Charlie Swinbourne: How Deafinitely Theatre helped me become a scriptwriter (and how you can see my latest play at their 4Play showcase this week!)

Posted on April 29, 2013



One day in 2006, I struck up a conversation with Deafinitely Theatre’s Artistic Director Paula Garfield at Deaf Day in Covent Garden.

That one chat, lasting only five minutes or so, was my first step into scriptwriting, because afterwards, with Paula’s encouragement, I went on to join Deafinitely Theatre’s scriptwriting group.

I remember arriving for my first workshop feeling a bit nervous, wondering whether the fact that I had no ideas would be a problem.

But after writing (and performing in) a scene where two deaf men tried in vain to sign to one another while standing at a urinal (!) I started to enjoy myself.

For me, the workshops were invaluable because they gave me the chance to try out my writing on unsuspecting Deaf actors. It was a safe, supportive environment where you could get it wrong before getting it, well, if I’m honest, a little less wrong!

Being part of the writing groups gave me my start: I went on to write my first short play, then a longer play, then a number of short films too. In short, I have a lot to thank Deafinitely for.

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Jeni Draper directing a scene from ‘Mine,’ with Deaf actor John Wilson

In the years since, many other Deaf writers have made their first steps in writing drama through the scheme. And last year, the company gave those of us who have participated in the past the chance to apply to come back and write another short play as part of 4Play 2013.

I was lucky enough to be chosen, along with three other writers: Matthew Gurney (who is also a well known and very talented Deaf actor), Aliya Gulamani (who was a member of the Royal Court’s prestigious Young Writers scheme) and Lianne Herbert (who, after writing her first play for last year’s showcase, is now also writing a full length play for the company).

We’ve all been meeting up for workshops once or twice a month since September, developing our scripts with Andrew Muir, who is Deafinitely’s scriptwriting guru (interestingly, his sign name is ‘cutting’ because he is always cutting everyone’s lines!).

In one workshop, Matthew Gurney left us all open mouthed when he told us a real-life story involving firearms that we have all been sworn to secrecy about. If his play has half the drama of that story, it’ll be a classic.

We also wrote a play in an afternoon after visiting the London Museum and finding out all about London’s illegal trade in human bodies in olden times. Our resulting scripts were, it must be said, a tad gory.

Finally, after a lot of discussion, research, feedback, and long nights in front of a laptop, our plays are ready to be performed.

My play is called Mine, and last week, I had the pleasure of watching director Jeni Draper put the actors Jean St Clair, John Wilson and Chris Kelham through their paces.

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Jean St Clair and Chris Kelham in a scene from ‘Mine’

After months of imagining and tweaking scenes, so that they (hopefully) add up to a coherent story, there is something very special about seeing your script come to life before your very eyes.

What’s Mine about? All I can say is it’s about a Deaf woman and a hearing man who are meeting for the first time. Why are they meeting? You’ll have to watch it to find out!

The other three plays are called En-Route (by Matthew Gurney), Buddha Knows (Aliya Gulamani) and The Door (Lianne Herbert).

I haven’t seen the plays performed on stage yet, but I know from our workshops that the ideas behind them are fascinating and original. As well as being written by three incredibly talented deaf writers, they have brilliant directors behind them in Daryl Jackson, Paula Garfield and Ramesh Meyyappan. I can’t wait to see them and find out what their ideas became.

So, if you’re around London this week, then why not come to Finsbury Park’s brand new Park Theatre to see four short plays by four deaf playwrights?

You might just see a story you’ll never forget.

Tickets cost £10 and can be booked online via the Park Theatre website or by phone on 0207 870 6876. (Please note: Friday is already sold out!)

The performances are accessible in BSL and spoken English for Deaf and hearing people.

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