The play, ‘Follow’ was devised to be accessible to both a deaf and a hearing audience, and was an award-winner at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2011. It’s now being revived for a national tour that takes in Galway, Cork, Roscommon, Longford, Navan, Derry, and Strabane. The tour kicks off next week with a run at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin.
Actor Shane O’Reilly who is the actor in the play, is the son of deaf parents, and many of the stories in Follow stem from his own family. To quote the Irish Examiner piece today:
“Follow was about exploring something entirely new, which was this idea of being able to communicate and tell stories to a deaf and a hearing audience at the same time,” says O’Reilly. “Initially, that was born from my desire to invite my parents to see my work, for them to have immediate access to it.”
O’Reilly and the show’s director, Sophie Motley, discovered a mutual fascination with the subject and, with the wider Willfredd team, they began to develop the project with members of the deaf community.
“We first had a session with my father in my parents’ house,” says O’Reilly. “And then we had another session in the school that he went to — St Joseph’s School for the deaf — where we met with a lot of his old schoolmates and different generations of pupils there. So Follow is based on their story.”
The show explores the ways in which the worlds of the hearing and the deaf can collide and miscommunication occur, he says, but also celebrates the fact we are all creatures of communication.
“We wanted to ask where sign language is universal but what we discovered, actually, is that it’s emotion which is universal,” says O’Reilly. “That face that you wear when you’re in a heightened state is universal and it transcends language and culture. When somebody is heartbroken or overjoyed you can see that emotion.”
One of the show’s big successes is that for deaf audiences it removes the intermediary stage of translation. “Arts productions for the deaf are usually either signed or captioned, so generally you’re going through an interpreter or a visual unit, and you end up saying ‘oh, wasn’t that interpreter very good’ or whatever,” says O’Reilly. “The relationship with the art is almost secondary. But after Follow all my mother talked about was the stories and the work we had made together. It was a hugely unique moment.”
At Hidden Hearing we think that ‘Follow’ will be a great platform to raise awareness of ISL across Ireland. The Irish Deaf Society provides a very good history of sign language here: http://www.irishdeafsociety.ie/classes-for-deaf-adults/history-of-the-deaf-education.html