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Deaf and hearing theatre company take new show on tour in Aotearoa

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A new, bilingual devised theatre production, Where Our Shadows Meet, by Equal Voices Arts goes to Circa Theatre (15th - 19th February) and Carterton Events Centre (20th February) in February 2022, before heading to Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival (24th February), on a mini tour supported by Creative New Zealand.

Created by award-winning Deaf and hearing company theatre company Equal Voices Arts, the piece has been devised by an international Deaf and hearing creative team, and is performed in both New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) and English, making it accessible to both D/deaf and hearing audiences without the need for formal interpretation.

Where Our Shadows Meet is a spirited story about a father and a daughter who do not share the same language. Exploring family, love, loss, language and communication, the story is told with physical storytelling, live music and an exciting fusion of languages on stage side by side.

Director Haughey explains: The piece is performed with no formal interpretation between languages and so it explores the creative possibilities in making theatre accessible for diverse audiences’.

The piece brings together an international team of Deaf and hearing artists from Aotearoa and the UK. Alongside many theatre companies developing work during the pandemic, Equal Voices Arts had to get creative in its approach to working internationally during a time when international travel was not possible. The team worked early in rehearsal with their Sign Dance Theatre expert Denise Armstrong joining via zoom from the UK. Denise is a Deaf artist with 35 years experience creating Sign Dance Theatre, and she worked alongside hearing director Laura Haughey and the performers to develop the choreography and movement vocabulary for the piece which was inspired by NZSL. The piece was devised collaboratively by the Deaf and hearing team, who all worked closely with NZSL Creative Consultant Rachel Turner to ensure all language choices for the piece were rooted in NZSL and made by a first language NZSL user.

Rachel says the company always starts the devising process working with the body and NZSL as the primary language in the rehearsal space. "That way, as the main language in the space is NZSL, the company’s work is firmly rooted in Deaf culture. As the first language user, I work with Laura to explore how NZSL inspires the physical score and the choreography for our work. Our work is very movement focussed, so we've developed a theatrical language that's a fusion of physical theatre, dance and NZSL."

Laura says the company enjoys creating a shared space accessible to both Deaf and hearing people, and bringing communities together.

She explains: ‘We place NZSL on stage with spoken English with equal status. In all our productions, NZSL and English are not directly translated but they’re given the same priority on stage. So we say they’re explored on an equal, although not identical, basis. Not everything that is signed is spoken, not everything that is spoken is signed but overall, the dramaturgy weaves together to provide an accessible experience for both Deaf and hearing audiences. That way, we can play with the narratives for each community, whilst simultaneously respecting their very different cultural experiences and diversity. We also enjoy creating a shared communicative space where communities can come together.

Rachel adds, ‘we feel that this placement of languages also puts forward a strong political statement of equality.’

Where Our Shadows Meet, introduces newcomer Thora Hübner to national stages in Aotearoa. Thora joined an actor training workshop led by the company in 2019, and quickly impressed with her natural talent and the way she incorporates NZSL into her movement repertoire. Thora co-devised

‘Where Our Shadows Meet’ with the creative team which also includes award-winning hearing actors Mihailo Ladevac and Cian Parker with live music by Dr. Jeremy Mayall. The partnership between Deaf and hearing collaborators is key to the company’s devising process and the way they make work.

All tour information is available in NZSL from the Equal Voices Arts website.

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