Ali Briggs, who is a Deaf actress well known for playing the role of Emily’s niece in Coronation Street, is the Agent for Change working at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Her role has been funded by the ambitious Ramps on the Moon project, which brings together a number of theatres with the aim of creating performances including Deaf and disabled actors and creatives. Charlie Swinbourne talked to her about her role.
Tell me what your role involves?
My role is to influence chance in West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP), in order to increase the number of Deaf and disabled actors on the stage, in the audience and working in the industry, including backstage, technical, marketing department and front of house.
At the moment we have two Deaf people working at WYP; me as Agent for Change and Ian who works in the catering department.
How has it gone so far?
Since my work began here, it has been a very positive experience and change has been happening in so many different areas.
For example; we have set up a Deaf and disabled user group who feedback on their visit to the theatre. This was really useful after Ramps on the Moon’s first production, ‘Government Inspector’.
We have made links with local schools and a group of Deaf children came for a tour of the theatre and a workshop which was very successful. The children had not met each other before as they are in mainstream schools, it was a great way for them to come together and meet and for them to experience interpreted/captioned shows.
It also greatly benefited them by seeing a Deaf person/role model run the workshop. I am also on WYP website, giving a brief introduction in BSL of each play that is interpreted this season.
Are you aiming to bring more deaf and disabled actors into the theatre?
Yes! We are holding open auditions for local Deaf and disabled actors, which will be a fantastic opportunity for the actors to meet the Artistic Directors of both WYP and Crucible Sheffield and also for the Directors to meet talented and experienced Deaf and disabled actors. Hopefully this could then lead to more mainstream theatre acting work for Deaf and disabled actors.
Do you think it is possible for an accessible play to appeal to all audiences?
Ramps on the Moon first production ‘Government Inspector’ Proved that it is possible , it had sign language interpreters, captioning, live audio description, an integrated cast with Deaf and disabled actors and was well received by the audience.
What kinds of links are you building with the local community?
Having previously worked in Leeds, it has been really nice to re-connect, I used to be part of the Deaf drama group and recently met up with many of the old members.
A group of them are coming to see our Christmas show Strictly Ballroom; which promises to be a dazzle of sequins, dancing and dresses. I am keen to develop new audiences and hope that by working more closely with schools that Deaf children attend, they will be inspired to come and see theatre and join in theatre activities, hence, develop actors and creatives of the future.
What are your plans for the future?
The second Ramps on the Moon show ‘Tommy’ will be arriving at the WYP at the beginning of May.
This show is a musical with a large integrated cast. I am hoping to make links with Music and the Deaf in Halifax, with a possibility of developing a project with young Deaf musicians.
I believe this is a fantastic opportunity for me to be working at the WYP in the capacity of Agent for Change. Having a Deaf person actually working in the theatre actually highlights the barriers we face and definitely helps to break them down!
Simply because I am a person, a member of the team and not just a box to be ticked.
If there are any Deaf creatives out there in the north, who would like to help Ali influence that change, please contact her at email@example.com
Find out about Accessible shows at West Yorkshire Playhouse by clicking here.
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