Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Found in Dramaturgy: Carl Gough and Tony Evans @ More Than Words

Not Just Saying - Carl Gough and Tony Evans, they are presenting  Found in Translation at the festival on 6th July as part of the More Than Words day.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Beyond the Border International Storytelling festival has always committed to having BSL interpreters at many of the storytelling performances. In the past this commitment has extended to providing storytelling performances that were delivered by BSL alone, but attendance from the Deaf community has remained at a low level. In order to grow attendance at the festival, Beyond the Border secured some funding to deliver storytelling activities with the Deaf community and promote attendance at the festival.

Previous projects that created Deaf led performances delivered purely through BSL failed to engage hearing audiences, and so Beyond the Border was interested in exploring if a storytelling performance could be developed that would appeal to both hearing and Deaf audiences. The performance could then be used as an introduction to storytelling workshops with Deaf groups with the hope of featuring some of the participants at the festival.

The challenge issued to us (Tony and Carl) was to create something that would attempt to bridge the gap between hearing and Deaf audiences. In its development, we recognised that in traditionally signed storytelling performances, the experience of Deaf audiences was different to that of the hearing audience - that is to say that the experience for Deaf audiences was determined by the BSL interpreter and the experience for hearing audiences was determined by the storyteller. 

We wanted to develop something that brought these two dimensions of the performance together so that both hearing and Deaf audiences could have the same experience. In doing this, we had opportunity to take an audience on a journey, starting with the traditionally separate roles of storyteller and signer until both roles became dependent on each other. We want to be clear that the emphasis of the performance is not necessarily to showcase BSL storytelling - it is instead focussed on equalities, attempting to unify an audience and to encourage participation and understanding of BSL and a wider consideration of communication.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

The performance provides an opportunity for dialogue on a number of issues and seems to open doors that allow consideration of issues associated with deafness from a different perspective. It should be noted that the performance was only one aspect of the original project -

The workshop element used storytelling approaches to help cultivate confidence in communication between children and their parents. The approach used in this performance is experimental but seems to touch upon something that inspires the people who see it; to date the performance has proved a useful way of triggering discussion, debate and interest. We are keen that such discussion continues for it is through shared perspectives that new opportunities can become known.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Tony has been interpreting (inc performances) for over 25 years, and can often be heard to say, “I’m not an actor.” or “I’m not a performer.”. Through this project, he has nervously added ‘storyteller’ to his CV. Through his experience supporting Beyond The Border to reach a Deaf audience, Tony first viewed this project as a stepping stone. Something to bridge the gap between traditionally interpreted performances and Deaf led performances. 

Little did he know that the workshops would reveal a much bigger purpose for the project.
Carl has been a professional storyteller since 2012. His storytelling path began many years before that with community events and informal education, he just didn’t realise at the time that ‘Storyteller’ was a legitimate job title. Since then he has been involved in many storytelling projects including working with refugees and asylum seekers using storytelling as a tool to help teach English. 

The work with refugees and asylum seekers was certainly a useful foundation for Carl in developing this performance because it encouraged broader consideration of how to communicate a story when language is a potential barrier. Carl’s interest in performance goes beyond entertainment, and is driven by the ability of storytelling to connect people – to each other, to place, to heritage, to culture, and even to self.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

As stated above, the driving principal was about unifying a mixed audience (Deaf and hearing). As there wasn’t a way of enabling a Deaf audience to hear spoken word, the only solution to create a unified experience was to find a way for a hearing audience to better understand signed elements. We believed that sign could convey sufficient meaning so long as hearing audiences were provided with reassurance that their understanding was correct. Once this was established, it could enable an increasingly greater reliance on sign as part of the performance.
We weren’t sure if it was going to work as envisaged but to date, hearing audiences seem very receptive. By the end of the performance we have transitioned sufficiently that the story is ended using sign alone.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In a word, no. Although the material has been drawn from Carl’s existing repertoire, it required adaptation to be delivered in this performance. The level of interaction between Tony and Carl is central to the performance and could not be achieved alone. As the performance relies on both Tony and Carl working together (and because of the positive and enthusiastic reactions), Carl and Tony have established ‘Not Just Saying’ to provide a more formal basis upon which to further explore the application of storytelling and BSL (

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Enjoyment and a good dose of laughter are the starting point. From there we’d hope that people will maybe consider the different ways that we communicate. For hearing audiences we hope they will be surprised at just how much they have come to understand. For Deaf audiences we hope they will come to appreciate that communication is much more than language and we hope everyone finds improved confidence in their interactions.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We were not aware of any previous work of this nature, so we didn’t draw upon any pre-conceived ideas. We broke down what was required in order to achieve the final vision and then set to work to build something that would achieve each step. The synergy between Carl and Tony played a significant role as both were able to hold a shared vision and draw upon their relative areas of expertise (and learn a great deal from each other in the process).

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