After a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of Northern Stage’s programme at Summerhall in 2016, The DH (Deaf & Hearing) Ensemble are taking People of the Eye on tour this Autumn.
Writer/performer Erin Siobhan Hutching grew up with a Deaf sister and so has been communicating with sign language all her life. When her sister Sarah was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at the age of 18 months, doctors told her parents not to use sign language as they believed it would impair her ability to learn speech. This advice, commonly given to hearing parents of deaf children in the 80s and even today, has been refuted by many studies demonstrating the benefits of being bilingual. It was attending Sarah’s wedding in Erin’s home country of New Zealand, attended by both Deaf and hearing guests and interpreted through sign language, that inspired Erin, who learned to sign at a very young age, to start using sign language in her own performance.
With People of the Eye, Erin has created a story about a family navigating their way through the Deaf world based on her own experiences, incorporating sound, visual projections, mime, creative accessibility and real-life home movies of her family, coming together in a beautiful piece about memory, feelings of isolation, and finding the joy in difference.
People of the Eye aims to be accessible to both D/deaf, hard of hearing and hearing audiences. As well as the piece incorporating sign language, the ensemble worked with award-winning Deaf filmmaker Samuel Dore to create accompanying visuals to enrich the piece and sound designer Emma Houston who has layered the piece’s score with bass and infrasonic tones that can be felt, as well as heard. Through an interpreter, Emma described her soundscapes to Sam, who then created projections to visually represent the sound. The idea is that both D/deaf and hearing audiences will be able to enjoy and appreciate the show on their own terms.
Director Jennifer K. Bates: “A huge part of our ethos is that each artist has an equal voice in the rehearsal room and that the performances themselves provide equal experiences for D/deaf and hearing audiences. So often the balance is skewed. If a performance is accessible the majority of the time it is due to a Sign Language Interpreter being positioned at the side of the stage (often dressed in black), thus separating the language from the action of the play. The Deaf audience member then ends up feeling as if they are watching a tennis match and must choose which to concentrate on. In our work, we like to play with the forms of access that we use and each decision has been thought through, whether it be because it makes most sense for the character at that time or how we want the audience to feel in that moment. We have found that actually, the boundary of making our work accessible has opened up a whole new playing field. Theatre is communication. People are communication. It makes perfect sense for us to mix it all up and play with it on different levels. And what happens when that communication breaks down? So often the usual power balance is placed in favour of the hearing person, what happens when we turn that on its head?”
People of the Eye by The DH Ensemble Autumn Tour – BSL video
The show has been developed over three years with a series of different actors and currently stars Deaf Eritrean actress Hermon Berhane alongside Erin, bringing in Hermon’s own experiences of Deafness and sisterhood into the performance.
About The DH Ensemble
The DH (Deaf & Hearing) Ensemble encourage a shared experience for Deaf and hearing audiences. Formed in 2013 out of a week-long project with the Royal Shakespeare Company, looking at the relationship between Shakespeare’s language and Visual Vernacular/BSL, they are comprised of talented Deaf & Hearing artists, each with an equal voice. They were Forest Fringe Company in Residence in 2013 and performed at Forest Fringe and Northern Stage’s Bloody Great Border Ballad Project, which won the Spirit of the Festival Award. They have performed at Pulse Festival, Forest Fringe, Shuffle Festival, Northern Stage and The Roundhouse. They were commissioned last year to create a new piece for Liberty Festival and reached the final two companies shortlisted for the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award through the Barbican. People of the Eye was selected for NOW’16 from over 200 hundred applications for a double bill with award-winning theatre maker Ira Brand at The Yard, voted #2 theatre in London by Time Out readers.
The DH Ensemble: People of the Eye
Tuesday 17 – Thursday 19 October, Battersea Arts Centre, London
Saturday 11 November, Wiveliscombe Community Centre, Somerset
Thursday 16 November, The Seagull, Lowestoft
Saturday 18 November, Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester
Monday 20 November, Stamford Arts Centre, Stamford
Friday 24 November, Old Fire Station, Oxford