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Forbidden Identity at Appetite Stoke: Big Feast Festival 2021

At the end of August this year, I presented my new outdoor performance of Forbidden Identity at The Big Festival in Stoke-On-Trent, our first ever public show since the end of 2019.

In July 2021 I was commissioned by Appetite Stoke to produce and perform a short, 20-minute performance of Forbidden Identity - a project I originally began developing before the pandemic, in the summer of 2019. This marked a return to the stage for the first time ever for myself and my team, Ariel Fung and Ben Randall, a new addition to the show.

In August 2021 I developed the outdoor show within a new R&D over the course of 4 weeks, enabling me to further explore ideas and create new material which infused street dance with British Sign Language, theatre, mime, visual vernacular, and contemporary dance. Performing with me was Ariel Fung from Hong Kong, and a new local Deaf dancer called Ben Randall.

Deaf Explorer produced the project, and we brought in super-talented professionals to help develop the show, including Deaf theatre-maker and VV artist Brian Duffy, Deaf theatre-maker Mary-Jane Russell de-Clifford, and hearing dance choreographer Johnny Autin, of Autin Dance Company.

Although we began working on Forbidden Identity in 2019, the story is very complex. It's about exploring the life of a young Deaf kid as he struggles to navigate a hearing world, with communication barriers between himself and his family leading to a breakdown in their relationship, as well as discovering other Deaf kids at a new boarding school and realising he is not alone in his struggles.

So with children's story-writer Kerry Drewery, we were finally able to fix down the story for Forbidden Identity just before the summer of 2021, so I could go into the studio with a clear vision of what I want to create for the show.

In Week 1, we worked solely with Brian Duffy, whom introduced VV (visual vernacular) into the performance as well as to polish up on our acting parts. As the show is originally aiming to be over an hour long, we broke the it down into scenes that we could work around for the performance in Stoke - which only requested 20 minutes of material.

The show needed to be much bigger and faster for outdoors, which is very different from an indoor stage performance - what we had originally based our show on. This is because outdoor audiences are on the move - if a show is too slow-paced, viewers can easily walk away.

During Week 2, we continued developing the scenes (and cutting it down to 20 minutes). However, we were also introduced to dance choreographer Johnny Autin, who has enormous experience of outdoor performances.

What we learned from him was that the show needed to be much bigger and faster for outdoors, which is very different from an indoor stage performance, which was what we had originally based our show on. This is because outdoor audiences are on the move - and if a show is too slow-paced, the audience can easily walk away, so its essential we keep their attention.

Moreover, we had to 'dance more and act less' - as this is a dance performance, we needed to ensure there is as much dance as possible. As a result, we cut out a lot of material from Week 1, such as VV and mime, in place of dance. This was not a problem as we are doing a Research and Development, so it's perfectly normal to create new material and scrap it later if need be.

Week 3 was about developing the dance sections/choreography and polishing up on our individual parts. We also ordered our costumes for the festival as well as stools for props that we would be using. We also worked more with our talented musician, Mark, who was watching our work and developing the music tracks which will be used in the show.

By Week 4, we had a complete, 20-minute performance ready and we continued developing and polishing it up, ensuring we make it as big and as dynamic as we could. We brought in Deaf theatre-maker Mary-Jane Russell-de-Clifford to polish up our acting parts and facial expressions so as to tell the story better and to express our emotions more, which is essential in this show with a powerful and emotive storyline.

The end of Week 4 was the last weekend of August, in which our team travelled up to Stoke to perform 4 shows - two on Friday and two on Saturday, outside Hanley Town Hall in the heart of Stoke-On-Trent.

The show was watched by a large audience of locals and was well-received, although some didn't quite understand the full story, with the exception of Deaf viewers (they understood exactly what the story was about).

I expected not everyone to fully grasp the complex story due to it only being 20 minutes long, and I acknowledged the challenges of telling a story of struggles from a Deaf perspective to a hearing audience. Nevertheless, this will help me when I go back into the studio to develop the full hour-long show.

Click here to see more photos of our performance at Appetite Stoke: The Big Feast 2021.


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