Beth Williams: Why I created an accessible theatre show as part of my degree

Posted on August 5, 2016

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In May, the premiere of an accessible show, Shall We Salad?, took place at Bath Spa University.

Shall We Salad? combined contemporary choreography and words, using a script that was performed through British Sign Language, subtitled speech and written words.

I am a second year Dance and Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University and decided to use an Independent Project module to create a show accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Press 5To begin with, the whole prospect was daunting as I had never immersed myself within the deaf community before, but I was determined to achieve my goal.

Initially, I contacted the Deaf Plus charity, who have an office situated in Bath, and after agreeing to endorse the project, they helped me to find a deaf performer.

I’ll admit, I did not believe that I would receive a response and thought the whole project would be too ambitious – for example, I knew nothing of British Sign Language. But something inside me persisted, and following advertising through Facebook, I found my performer, fifteen-year-old Ciaran O’Brien (who also recently won a theatre school competition).

I conversed with Ciaran’s mother, Caroline O’Brien, via email, and was soon able to relax as I discovered that Ciaran had experience in acting and dancing, and his enthusiasm to take part was faultless. I couldn’t wait for rehearsals to begin.

Whilst creating the show, I decided to draft in a female hearing character to complement the character I had created for Ciaran, which was based on his personality. To my delight, a friend of mine, third year Drama student Honor Willis, agreed to fill the role, and we were ready to begin rehearsals.

I never anticipated how much I would learn during the rehearsal process. I discovered the exceedingly interesting deaf culture and really enjoyed learning sign language, albeit the signs for ‘from the top’, ‘again’, ‘dance’ and of course ‘salad’.

Caroline was incredible during our process and supported our communication, but during one rehearsal, she stepped back, challenging us to communicate with one another using the signs we knew, mime and pen and paper.

This was perhaps my favourite rehearsal as I think we all felt we had achieved something great as we successfully communicated our ideas.

Additionally, as someone who has danced for seventeen years, it was the calmest, quietest rehearsal I had ever experienced. The usual din of people muttering to one another – which can be really distracting when trying to concentrate – just wasn’t there.

In our penultimate rehearsal, Ciaran presented Honor and I with our sign names which we felt privileged to receive. Honor’s sign name is Star, and mine is Salad. What with Ciaran’s name being Laughter, we made rather an interesting bunch.

The premiere came and went, and Ciaran and Honor performed to a sell-out audience. I was thrilled to see the audience’s reactions of laughter and tears as I sat at the tech desk – quite a new role to me as I’m used to being on stage.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the show was watching the mixture of applause as some clapped and some waved – those who weren’t waving looked a little confused!

Through the sale of homemade refreshments, we managed to raise £50 for Deaf Plus and £50 for the Family Centre for Deaf Children, who also endorsed my project.

I couldn’t be prouder of Ciaran and Honor and cannot thank them and Caroline enough for helping me to nurture an ambitious idea into a successful event.

If you would like to read more about the creative process, please read my blog at https://shallwesaladblog.wordpress.com/, and look back to that website for updates on the show and any more possible performances.

Beth Williams is a student studying Dance and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She says: “I have danced ballet since I was three and now study contemporary dance for my degree. Through Creative Writing, I have discovered a love for writing fiction for young people and scriptwriting.  Alongside my studies, I have various casual jobs including being a student ambassador for the university, working with the university theatre and working as a supporting artist in TV and Film. I also love to help people and do so through voluntary roles including Peer Mentoring new students.”

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Posted in: Beth Williams