Theatre of hands


April 26, 2012

A Perth theatre has opened the doors for hearing impaired people, recognising them as an important part of the theatre community.

The Blue Room Theatre has partnered with Sign Language Communications WA to present four Auslan interpreted performances for the first season of 2012.

The first interpreted performance of the season was the Luminaire production written, directed and designed by Chris Donnelly, who said he had deaf and blind people in mind when he wrote the piece.

Alexa Taylor and Jeremy Mitchell from the production Luminaire. Photo: Elizabeth Cahill

“When I wrote it, I wanted to write something that if you were deaf, you could just watch,” Donnelly said.

“You could not hear at all and you would just be presented with 50 minutes worth of evolving, beautiful scenery, and if you were blind you could just sit back and listen to some indulgent language.”

SLCWA‘s Michael Levett was the interpreter for the Luminaire production and said the West Australian Deaf Society was initially approached by The Blue Room Theatre for an interpreter.

“Since then we’ve developed a rapport with The Blue Room and they’ve called us when they’ve had specific requests from performers or directors who’d like to have an Auslan interpreted performance,” Levett said.

“Now The Blue Room would like to make it a regular occurrence.”

Luminaire, as suggested by the title, had a large lighting component that acted as a third character in the performance.

The play experimented with different lighting techniques and used lighting to act as a metaphor and change the mood.

From a rainbow in a box, to a swing with ropes made from lights, the play technically and visually appealed to the eyes, making it perfect to be interpreted for the hearing impaired.

Donnelly said his interest in lighting developed at university, when he realised that the technical components of theatre could be very beautiful on their own.

“In standard theatre, light is primarily used to give scene and to show actors,” he said.

“We use light to create scenes.”

Donnelly said that when writing the script he wanted to experiment with lighting.

“Some scenes came from stories that I wrote and some things came from lighting things I wanted to do,” he said.

SLC Interpreter Michael Levett signs "theatre". Photo: Elizabeth Cahill.

Levett, who’s no stranger to interpreting theatre performances, said he was happy with Luminaire.

“The general community really appreciates [interpreted performances] even though they’ve never seen something like that before,” Levett said.

The final scene, which uses chemically created light called “chemiluminescence”, was something Donnelly always wanted to do.

“It’s essentially glow sticks but it’s a different medium that you don’t see,” Donnelly said.

“I just wanted to try and use something different.”

The use of this chemically created light was the climax of the play and visually stunning.

Levett said the move to bring interpreters into the theatre had been long overdue.

“I think the producers and directors are just realising there is a wide audience out there that hasn’t been tapped into,” he said.

“They haven’t had access to something like this before.”

Levett said there were hearing impaired theatre-goers in the community who were limited in what they could view due to very few productions being interpreted for them.

He believes that once the ball starts rolling, hearing impaired people will want to see interpreted performances and they will spread through the community by “word of hands”.

The Blue Room Theatre gave its directors the opportunity to have interpreted performances this season and Levett said it was a chance for directors to branch into new territory.

“A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to have an interpreter there – does it add to the show, will it be distracting, so forth,” he said.

The next Auslan interpreted performance The Blue Room Theatre will hold is the production Skin by Humphrey Bower.

Skin is about two spiritual journeys dealing with issues of identity and transformation.

“The play is based on two stories,” Bower said.

“One is a story that my hairdresser told me about a trip he took to Vietnam and the other story is based on a story of my own on a trip I took to the Goldfields.”

He has managed to get choreographer Sue Peacock on board, as well as Perth musician artist Leon Ewing to do the music.

Bower is no stranger to Auslan, having learnt it for his production Wish which he performed at The Blue Room Theatre in 2011.

When he was approached to do an interpreted performance for the current season he immediately agreed to it.

“I said if we are going to have an Auslan interpreted performance, I would prefer it to be like a designated performance that is advertised as the Auslan performance,” he said.

Bower is not concerned about the interpreter taking anything away from the performance and said it would make the show even more interesting.

“This will be very different because the Blue Room is such a small, intimate place,” he said.

“There will be much more sense of me sharing the space with another performer who’s using sign, so in a sense it will be performed by two people instead of one.

“I’m curious to see how that will evolve.”

The Auslan interpreted performance of Skin will be on Saturday, May 12 at 4pm at The Blue Room Theatre.

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