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Making our stories inclusive: British Sign Language integrated ‘A Christmas Carol’

Making inclusive work is one of the key purposes of the artistic training at the Royal Welsh College.

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Expanding ideas and horizons

As well as bringing in a new audience, making inclusive work expands ideas and horizons, as well as the skill set of the actors that come here to train.

The actors’ training at RWCMD means that as well as working with directors and producers, they themselves become artists and makers, and will be standard bearers for this type of work as they go on into their careers in the industry.

‘If what we want to do is crack open the theatre industry and make it accessible to everyone, making more inclusive work, and also to represent everyone on stage and in our stories, then it has to start here, in the training ground for actors.’
Seán LinnenDirector, 'A Christmas Carol'

The interpreter’s role is woven into the play

Knowing that the play would include BSL from the start was very important because the role has been fully integrated, and every decision has been made with this in mind. Erin Siobhan Hutching, the BSL interpreter, is fully woven into the action.

We’ve collaborated with creative access consultant and RWCMD Fellow Jonny Cotsen, and BSL consultant Steph Bailey-Scott from Taking Flight, who have worked with the actors and director in rehearsals.

Integral interpreting

The rehearsals have focused on what can be seen on stage, specifically making sure that the interpreter is in sight at all times so that she can be seen by the audience members who are deaf.

‘But it's also in terms of the tableau as an image,’ said acting student Jessie Franks. ‘If you were to just pause and not be able to hear anything, would you be able to portray and express what the scene is about just by seeing it?

‘The way Erin uses her face in tandem with her signing is so interesting as an actor because they portray the emotions that they can't speak or that they can't hear being received.

We've also been learning a lot about facial expressions and really incorporating that side of signing and BSL.

Do you have a word that describes a character? But can you really show it on your face? Can you really embody it rather than inflecting it with your voice?’
Jessie FranksActor

Jonny agreed: ‘What’s so lovely about Erin is that she’s almost got a character. We look at the many different personalities of Scrooge and he can be very vulnerable at times. Erin is like a guiding light for him. Their relationship has grown, and its the interactions between them, and the connection with her and the rest of the cast, that really makes this beautiful.’

For Jessie there’s a personal reason that this show is so important. Earlier this year she was diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss in her left side.

‘Working on' A Christmas Carol' has shown me how there are ways that you can work that can be bigger than words. And there are ways that you can make art without speaking. I think it’s a really important step forward for both young creators and institutions to incorporate into their performances.‘

The College worked with Taking Flight Theatre Company on this production. Based in Wales they offer advice, information or inspiration on integrating access & working with inclusive casts.

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