Visit: MerseySign Culture Weekend in Liverpool!

Posted on May 29, 2013

By Barry Avison, organiser

Why are we planning a Deaf culture festival in Liverpool? Well, there has always been an undercurrent of culture in Liverpool. There is a festival of some sort happening almost weekly. One famous one is the Matthew Street Festival, others include Biennial (avant-garde visual arts), Homotopia and so on.

Maybe it’s because Liverpool is a city on the edge of the UK and looks outwards overseas? The city embraces a unique cultural identity far removed from the rest of the country. Being a port city, it welcomes different cultures and prides itself as a “world in one city.”

Speak to elderly people from Liverpool Deaf Community, and they will tell you where their sign language came from. It is borrowed from all parts of the country and evolving still.

The old “Liverpool” sign used to be “Hungry” due to the influx of Irish Families after the potato famine and now it is “International L” – waved at the side of the head.

The Merseyside Deaf Centre building used to be a school. Inside, there is a hall, complete with a full size stage. So, naturally, there is this urge to perform.


Evolving from pantomimes and Christmas shows, the drama group began parodies of films such as the Rock Horror Show became “The Rocky Deaf Horror School Reunion” with Miss B Dale (or was it really Mr B Dale?) turning out pupils devoid of personalities and speaking orally. Another was a take of the Blues Brothers called “The Deaf Brothers” on a mission to save the Deaf Centre.

The drama group became known as MerseySign Deaf Theatre. New plays were being developed looking at Deaf History, and were performed were part of the DaDaFest (Disability and Deaf Arts Festival).

This festival has grown into an International focused biennial event. Only high quality artists are commissioned or booked. So, in a bit of a limbo, a group was created to look at organising our own festival, hence the first MerseySign Culture Weekend!

Liverpool has a wealth of Deaf History, in education and the setting up of a Deaf-led Deaf Society (150th Anniversary next year!). The National Museum Liverpool has kindly agreed to let us use their lecture theatre. They are also keen to hear from our Deaf Historian, Tony Boyce about our history.

The management has agreed to let us do a slide show of visual arts created by Deaf Artists. On the following day, there will be films created by Deaf film makers. We have invited a group from North Wales, who were a hit during their Christmas show in Llandudno. And the Deaf Improv Comedy team, who have been wowing audiences across the UK, will be here! The aim is to encourage Deaf people to be creative and perhaps make new work for the next festival!

merseysign1And MerseySign Theatre? They will be doing there trademark Deaf History piece with a bit of dark comedy based on a fictional Royal Commissioner`s visit to Liverpool to investigate the impact of the community after sign language was banned in a Teacher for the Deaf Conference in Milan 1880.

Right in the middle of the weekend is the Hands On – Deaf Arts Leader`s Network “Finding Your Spotlight” Seminar. It is aimed at Deaf Arts Leaders and open to Deaf Community Leaders who are developing their leadership skills and looking for support in their endeavours.

Deepa Shastri will Chair and speak about her experiences. Also, there are two distinguished speakers, Craig Crowley, CEO of Action Deafness and also President of the Deaflympics and Maggie Hampton, Strategic Director of Arts Disability Wales. All three have contrasting styles of leadership and it is a bit of a coup for Craig Crowley agreeing to attend especially as there is a Deaflympic happening in Bulgaria this summer.

Also attending are three people who attending the Hands On Leadership Sessions, discovering their leadership style and how they have developed themselves. I will speak about my experience in organising the MerseySign Culture Weekend and my leadership style, which is known as a “Polymathic” according to a person who has done some research.

The main reason why Liverpool Deaf Community is hosting this weekend festival is because next year is the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Deaf Centre. It was founded by a Deaf Scotsman called Robert Armour. It will be a learning experience to prepare for perhaps the biggest birthday party in the UK?


Friday 7 June

Deaf History Walk

Guided by Barry Kirwan (Chair of Liverpool Deaf Centre Users Group), the walk covers a route, taking in the buildings that were part of Deaf History in the UK and the stories behind them. Meeting point – FACT, Wood Street, Liverpool, L1 4DQ – 6.30pm (£2.00 – see below, Performing Arts at the Deaf Centre)

**There will be no voice-over access**

Saturday 8 June

Deaf History Talk

At the National Museum Liverpool’s Lecture Theatre, Deaf Historian, Tony Boyce from the British Deaf Historical Society will deliver a talk on the foundation of Liverpool Adult Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society, which became Merseyside Society for Deaf People. Next year, will be the 150th anniversary of this society which is believed to be the oldest Deaf-led organisation in the UK. Liverpool Museum Lecture Theatre, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EL – 10.30am (£2.00 – see below, Performing Arts at the Deaf Centre)

**There will be no voice-over access**

BSL Talk at Walker Art Gallery

The talk is written by Deaf Artist, Aaron Williamson which was commissioned by DaDaFest last year. It is a fascinating insight on the artists, and the models of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Rossetti and Hunt. Spoken by Emma Devlin of NML and signed in BSL by Leanne Morris. Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EL – 1.30pm (Free Event)

Visual Arts at Brinks Café

This café is also known as “The Deaf Café” due to a group who regularly visit every Saturday. On a screen, there will be slide shows of various visual arts, created by Deaf people. Also, you can enjoy a chat with good food and non-alcoholic drinks. Brinks Café, 15-21 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN – 11am to 3pm (Free Event)

Hands On – Finding Your Spotlight Seminar

Next door to the Brink Café is Parr Street Studios. It is a famous place for Hearing Culture and is where top groups, such as Coldplay, created their record albums. Deaf Arts Leaders will have a seminar in Studio 2, sharing their work experiences in the Arts and Cultural Sector. Guest speakers include Craig Crowley MBE, President of the Deaflymplics – Parr Street Studio 2, Parr Street,Liverpool, L1 4JN – 10.30am to 4pm (contact Barry Avison, DaDaFest)

Performing Arts at the Deaf Centre

Liverpool Deaf Centre Theatre will be hosting a Performing Arts Evening. It could be the last ever time as it is possible the building may be demolished, thus making way for a new Deaf Centre. MerseySign Theatre will perform a piece based on a fictional Liverpool Deaf Community’s reaction to the visit by a Royal Commissioner at the aftermath of a conference in Milan that recommended that Sign Language should be banned in schools. Also performing is a Deaf Group from North Wales, called Dragon Sign who are bringing their comedy revue and Deaf Improv Comedy, a nationally renowned group to end the evening with fun and laughter. Merseyside Deaf Centre, Queens Drive, West Derby, Liverpool, L13 0DJ – 7.30pm (£10 – this also includes Deaf History Walk & Deaf History Talk)

**Suitable for age 12+ and there will be no voice-over access**

Sunday 9 June

Deaf Film at The Brink Café

A return to the Brink for a Sunday Brunch, watching locally produced films by Deaf people. Also it will be another chance to chat and give feedback about the weekend and perhaps plan for the next one, pooling together your ideas. Brinks Café, 15-21 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN – 11am to 3pm (Free Event)

Featured photo credit: Mark McNulty. Other photos credit: DaDa Fest.

For further information, contact Barry Avison via DaDaFest

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