Written Transcript of Interview:
CARSON: Really excited to talk to my new guest about something pretty special. Now go to a film, switch on your TV, or head into the theatre and you’ve got a better chance of seeing an actor with a disability then you were perhaps, I don’t know, a decade ago. That’s certainly been the goal of DH ensemble, who are formerly known as The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble. Its latest production, Mathilda and the Orange Balloon is coming to the Nottingham Playhouse later this month, featuring a cast made up of deaf and hearing actors. Really pleased to introduce you to Jennifer K Bates, she’s the woman behind the company, she created it, and also just happens to be directing this show as well. Hi!
JENNIFER: Hello there hi, thank you so much for having me for a chat.
CARSON: Absolutely our pleasure! It’s lovely to get you on. I’ve read a bit of background about this, and I’m pretty intrigued by it all. Why did you create DH Ensemble first of all?
CARSON: Well, the story goes that I had been working up in Glasgow with a theatre company called Solar Bear theatre company, and they had been making really great work with deaf young people. They were kind of at the beginning of creating a youth theatre specifically for deaf young people, that use BSL within their work, and making the work accessible for to deaf and hearing audiences. And then I pop down to London - I move down to London for various reasons - and all of a sudden there is this massif professional deaf performers and artists that are just so ready to make work, and they weren’t really having the opportunity at the that time - we’re seeing more and more opportunities yes - but there's still room for growth you know. So that was back in 2013, and I started meeting people and chatting to people, and one day we managed to get together in a rehearsal room - myself, and these deaf professionals, and other hearing artists that were interested in making accessible work, and we played. We just played and created some theatre together. And at the end of the day, we were like “Oh that was really fun! What does that mean?” And we all kind of turned to each other and said “I think this is a theatre company.” And we kept saying we need to give ourselves a better name, we can’t be called The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble - you know, it does what it says on the tin, we need a better name. But actually throughout the years, we were just like, that's what we are, and then, it’s just a bit of a mouthful really, so we shortened it the other year to just The DH ensemble. It’s kind of organically came out of just us sort of going this is a really fun thing to do, like why are we not seeing where these two cultures meet and making theatre out of that.
CARSON: It’s almost like beautiful fusion isn’t in a way. It’s great for audiences I think, but also great for the actors involved. Are more parts coming up for actors with disabilities because of this, in mainstream shows if you like.
JENNIFER: Yeah, well I think it is really important that we have more and more opportunities for deaf and disabled actors, particularly on our TV or on our main stage theatres. You know it’s really exciting actually at the moment - our Sophie Stone, who is a lead artist within The DH Ensemble - she’s actually in Emilia just now on the West End, and it’s so, you know, brilliant and exciting and important to see people, you know real people.
CARSON: Just reflecting the society you know -
JENNIFER: Absolutely! If theatre and the arts is meant to be a mirror of the world and of society, then it’s absolutely vital that we have deaf and disabled artists on our stage, telling their stories, let’s hear their stories absolutely.
CARSON: What do you say, there will be people out there who may see this advertised and think, “Oh deaf actors, I don’t want to see that” There will be people who will do that.
JENNIFER: Yeah, and to that I would say, that’s absolutely your opinion, and you’re entitled to your opinion, but come along and give it a go you know. I think, the deaf actors that we work with are absolutely exceptional, I think I choose actors to work with that I think are brilliant, it doesn’t matter if they are deaf or hearing. The guys we’re got in this show, Adam J Price, Hermon Berhane, and Mia Ward, are all absolutely beautiful performers. They bring so much to the story, so much to the characters, and if you come along, they will absolutely encapsulate you in the joy and the magic of the theatre experience - doesn’t matter if they are deaf or hearing.
CARSON: In terms of the production itself, Mathilda and the Orange Balloon, can you tell us what to expect?
JENNIFER: Yeah I can. So the gorgeous thing about Mathilda and the Orange Balloon is that it’s actually our first production for young audiences and their families. It’s adapted from a children’s book by Randall de Sève. It’s adapted with a US based writer - Jessica Kaufman - who came to The DH Ensemble with this idea for a show, but also she had been kind of excited by our theatre and what we were making in sign language and spoken English. So yeah when you come along to Mathilda and the Orange Balloon you will see three incredible performers, two of them are deaf and one of them is hearing. You will see an incredible set, created by this incredible designer named Jo. The story is about a little grey sheep called Mathilda,
CARSON: Mathilda, yes.
JENNIFER: And one day on her farm she sees an orange balloon, and she is absolutely in awe of this orange balloon, and something inside of her wakes up. And she suddenly realises that she can be an orange balloon. It’s just a beautiful story about self identity and about awakening something inside of you and not allowing other people to say “You can’t do that. You can’t be orange balloon! You are a grey sheep.” And she says “No, I can be both can’t I?”
CARSON: I love that. I love the kind of childlike view of that. I read the background to it and I was reading that premise, and the six year old boy in me came out - I though that’s nice, I wanna know, it’s the kind of thing my imagination would have cooked up at that age. And kind of the thought process - and this little grey sheep wants to know, tell me the answer, why am I grey, and why is this balloon orange. I love it. Do you know, I could talk to you all day, we’re out of time I’m so sorry. Listen I wish you all the best with it.
JENNIFER: Thank you so much.
CARSON: I know you’ve directing and created the whole darn thing as well. Best wishes with it, break a leg. Thank you very much Jennifer.
JENNIFER: Thank you, thank lovely to chat you to, bye bye.
CARSON: Jennifer K. Bates there, creator of The DH Ensemble, director of Mathilda and the Orange Balloon. It’s going to be Neville Studio by the way, if you want to go along - at Nottingham Playhouse, Saturday 11th May for your diary. Two performances to look out for, the early one is at 11 o'clock and then 1.30pm. Mathilda and the Orange Balloon, Nottingham Playhouse - a production bringing together a diverse cast of deaf and hearing actors to the stage.