Opening our ears and eyes to the Deaf community

AD Infinitum brings its new show, Extraordinary Wall [of Silence], to Bristol Old Vic from 5th to 19th October.

Through three coming-of-age stories, the show, devised by the company, traces the oppression and ignorance faced by the Deaf community to one pivotal point in history.

Stories have been collected from more than 40-hours of interviews with Deaf people from all over the UK, and the new production sheds light on a relatively undocumented history of oppression experienced by Deaf people. Helen, Alan and Graham are told they are impaired and need fixing. As they begin to question the world around them, three stories unfold, uniting them in a struggle against violence, ignorance and oppression.

Connected through a shared past, they are transported to a crucial moment in 1880 that would impair the way the world has viewed D/deaf people for more than a hundred years.

In 1880, The Milan Conference passed eight resolutions on Deaf education  and banned the use of sign language in schools all over the world. The conference declared that an oral education (oralism) was superior to manual (signed) education, and put Deaf children through an abusive regime of speech therapy to make them speak, “hear” and lip read. The decision prevailed for over a century despite decades of poor results, including the statistic that more than 70% of UK Deaf children left school with a reading age of seven to eight years.

The stories of these people have largely gone undocumented as sign languages don’t exist in written form, and access to video was, until recently, not widespread. Extraordinary Wall [of Silence] shares these stories in a bilingual performance in British Sign Language and English, using them as a starting point to explore in depth a culture under threat from fear, prejudice and ignorance.

It is directed by George Mann  and will be performed by three Deaf actors and one hearing actor, David Elling­ton, Matthew Gurney, Moira Anne McAuslan and Deborah Pugh. Deaf actor Matt­hew Gurney also starred in Ad Infinitum’s show Light.

He says: “The Milan Con­fer­ence had a huge impact on D/deaf people’s lives and communities. Deaf adults leaving school were left without power or authority and little ability to communicate in either English or sign language. Since the conference a slow but steady rebellion has been rising, which has gone unnoticed in worldwide and national media. We want to battle the “silent voices” who continue to push for the oralist method, and refuse to listen to us, and to fight for our D/deaf human rights in all areas of life.”

George Mann says: “Extra­ordinary Wall [of Silence] is the result of six years collaboration between Ad Infinitum and a group of exceptional Deaf artists, academics and leaders. We hope that these stories will give audiences an insight into Deaf culture, language and history that challenge and examine more profoundly societal perspectives on Deaf people.”

Alongside the production the company is hosting two lectures, Understanding Deaf Culture: Deafhood with Dr Paddy Ladd, in Bristol and Manchester.

The show runs for 80 minutes and is suitable for audiences aged 14 and older.

For more details,  telephone 0117 9877877 or visit the website, www.bristololdvic.org.uk