This week has been one of the busiest and most stressful weeks since becoming a teacher, yet one of the most satisfying and rewarding.
My background is in Theatre and Drama. I have always loved being on the stage, starting from a very young age. I would participate in all the school talent shows and force my parents to let me be part of amateur dramatic societies which included Summer holiday workshops (those were the days, now my summer holidays consist of catching up on sleep). This love continued throughout my education as I chose Drama as a subject for GCSE, again at A Level and then further study at University where I read Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies.
After a couple of years of not using my drama skills (in a professional environment, I’m always a drama queen of course), it felt only natural to get myself stuck in and take an opportunity to help co – direct students in a play at work.
Every other year the school I work for get involved in The Shakespeare Schools Festival. The festival is the world’s largest youth drama festival where around 1000 schools from all over the country prepare and then perform a Shakespearean play alongside other schools in their local area on a professional stage.
The play that was chosen for our school to perform was Twelfth Night, one I was not familiar with. I spent a few nights with Ellie who co – directed with me, going through the play, the characters and the language.
The first thing that we had noticed was that there was going to be a lot of work editing the script. The reasons being that firstly, we had to understand the Shakespearean Language ourselves and figure out what it meant in present day English before expecting the students to know what it was all about. The language is already quite difficult for a hearing person to understand and relate to, so for a deaf person who may already struggle with reading and writing, they would find it even more difficult. As well as this, it then all needed to be translated into BSL in order to make sense to the deaf students who we were working with. Thankfully a very experienced Teacher of the Deaf helped us with that.
The students were amazing actors and actresses. They use their facial expressions and body language effectively everyday in order to communicate, so acting seemed completely second nature. It was really impressive and the natural ability to perform so well in such young people left me in awe.
The performance was on Tuesday evening, and we spent the morning doing a full tech rehearsal at the theatre. It was really interesting to see the difference between a hearing cast compared to a deaf cast when it came to following the cues. It obviously does not work listening out for particular lines or using music as your guide to come on stage. The way we made sure cues were easy to follow for the students were through visual aids, such as a bright lights flashing to prompt a fall to the floor at the end of the music playing.
The children are heavily reliant on the visual cues to bring them in and if they are missing or wrong, it can become very confusing and put a pause on the performance. There is no ability to discuss mid show whether the cast should wait for the visuals and if somebody started to sign their line to keep the play moving, it would mean all the cast would have to be looking at that particular cast member at the time to have gained access to the line. Therefore, a lot of skill is required from deaf actors to be aware of their surroundings.
Two members of staff had kindly agreed to be the voice-overs for the performance, whose job is to follow the signing and translate for a hearing audience who do not know BSL. Seems easy enough? Well if the actors miss their line and jump to a different part of the script, the voice over may not be able to match the voices quickly enough. As well as this, although the voice overs are able to understand sign language, the speech is Shakespearean and that is not what is being signed.
While in the wings, it is important to stay very quiet as you wouldn’t want the audience to hear you talking backstage. Deaf children have the luxury of chatting to each other in silence.
The rehearsal time at school was only possible during lunch times and towards the end we used a few class time lessons. The students come from all over England. There are limited deaf specialist schools and children travel for hours to get to school and home again. Therefore, it is not possible to keep the students after school for periods of time. If you compare this to mainstream schools where the children are all local and often walk home, then the show that we were able to put on was truly outstanding.
I cried once the students finished their performance much to their amusement.
I really recommend getting involved in the Shakespeare School Festival and I hope to be involved again in the future.