Book tickets to People of the Eye: https://oldfirestation.org.uk/whats-on/
TRANSCRIPT OF RADIO INTERVIEW:
Kat Orman: I love the theatre, however theatre isn’t always accessible for those who are deaf, or indeed hard of hearing. Writer and performer Erin Siobhan Hutching wants to change this. Unable to go to the theatre with her Deaf sister, she’s now written her own play that can be enjoyed by everyone and she’s here. Erin, good morning.
Erin: Good morning.
Kat: Nice to have you here. So, tell me a little bit about your sister, because she’s….is she older than you?
Erin: Yes, she is. So she’s three years older than me so by the time I was born she had been diagnosed as deaf although it did take a little while. My parents knew that there was something going on but they took her to the doctor many many times, took her to see the nurse, and they said no, no she’s fine, and then finally she was diagnosed at about 18 months. So by the time I came along, the family was learning sign language so I learnt it as a baby.
Kat: And this was in New Zealand?
Erin: Yes, in New Zealand, where I’m from originally.
Kat: So, what was life like growing up with a profoundly deaf sister?
Erin: I mean, I suppose, for me it just seemed “normal” – in inverted commas – because we talked about this when we were developing the play because children just think that what they experience is what everybody experiences. So, my family was bilingual, we communicated in spoken English and in sign language. I was constantly, from a very young age, being taken to speech therapy with my sister so I started to learn to speak at about ten months in full sentences which was very creepy I’m sure. (Both laugh) But I was just surrounded by it all the time so I suppose in a way it brought Sarah and I much closer together – Sarah is my sister – but also I sort of benefitted from the things she had to do like learn sign language, have speech therapy. And it drew us together. My mum tried to make it a game so that she wouldn’t feel left out and so that she wouldn’t feel like she had to be different so everything she did I had to do as well.
Kat: I suppose, even as her younger sibling you felt fiercely protective over her, because being profoundly deaf there are challenges in life.
Erin: Yeah, absolutely. I have another sister as well, a much older sister, she’s twelve years older than me, and we’re both – well I mean we’re all very protective of each other – but I do particularly remember a few incidents where Sarah might have been teased by kids on the street and my other sister Tracey and I very much stood up for her. And some of that has actually made it into the play!
Kat: Yeah, so we’ll talk about the play in a couple of moments’ time. But I’m fascinated to know actually not only how you decided to sort of come from New Zealand because I know that you had quite a fantastic buoyant career in film and television over in New Zealand but you came, you’re based in London right now.
Erin: Yes, I’m based in London, yeah that’s right.
Kat: So was acting something that you always wanted to do? I mean did you even think that you would be pursuing life as a playwright?
Erin: No, I mean I’ve always been very interested in writing and I’ve always done very well in English and things like that, but acting was always where my heart was, and I actually grew up between New Zealand and Singapore, and in Singapore started to pursue acting at secondary school. And then I moved to Australia after I’d finished drama school in New Zealand and that’s where I started working as an actor. Mostly always focused on theatre, that’s always been my first love, but really interested in film and TV as well.
Kat: Why did you feel actually that you would like to come to London and be based here because I’d imagine there’s a lot of work in New Zealand, there’s a lot of work in Australia.
Erin: I mean there is, but it is more difficult. To make a living as an actor in Melbourne where I was living, it’s much more difficult to get your day to day….
Kat: Unless you go into a long running soap like Neighbours…..
Erin: Exactly, yes. A lot of theatre work is unpaid, a lot of very good professional actors still have a day job and work in the evenings, unpaid work. And of course that happens here but to a lesser extent. There’s a lot more work here that you can get – you know, commercials and corporate work and theatre in education, there’s lots of things that can keep actors going that we don’t have so much of in New Zealand.
Kat: How did you feel though, leaving your sister, because ultimately you were going to pursue a life of acting, the thing that you wanted to do the most, but you were leaving your sister who you were incredibly close to.
Erin: I mean it’s very difficult leaving my whole family, I’m very close to all of them, but I guess that’s always been part of – maybe it’s something to do with the New Zealand ethos – we all travel and we like to live overseas. And my mum is actually Irish so she had done the opposite when she was about my age, she had gone to live in New Zealand. So yes, very difficult and I try and get home as much as I can but I mean Sarah’s very, she’s done incredibly well in her life, she’s very independent, she has a wonderful job and family so I knew that I wasn’t leaving her to be alone or anything like that.
Kat: So, with this idea, because I imagine it’s always been in the back of your mind, having a profoundly deaf sister, that there isn’t then the accessibility for a profoundly deaf person so go to the theatre, with their family, friends, loved ones etc and enjoy and have the same experience as a hearing person.
Erin: Yes, absolutely. And interestingly enough, it didn’t occur to me how much it should be happening until I moved over here because I think that Britain is a little bit ahead in that I had never seen an interpreted performance before I came over here. I had seen some captioned performances but I think the culture of that is a bit more advanced over here. So once I’d seen that there are a few companies making that sort of work it really hit home to me –
Kat: - but there are only a few –
Erin: - only a few, only a handful. I mean, it’s improving, it’s certainly improving because I know the Arts Council is really encouraging people to think more about accessibility but there’s still only a handful of us that are making work that’s absolutely on an equal basis for Deaf and hearing audiences, so they might not have the same experience but it will be equal. There’s a lot of companies who are really doing their best to make their work accessible but that really happens at the end of the process rather than as part of the artistic –
Kat: And how do you do that? How do you make it accessible for all?
Erin: So we use lots of different means. We have lots of video projections in the piece. We’ve worked with a Deaf filmmaker called Samuel Dore and he worked with our hearing soundscape artist to create visuals that represent sound to him in either a literal or an abstract way. We have creative captions that try to represent the tone and emotion of what is being said rather than just the content. And we do integrate sign language into the piece as well. So there’s quite a few different things going on but they’re all used to tell the story as well as to provide accessibility.
Kat: And we’ll hear more about the play actually, because it’s on for one night only at the Old Fire Station tomorrow night but we’ll talk about the story. And I suppose it’s a celebration, a tribute to your sister, a celebration of her and family I should imagine, but we’ll hear more in just a couple of moments time. My guest in the studio, Erin Siobhan Hutching who has written a play, which as I say we’ll hear about, an amazing tribute to her profoundly Deaf sister, which is on at the OFS tomorrow night for one night only! We’ll hear more from Erin in just one moment.
Kat: It’s BBC radio Oxford and a very good morning to you. My guest in the studio is Erin Siobhan Hutching and she’s an actor and she’s also brought a play, which I think is an incredible tribute actually, to her profoundly deaf sister who resides actually in New Zealand. But she’s bringing it to the Old Fire Station in Oxford for one night only tomorrow night. But the great thing about this is, it’s not only a tribute to a sister and a celebration of her life and I would imagine, the challenges that she’s gone through, but this is accessible to a Deaf audience as well.
Erin: It is. It’s accessible to Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing so we really want to welcome everybody into the space and have them have an equal experience.
Kat: Is this something that you want to specialise in?
Erin: Yes, and I didn’t know that it was, but once I found The DH Ensemble which is this most incredible company. They started working in 2013 with the Royal Shakespeare Company actually doing a week long project exploring how you can translate Shakespeare’s text into sign language, so that was before I joined the company –
Kat: That must be very difficult!
Erin: Well, we’re actually currently working on a production of Macbeth and it is very difficult! (They laugh) Because there’s so much depth to the language. So trying to translate that into a visual language is very interesting and time consuming.
Kat: So what about the story then, of this particular play?
Erin: So when I started writing it, it started off as a series of vignettes about Deafness, the Deaf world, and different characters, and as time went on, I did a lot of research, I talked to lots of people, I interviewed my family and lots of other people who had experienced similar stories and it sort of started to come together as a more cohesive narrative about a family. And then finally, once I’d found The DH Ensemble, and started workshopping it with another actor, a Deaf actor, so there’s two of us in it, it finally got to the point where the director said you know, “This is autobiographical. It’s about your family. I think it’s really important that you own that.” So that’s how the play starts, I say, “This is about my family.”
Kat: Interesting as well, interviewing your family, because sometimes things are said in that kind of process, in those kind of moments, that you’ve never considered before, perhaps you’ve never heard your family say before.
Erin: Yeah. It’s very interesting talking to my mum, because we have a very close relationship and she’s always been very open with me but there’s certain things that I’d never thought to ask her, and finding out how she’d felt….
Kat: What were those things? And what were her answers?
Erin: I mean, she’d never met a deaf person before. She’d recently moved to New Zealand, with my Dad, because she’s Irish, and she didn’t have much of a support network in New Zealand and she had never met a deaf person before, she didn’t know anything about it, and she was told by the doctor not to learn sign language because that was common advice that they told people in those days. But fortunately she was also given advice that she should learn it, and she went and independently explored that because she thought, well I really need have a way to communicate with my child. But for her and my father it was a whole new world that they had never had anything to do with before, and they really sort of struggled to find the right information, they didn’t have the internet back then, to find support networks.
Kat: And even once they’d got that diagnosis, because you said your sister was diagnosed at 18 months, which is very, very late on, considering the kind of processes, the hearing tests that we have in hospitals today, certainly here in Oxfordshire, it seems a very very long slog and a struggle to try and get your baby diagnosed!
Erin: Yes, they told me stories about how they used to – they had suspected something was wrong, they thought that perhaps she was autistic, or that maybe she was deaf, they didn’t know but they noticed that she wasn’t responding and she wasn’t talking and she wasn’t really making sounds, so they would run up behind her and bang things together. My dad is this very sort of tall, gangly man and I can just picture him with saucepans, running up behind this baby and it is sort of quite funny when you think about it, but that was how little they were taken seriously by the doctors that they had to keep doing that themselves. And they really noticed that she didn’t respond to fireworks, and she didn’t notice when there were lots of loud sounds. But they would have a nurse come around just to check on the babies as they did in those days and Sarah was very alert so she’d turn around and look at her so the nurse said, oh, she’s fine, but eventually they managed to get the tests done and the doctor was mortified to realise that not only is she deaf, she’s profoundly deaf.
Kat: So, for people who are going to come and see People of the Eye at the Old Fire Station tomorrow night, of course it will be – the fantastic thing is that it’s accessible as we said for a Deaf audience as well as for an audience that have their hearing, but what do you hope that people will take away – what message? Is there a message that you would like people to take away?
Erin: I mean, what I would really like people to take away – it’s not necessarily an easy watch, it does explore ideas of isolation, but it does also explore the flip side of that, the connection that can be made and the relationship that my sister and I have, and our family has, because of these difficulties that we’ve experienced, and the celebration of Deaf culture. So I think I would hope if they’ve never met a deaf person before or they’ve never experienced sign language that this will be an introduction. We’re not trying to be preachy or educational but a lot of people have told us that it is absolutely fascinating to them, that they didn’t know that there is this whole world out there, that actually is a culture, not a disability. And that they might just have a little bit more empathy as they go about their everyday lives.
Kat: That’s a nice way of thinking about it, isn’t it? As a culture, not a disability. And I would imagine that when you get good feedback about this particular play that has been something that you’ve done with love, as a tribute – what’s your sister called, by the way?
Kat: As a tribute to Sarah, so when you get positive feedback that’s fantastic. But I would imagine that the feedback that you got from your sister meant the most to you. What’s she said about it? Has she seen it?
Erin: Well, she hasn’t been able to see it live because she’s in New Zealand with her young family now so she can’t make it over here, but she has seen video recordings of all the stages along the way, and I will be sending her the one of this leg of the tour because the show changes all the time. And I think she’s found it – she says she’s really proud of me. She’s not a theatre person herself not having had a lot of opportunities to go to theatre growing up but I think she’s really pleased that we’re sharing this message and she’s really excited by the idea that hopefully people will be learning a bit more about Deaf identity.
Kat: Well, I really do hope it’s a full house for you tomorrow at the Old Fire Station.
Erin: Thank you very much.
Kat: So, people can get tickets on the door, still a few available?
Erin: Yes, I think they can still get tickets on the door and they can book online through the Old Fire station website as well.
Kat: So, People of the Eye starts, when do people have to be in their seats?
Erin: Well, it is half past 7, so I think in their seats by 25 past would be nice.
Kat: Well it’s lovely to meet you, thank you very much indeed for coming in.
Erin: Thank you so much for having me.
Kat: And good luck with it – because this is the last date for the leg of this particular tour but then you’re off on tour with it.
Erin: Yes, we’re off on tour with it next year, off to Nottingham and a few other venues but this is the last one for 2017.
Kat: Erin, thank you very much indeed. Nice to meet you.