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Interview with actress Donna Mullings

11 March 2015 | Laura Stevens

Deafinitely Theatre are an independent, professional Deaf-led theatre company, and their newest production "Something Else" is coming to London this March. London Calling spoke to performer Donna Mulling about the performance that is accessible for Deaf and hearing audiences alike.

London Calling: Can you tell me about how rehearsals are going for Something Else?

Donna Mullings: We’ve just finished the first two weeks of rehearsals for Something Else and so far it’s going really well.  We’ve done lots of brainstorming and improvising to make the story structure and now we have that it’s all about filling in the details and developing the various characters that we get to play. 

It’s been a great collaborative experience so far led by our director Paula, but we all feel able to share ideas and experiences to develop the play which has been great.  We’ve got two more weeks to go so I’m really looking forward to seeing these ideas develop and grow further and then performing the show in front of an audience and seeing their reactions.

LC: Was there something in particular about Something Else that made it suitable for both a Deaf and hearing audience?

DM: I think the story of Something Else really connects with Deaf and hearing people because it is about a young creature called Something Else who is different from his peers and quite lonely.  A lot of Deaf (and hearing) children feel different sometimes, especially at school. 

I went to a mainstream school which had about 15 Deaf children and many, many more hearing children. I tried to fit in with some of the hearing children and got on ok with some but struggled to connect with others and I think this is what our play shows.  It’s about being different but accepting each other’s differences.  You can be different but that’s ok.

In the play we are using many elements to make the show entertaining for Deaf and hearing children.  We use visual storytelling, some sign language, some speech, movement, music and a bit of sign-song thrown in too!  We repeat some sign-song in the play and will be encouraging the audiences to join in with us… singing and signing!

LC: Are all the cast and crew familiar with sign language or did people have to undergo training?

DM: We have two Deaf actors, Jamal and me who both use British Sign Language (BSL) as our main communication and we have one hearing actor called Ian.  He has previously studied BSL up to Level 3 and so can communicate directly with us which is great!  He has said he feels as if he’s on a “crash-course” in BSL working with us daily! This is the first time that Ian has used his BSL skills in his acting work and I know that he is enjoying being able to combine the two and we are lucky to have him.  The crew can’t sign but we have interpreters in the rehearsal room to facilitate communication as needed.

LC: How is the performance linked with National BSL Day?

DM: As a BSL user, I celebrate BSL Day every day of the year!  But seriously, the March 18 is the anniversary of the Government recognizing that BSL is an official language in the UK.  I am very proud that our play celebrates BSL and shows how it can be accessible to Deaf and hearing people and I am also looking forward to sharing this work with hundreds of children around the UK so that they can enjoy and be entertained by the language that I love and am proud to use.

LC: How do you think Deafinitely Theatre fits into the landscape of accessible theatre in England?

DM: At Deafinitely Theatre we always want to make sure that our productions are accessible to all, anyone, Deaf and hearing, any audience at all.  We do that by using BSL, spoken word, visual storytelling, music, sound, movement and a variety of ways.  

We work a little differently with music in this production as we have created our BSL/visual story and lyrics first and then our composer, Philippa comes in to watch this and then goes away to compose music and spoken/sung lyrics to match what she has seen.  We get the BSL first and then the music after which is fun to experiment and play with.

I am very proud that this is my third production with Deafinitely Theatre and hope to do more in the future.

LC: What has the response been so far to Something Else?

DM: Our first performance is on Friday March 20 at the Stratford Circus and we are looking forward to seeing the audiences’ reactions from this date onwards!  Ask me again after this…. !  We have sold out all our performances at Stratford Circus and so it seems that the response so far has been excellent!

LC: What can audiences expect from the performances?

DM: This is a family show aimed for children who are Deaf and hearing and I really want families to come along together, watch and enjoy.  But I also want them to talk about what they’ve seen and about how being different is ok.  I want children to think about how they interact with other children at school or outside of school and the fact that we are all different in some way or another but that being different is ok and we should accept each other’s differences.

LC: Why did you choose to take Something Else into schools?

DM: We wanted to take Something Else into schools so that we can reach a wider group of children and entertain them with this production as well as making them think about how they include or exclude their peers at school sometimes without thinking or realising. 

Our main character, “Something Else” is different because he is Deaf and he just wants to fit in with the other children and play with them but they ignore or exclude him sometimes without realizing what they are doing.   We hope that by watching this play that children will be entertained and also think about how they interact with each other.

Something Else is on at Stratford Circus Arts Centre 20-21 March and then on tour regionally. For more information go to their website.


 

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