Erin Siobhan Hutching, writer/performer with The DH Ensemble, tells us about People of the Eye.
I first had the idea for this piece just after my sister’s wedding in 2014. My sister is Deaf and so is her husband, and the wedding was attended by Deaf and hearing people in roughly equal numbers. It was a joyous, accessible celebration supported by two sign language interpreters. A member of my extended family commented on how they felt this was the first time they had been able to really get to see her personality. They didn’t say it, but it occurred to me that this was because they couldn’t communicate directly with her.
I had told people the story of how a doctor told my parents not to learn sign language when my sister was diagnosed (common advice at the time and even today, which they fortunately disregarded) and they always found that shocking and fascinating. Sign language is so performative and beautiful but I’d never used it in performance before. It occurred to me that I had the ingredients for a really impactful piece of theatre.
Soon after, I fortuitously encountered The DH Ensemble, a company of Deaf and hearing artists whose ethos, as director Jennifer Bates says, “is that each artist has an equal voice in the rehearsal room and that the performances themselves provide an equal experiences for D/deaf and hearing audiences.” Led by Jennifer and Deaf actors Stephen Collins and Sophie Stone, the company works with many talented freelance artists. We began to work on the show, which I called People of the Eye after a quote by a famous Deaf man:
“(The deaf) are first, last, and all the time the people of the eye.”
From the beginning, we knew this piece would contain integrated sign language, creative captions and spoken English. Projection is central to the piece – aiding access whilst also adding another layer to the storytelling.
We started with a series of work in progress performances at venues including Battersea Arts Centre, The Roundhouse and Forest Fringe. In 2016, we were programmed to be part of The Yard Theatre’s prestigious NOW Festival, creating the full production which went to Northern Stage at Summerhall at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Performing at the Fringe was an exhausting, exhilarating experience. We learnt an incredible amount which allowed us to develop the piece even further. We discovered that people of all backgrounds were moved by the story, with many expressing a desire to learn sign language. We can’t wait to share it with an Oxford audience!
People of the Eye is at The Old Fire Station, 24 November at 7.30pm. Tickets: £12/£10 from www.oldfirestation.org.uk or 01865 263990.