyone you meet in the theatre industry. Keep your eyes peeled for any opportunity and go for it.

grounded imageGrounded

When: Opens in October 2015 for three-week run

Where: Park Theatre, North London [near Finsbury Park tube station] 

Visit: deafinitelytheatre.co.uk

Read more about Deaf Talent here: Genevieve Barr and Ruth Montgomery