As a child, it was a puppet show that first fired Edinburgh-born actor/ director Kinny Gardner’s love of theatre and opera.
Now based in Brighton, where he runs the acclaimed children’s theatre company Krazy Kat, the 53-year-old recalls that a glimpse backstage was a life- changing experience, and one that introduced him to the world of the arts. But his creations bear one striking difference to those he watched as a child, or indeed any other children’s theatre company working in the UK today – Krazy Kat productions use Sign Language, not English, as their first language.
[Image from Krazy Kat’s production of The Tempest]
Krazy Kat is hearing led but Deaf directed. A successful working combination of hearing Artistic Director Kinny Gardner and Deaf Theatre Director Caroline Parker M.B.E.has led to a distinctive, ambitious and high quality style of integrated Sign Language Arts. This has attracted artists to the company who seek to reflect the ‘lived experience’ of Deaf and hard of hearing children and young people.
Kinny first became involved in working with Deaf children and their peers in 1979, when he joined the Scottish Mime Theatre. However, due to political constraints at the time the company was not encouraged to use sign language, which frustrated Kinny who has a Deaf nephew. He soon developed a great interest in developments within theatre for the Deaf.
“As well as singing, I also trained as a mime artist and as a dancer – I spent 22 years working with Lindsay Kemp – so my initial impetus into the theatre was always a visual one – the spoken language was not important. But, as I couldn’t talk/ sign to the young people afterwards to get their feedback. I could see there was a lot I was missing out on. Over the years my work at Krazy Kat has developed to the point where we now work with Deaf directors, Deaf actors and have Deaf advisors. Although I was very Deaf- aware when we started the company I still had to go and take proper training.”
Kinny has worked hard to learn his sign language Pre- Level 3, which has become such an integral part of all his work, and his lifestyle. “There is no-one else in the U.K. doing what we do full-time,” he says proudly. “We have created a style where sign language is the first language, making our work profoundly SLA – Sign Language Arts. In recognition of this, we receive financial investment from Arts Council England and from The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, as well as other charities who want to promote the inclusion that we strive for”.
Seeing the reaction of his audiences is, for Kinny, more satisfying than appearing on the West End stage or in grand Opera Houses. “I love watching Deaf children get the same show as their hearing friend or their hearing brother or sister. They get the same laughs because it’s not about the language, it’s about the visual. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, developing the sign language, developing the visual side of the work. “
“What can we do next? That’s the feedback we get from a lot of Deaf parents who are just delighted to watch all the children seeing the same show.”
Krazy Kat are one of the supporters of this site. To find out more about them and their upcoming tour between 26th April and 2nd June this year, go to http://www.krazykattheatre.co.uk/
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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