Martin McLean: Attracting an audience to Deaf theatre

Posted on October 16, 2012

Martin McLean is Deafinitely Theatre’s Project Manager. One of his responsibilities is to lead on the marketing campaigns for the company’s productions. Here he talks about the challenge of bringing in audiences for Deafinitely Theatre’s productions.

Recently Deafinitely Theatre has been really busy working on our latest production, Tanika’s Journey.

It tells the story of a young woman halfway through a dangerous journey from her native Sri Lanka through the forests of the Ukraine. There has been a great response so far with some fantastic praise from the critics.

Every time I watch a Deafinitely production I always take a good look at the audience around me. Who are they and where have they come from? I usually see lots of familiar faces from the Deaf community, interpreters and BSL learners. But what about those who have no or little connection with deaf people and just want to enjoy a night out at the theatre?

Attracting a mainstream theatre audience has always been a challenge for the company. Deaf theatre has typically been a bit of a niche and has received little exposure outside of the Deaf world.

Some of you might ask why should we bother worrying about hearing audiences – after all, there is plenty of theatre out there for them. I feel that would be the wrong attitude. As the leading Deaf theatre company in the UK we have a responsibility to showcase Deaf acting talent to the wider world and to help raise the profile of British Sign Language. We cannot do this by producing theatre solely for Deaf audiences.

Deafinitely Theatre’s work has always been accessible for hearing audiences. Previously the company has made use of voice-overs/BSL interpretation and captions to make dialogue understandable. This can have the disadvantage of being visually distracting and laborious for audiences not used to this. Additionally the company created plays around Deaf issues, which your everyday theatre audience struggled to relate to.

Nadia Nadarajah in Tanika’s Journey.

This year’s productions (such as Love’s Labour’s Lost, Tanika’s Journey) have been different. Our fabulous creative team (Artistic Director, Paula Garfield, Creative Interpreter Kate Furby and Literary Associate Andrew Muir) have moved towards creating a much more visual and physical style of theatre, so visual that captions/voice-over (in Love’s Labour’s Lost for example) are only required at occasional moments through the play for clarification.

The future is bright. The response to this year’s plays has been amazing and the company is now being recognised within the theatre industry for the quality and uniqueness of its work. This is what will widen our audiences.

Its not going to happen overnight, it will take time, maybe years but it’s a dream of mine that one day Deafinitely Theatre’s plays will become ‘must-sees’ with the theatre-going public in the same way as companies such as Complicite and Frantic Assembly. Watch this space!

Tanika’s Journey will be performed at Southwark Playhouse until this Saturday 20th October. Don’t miss it! For information about tickets, click here:

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, the Deaf training and consultancy Deafworks, the RAD Deaf Law Centre, and BID’s upcoming 5th anniversary performance by Ramesh Meyyappan on 12th October – don’t miss it!

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