Recently we visited Stamford Arts Centre with our play People of the Eye. Ahead of the show, writer/performer Erin Siobhan Hutching was interviewed by Carla Greene from BBC radio Lincolnshire (TRANSCRIPT BELOW)
To listen, jump to 2:11:11
WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:
Carla: Now our next guest is part of the DH Ensemble (Deaf & Hearing Ensemble) and has written a play People of the Eye inspired by true life events, coming to Stamford later this week. It’s already had a very successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of Northern Stage’s program at Summerhall in 2016 and Erin Hutching wrote the play inspired by true life events and joins me now. Good afternoon Erin.
Erin: Hello Carla, how are you?
Carla: I’m well thank you, how are you?
Erin: I’m very well, thanks for having me.
Carla: No problem at all. First of all, I mean this is really interesting, what I’ve been reading about this – the story you’ve written is inspired by your own life, really, isn’t it? So just tell us a bit more about the story behind it.
Erin: Yeah, sure. So, People of the Eye is based on my family’s experiences when my sister was born deaf, and it is about how my parents, you know, for a couple of years had suspicions that something was amiss but were told by doctors that everything was fine. They were eventually told that she was deaf and then were told not to learn sign language because that was common advice given in those days which fortunately they disregarded. And we all learnt sign language and as a family it’s about what that gave us and the relationship that my sister and I have which is strengthened by having this, sort of, special bond. And, yeah, the play itself – I went back to New Zealand a few years ago to my sister’s wedding which was an incredible celebration interpreted by this sign language interpreter. It was attended by Deaf and hearing. And it was the first time that I’d really seen my family come together in that way and that I realised the performative beauty of sign language and I thought that it’s strange that I’m a theatre maker and for all this time I’ve never thought about putting sign language into it. So that was where the inspiration came from.
Carla: And you say that the advice given to your family at the time was not to learn sign language. Why was that?
Erin: Well they used to think that learning sign language would interfere with a child’s ability to learn to speak, which current studies have disproved because being bilingual, whether it’s a spoken language or a visual language is beneficial to anybody. And, in fact, there’s been studies recently that really show that having a visual language improves cognitive function, as well as having a spoken language. But it’s actually still advice given today to some parents who have cochlear implants for their children, partially because the amount of rehabilitation that is required to learn to hear with a cochlear implant is quite a lot, there’s a lot of work that needs to go into it, so there are concerns that being able to use sign language would distract from that. But that’s not been my experience and many of the children that I know who have cochlear implants who have both languages have really benefited from it. It’s really an individual choice and I would never presume to tell anybody what they should do, but that’s just been my family’s experience.
Carla: And what was it about life growing up under those circumstances that made you put pen to paper and write about this?
Erin: Well I think what, sort of, made me realise that it would be a fascinating story to watch is this idea of the relationship that developed between my sister and I when I had to interpret for her a lot. We also had our own secret sign language. It sort of really gave us a very close bond. But also there were many struggles and frustrations because being deaf can be quite isolating especially in social situations, extended family situations or at school, things like that. And having witnessed that, that really gave me a degree of empathy for that experience as well as the fact that I benefitted so much from having knowledge of Deaf culture and sign language that I sort of felt like I wanted to do something to kind of, I guess, give something back and really tell the world what an amazing culture it is.
Carla: And what was your sister, Sarah is her name isn’t it….
Erin: Yeah, Sarah.
Carla: What was her reaction?
Erin: (laughs) Well, you know she’s very proud of me and she’s happy but she’s not into theatre at all so to her she sort of thinks that I do, I don’t know what she thinks I do really (both laugh), I think she thinks it’s all quite weird! So, yeah, she’s been very supportive but she’s a very sort of straight-laced, quite direct person so when I tried to ask her lots of in-depth questions about our childhood and what it felt like to be deaf, she was just sort of like, “I don’t know, I’m deaf, what else can I say?” But I think she’s quite pleased about it.
Carla: And you’re originally from New Zealand. Are you still based there or have you moved over here?
Erin: No, I’m based in London now, so I was really lucky to come over here and meet a company called The DH Ensemble (The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble) who were really interested in making this play with me. And I’d already been based in London for about two or three years at that point. So yeah, I’ve got an English partner now so we’ll see….but this is home at the moment.
Carla: It’s interesting that you said that even though you grew up of course with your sister and formed those relationships with your sister because she was deaf and you were interpreting for her, it’s interesting that you haven’t thought to either do something like this before or have sign, people doing sign language, using sign language, at your performances. Do you think that says something about society in general?
Erin: Absolutely. I mean, for me, I lived in, obviously New Zealand and then I lived in Australia for a while before I came here, and I’d never seen an interpreted performance. I’d never met a theatre company that had deaf actors in it. It was just something that I had absolutely never come across. And it was actually coming over to England where I think things are a little bit further ahead, that I became aware that that is something that is available and that you can have sign language interpreted performances. And that there are a few companies here who are doing really interesting work with Deaf actors and integrating sign language and I was just so excited by that. And I thought that this is something I really want to be part of. But it’s still quite new and in fact, we’re probably one of the only professional companies that makes work that’s really targeted at Deaf and hearing audiences equally and tries to bring an equal experience to both of those audiences but also recognises that the means of access, the captions and the sign language, can actually be a really intrinsic part of the art, of the artistic experience. And that if you start from that as a starting point, what you can make is really fascinating for both Deaf and hearing audiences.
Carla: Well thank you very much for chatting this afternoon. It’s really interesting what you’re saying and we’ll look forward to having the play here. It’s at Stamford Arts Centre on the 20th of November. So we’ll look forward to that.
Erin: It is. We're very excited. Thank you very much.
Carla: Thank you.