ERIN: This is the first time that our company, and we specialise in work for deaf and hearing audiences, it’s the first time that we have made a children’s show. One that specifically welcomes in hearing children as well as children who are deaf and hard of hearing. And hopefully in the next stage of development we’ll be able to welcome in children with all sorts of disabilities. The book itself is an American book, so we’re doing an international collaboration with a New York artist. A lot of people here in the UK haven’t heard of the book, but it's very successful over in the US. It's all about identity - it’s the story of a little sheep who finds herself in a world where every day is the same, and she's a little bit bored until one day she sees an orange balloon in the sky, and realises that something inside her wakes up and that’s what she wants to be. So it’s all about being who you want to be, discovering who you are, and not letting anyone tell you that you can’t.
JIMMY: This sounds lovely. I’m fascinated that you are a company that is set up especially to help those that are deaf or hard of hearing. What prompted you to do that?
ERIN: Well, we all come from different backgrounds. So in the company there are four of us who lead - Lead Artists - but we work with a wide range of freelance artists from all sorts of backgrounds. Two of the artists that lead the company are deaf - and the other two are not. I myself am not deaf, but my sister is, so I grew up using sign language. I got into mainstream acting about 10 years ago, and when I came into contact with The DH ensemble it was the first opportunity that I had to use sign language in my acting work. So the ethos of the company is to make really high quality professional work. We actually came out of a project with the Royal Shakespeare Company, last year we did a project with the National Theatre, but we want to be able to spread the word that deaf artists and sign language users are able to make work that is just as interesting, with as much depth and creativity as anybody else. So that's where we’ve come from. We’ve been around for about 5 years, making different kinds of work all around the country.
JIMMY: Well I think it’s brilliant, the more inclusive we can be as a nation the better.
JIMMY: Now you hear of signers that have taken to concerts recently, we had them at Download last year for the first time, Ed Sheeran has had them on his concerts, Beyonce - in terms of the world of theatre, are there many other people doing this?
ERIN: There are some companies and it is something that people are more and more interested in - for a while there has been an idea of providing a sign language interpreter who would stand on the side of the stage, similar to how you would have at one of those concerts, providing the access. But companies like ours want to make sign language and the access part of the whole production itself, so part of the very fabric of the work, so it’s not just something that gets added on at the end. So we really respect wonderful companies like Graeae Theatre Company, who make work with deaf and disabled artists, and have been around for a long time, and that’s the type of work that we want to emulate, and to take even further in our own direction with our own stamp on it. We’ve seen a proliferation of really cool work with lots of different sign language elements to it - it does seem to be something that people are becoming more and more interested in at the moment, which is great for us.
JIMMY: And how does it change the dynamic in terms of your acting or potentially a storyline - are there bolder movements, do you have to do things slower. How does it work?
ERIN: That’s a really interesting question. It does - one thing that I find working with sign language is you have to be incredibly clear about what you’re doing. So our last project that we’re also developing alongside this is a version of Macbeth - a bilingual version where there is a deaf and hearing actor playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. You have to be incredibly sure about the meaning of what you’re saying - sometimes when people perform Shakespeare they aren’t - and they sort of like to leave it a bit vague - but when you translate something into sign language you have to absolutely decide because it’s such specific visual language, what is it that I’m saying? Because everybody is going to be able to see what you have decided that meaning is. So that allows for a lot of creativity - but it also does mean that everybody in the room has to have a lot of clarity around what the narrative is - what the character’s saying - so for me I find that quite empowering as a performer.
JIMMY: You're helping people - which I think’s great - we mentioned the word being inclusive earlier on - so I wonder what the reaction has been like for you?
ERIN: It’s been great actually - particularly for this show. It’s so lovely having young audiences along. We find that of course it’s absolutely brilliant to have deaf actors on stage who are role models for young deaf children, who might not have ever seen a deaf performer on stage before, but we’re also having really wonderful reactions from children who aren't deaf, because there is something that I find children are drawn to sign language because it’s so visual, and so much fun for them to watch. So yeah, we've just been having the most gorgeous reactions to this show, and we hope that we can get lots more children and their families to see it.
JIMMY: And talking about being inclusive we have pre recorded this interview so that we can then transcribe it for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Which again I think is great. I mean why not?
ERIN: Absolutely. We do a lot of radio interviews but we also want to make sure our work is accessible, all of our promotion is accessible to all our audiences as well. So why not? You might think “oh well the radio is not for a deaf person” but that doesn't have to be the case, you can still read the content of the interview.
JIMMY: Absolutely. And we just have those discussions don’t we, that’s the thing about it. When we talked about us talking together today we said “well we’ll record it” because then that means it can be transcribed. And that’s all it is, it’s being adult about these things, it’s having conversation, and it’s being as inclusive as possible.
ERIN: And it’s so wonderful to have people who are receptive to that because sometimes people aren’t, and you ask “oh is it possible to make some accommodations in order to make this accessible” and then there are a lot of barriers. So it's really nice when you ask the question and people are like “oh yeah of course!”
JIMMY: Now if anybody wants to come and witness Erin and her wonderful work, then you can go to the Attenborough Arts Centre on Sunday 12th May. Thank you so much for your time Erin, I think what you’re doing is absolutely fantastic work.
ERIN:Thank you so much, it’s been lovely to talk to you.
Mathilda and the Orange Balloon tours until 25th May - details here