Deafferrent Theatre is another emerging theatre company that is making their debut at the Melbourne Fringe Festival with Australian playwright Daniel Keene's Black Is The Colour. The difference here, and as the name might suggest, is that the performance is presented entirely in Auslan, and captioned in English. Deafferrent Theatre aims to create theatre that is accessible to hearing and deaf audiences and to attract new audiences to the world of theatre.
Usually, there are enough nerves from just performing a show, let alone performing your inaugural show during one of Melbourne's biggest festivals. "It's simultaneously thrilling and completely nerve-wracking!" says Ilana Charnelle Gelbart, one half of the team at Deafferent Theatre. "Jess and I have been planning this company for nearly two years so it's very exciting to finally see our theatre 'baby' taking its first steps out in to the world!"
The play looks at two female friends and the loneliness and isolation they experience as victims of domestic violence. While dark in nature, it was a very deliberate choice for the company. "It was important for us to choose an Australian script, as Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is an Australian language, and we wanted equivalency in that way. The story of the show is of two friends who are struggling to come to terms with each others reality," Gelbart explains. "Thematically, it puts those who are traditionally voiceless - women, and victims of domestic violence - to the fore. By adding Deaf actors to this show, we are allowing the Deaf community to also have a 'voice' in theatre - a space where usually they remain unheard."
It has taken the two a lot of hard work, effort and surrounding themselves with inspiring and talented people to be able to bring this work to the stage. "This project could not have come to life without the collaboration between an absolutely incredible team. We are essentially creating an entirely new show from an English text, and the translation process is not a simple one. The stages of translation move between our two actors, Anna Seymour and Hilary Fisher, Jess as director, myself as an Auslan interpreter and Sherrie Beaver as an Auslan Master," Gelbart tells me. "An Auslan Master is a model that we have adapted from America, in which a Deaf Auslan user guides the actors through the process of translation, ensuring that the performed text represents a Deaf perspective and is just as emotive and articulate as the English script. Our aim is always equivalency - we want the Deaf audience to have the same experience in the theatre as the hearing audience."
While theatre has come a long way in terms of inclusivity and accessibility, Gelbart still sees a huge gap for presenting work and opportunities to those that are deaf and hard-of-hearing. "While we are seeing a real growth in both large-scale and independent theatre productions providing Auslan interpreters for their productions, I do believe we have a long way to go in terms of both presenting Deaf-made work and also including Deaf actors in mainstage productions," she explains.
"Often Deaf roles are played by hearing actors, which is inappropriate in terms of cultural representation, and also takes one of the few Deaf roles available away from a Deaf actor. Also, there seems to be an idea that Deaf-made of Deaf-inclusive work is strictly for a Deaf audience, or belongs in the realms of 'disabled theatre'. This is a big misconception that Deafferent Theatre are working to overcome. There is a greater range of diverse and accessible theatre coming out of the UK and America, and we are optimistic that those same approaches can make their way over here!"
So if you're looking to see a different kind of show, or perhaps you want to view theatre in a way you haven't before, then Black Is The Colour is probably going to be the best way to do so. "We hope that audiences come with an open mind and experience a style of theatre that they perhaps have never encountered before. Usually it is the Deaf audience who are watching a show in a language that is not their first and have to access the text via captions, and this time we've turned the tables so the hearing audience have that experience," Gelbart says.
"Having said that, the visual media of Auslan and the incredible talent of our two actors mean that this is not a 'deaf show' or a piece of 'disabled theatre' - this is a show that gives a platform to those usually left unheard. I hope that our audience learns more about Auslan and the Deaf community, and that this show establishes Deafferent Theatre's reputation as an innovative, bilingual theatre company who are just a little bit 'deafferent'."
If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be?
I'd go with an Americanism, they seem more interesting. Something like 'yam'!
Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on?As well as being an Auslan interpreter, I'm also a singer, so many people have suggested I go on one of the many talent shows. But I'm not even slightly tempted! I think I'd rather go on something like Big Brother, I love meeting new people and working out how they tick.
The most irritating habit I have is using sign language in loud or inconvenient locations in order to communicate with my friends. Most of my friends don't understand sign language.
What's a song that sums up your life?
Sia's "Elastic Heart" is my go-to anthem, summing up highs and lows and making me feel reaffirmed.
During Fringe, I really, really, really want to see as many shows as I can, and sell out Deafferent Theatre's premiere season.
Venue: Fringe Hub steps - Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, 3051
Season: 24 September - 1 October | Tues - Sat 6:45pm, Sun 5:45pm
Length: 50 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $22 Conc/Group 6+ | $20 Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival