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SIGN CRIMINAL: My Latest Arts Council Commission

In April 2018 I was awarded an Arts Council Grant to further develop the ambitious project I started last year that was commissioned by UNLIMITED, called ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’, which themed upon Surveillance and oppression of Sign Language in a dystopian world. The aim of this project is all about personal development, to allow myself to grow and build confidence as a lead artist, in managing and leading the project from scratch, right through to production and touring stage. Because this project is much more personal than the one I did last year, the themes have changed quite a bit.

A More Personal Story Whilst still focused on oppression of sign language, it is however less futuristic and Orwellian. Although I love the dark idea of a surveillance society spying on sign language users, it is very generic and difficult to produce for a small show. I had several meetings with storywriter Charlie Swinbourne, as well as guidance and discussion with Rinkoo Barpaga (Deaf Explorer Chairman), on how to develop the storyline further.

I learned from their experiences in theatre and performance, that what the audience really want to see (apart from something new and unique), is something really personal that they can relate to.

Reflecting back on last year's R&D project Somebody's Watching Me, I have watched the videos over - analysing the structure, movements, content and storyline, and the way it was all presented. I have decided on some important changes that will allow me to raise the bar and deliver a much more powerful show.

I have decided on the following changes:

  1. Storyline - it needs to be more personal. It's too broad and generic as it is, which makes it difficult to find a context and focus on a specific area to present to the audience. A generic storyline risks losing the audience's attention.

  2. Content - there is a lot of different styles being used to tell the story - sign language, movement/dance, acting, visual vernacular. This is all good and what an R&D is all about - experimentation. However, After watching the video back, I realise that there is not enough dance elements - this is after all a dance show, and so most of the content should be expressed through dance medium, with elements of acting, sign language etc. supporting it.

  3. Elements - following on the context, the different elements (dance, sign language, acting etc.) were used well. However, because there were so many different elements used, the time divided between all the different elements was not enough to allow for full development and practice of all the elements, instead they were basic, and more of a taster. This time, I will cut down and focus on a couple of main elements - dance and acting. Then I will use the time more wisely to develop my personal skills, the choreography, and the rehearsal times, to create a more advanced show.

Personal Development

Another aspect about the project which is probably the most important, is my personal development. This project aims to focus more on that, especially in the first stage.

The reason for this is so that I can build my confidence more. I felt last year that I lost some of my confidence when working in a big team of hearing professionals. I have made changes to the structure of how I will run this project to enable me to be much more confident, to be a more efficient worker and leader. So this time, rather than depicting a Dystopian future in which the government hunts down rebellious sign language users and forces implants on them, I am focusing on my personal experiences of isolation and oppression of sign language in my childhood - growing up in a hearing family, and my time at boarding school where there was a strict oral policy and sign language was forbidden.

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