Interview: Paula Garfield Talks Deafinitely Theatre’s “Everyday”

How better to celebrate a 20th Anniversary than with a world première of a new show? Deafinitely Theatre are doing exactly that as they head out on tour with their latest show, “Everyday” – which stops off at York Theatre Royal from 21 – 22 June 2022. Here, Paula Garfield – writer, director and Artistic Director of Deafinitely Theatre, chats about the show, the company’s background in devised work and the ongoing dedication to bringing the experiences of deaf and disabled people centre stage

Deafinitely Theatre celebrates its 20th Anniversary with the world première of Everyday, what can audiences expect from this production?

Audiences can expect to see a fantastically skilled cast of 3 women, and 1 non-binary person in a collaborative ensemble telling, for the first time, the stories of deaf people’s diverse experiences of domestic violence. We have seen raised discourse within mainstream media, with the likes of the #MeToo movement; however, domestic violence remains a taboo subject within the deaf community and the stories of deaf and disabled people have yet to be told. Everyday audiences will see these heartfelt and diverse stories told through the mediums of visual and physical theatre using British Sign Language, English and creative captioning.

You write and direct this piece, tell us a bit about the writing process and the research involved.

When Deafinitely Theatre was first established, we began creating devised productions, using the experiences of the deaf community to inspire those stories. We then shifted towards adapted screenplays, using scripts of well-known playwrights, such as Shakespeare and Sarah Kane. This time, as we celebrate our 20th Anniversary, I wanted to revert to our original method of working and create a devised play.

During lockdown, I couldn’t help but see the numerous news reports showing the rapidly increasing rates of domestic abuse due to the impact of the pandemic. The problems were exacerbated by people unable to go out or to work and feeling trapped in their own homes. This prompted me to post on Facebook to see if anyone would come forward about their own experiences and being a member of the deaf community, people knew me, and felt they could entrust me with their stories. After speaking with several women and non-binary people, I invited some of them to be involved in a period of research and development with the actors, and I asked survivors to oversee the script. At the end of each stage of research and development, we shared our progress with an invitation-only audience and asked them for feedback upon which we would build.

How does it feel to be back in the rehearsal room and how are rehearsals going so far?

Over the last two years theatres have of course struggled with Covid and lockdown. It’s fantastic and incredibly exciting to be back in the rehearsal room! This said, it also comes with a sense of anxiety having not directed for 2 years. It feels a bit like riding a bike, a little nerve-racking and wobbly at first but it’s quickly all coming back to me and feeling much more normal as we all get used to it again!

Rehearsals are going well, and the writing is still a work in progress; Everyday is evolving throughout rehearsals as we continue to explore our telling of these stories through the language of theatre.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?

I really want our audiences to be struck by this production and the vulnerability of deaf women and non-binary people facing domestic abuse. I want people to see the vital need for equal rights as their hearing counterparts when it comes to accessing domestic abuse support services. A lot of the services across the UK are not currently accessible to deaf people; SignHealth is the only deaf-led organisation that provides support for deaf adults who experience domestic abuse. However, they can only support those who live in England, and I think this is mainly due to funding.

We are lacking in refuges that accept members of the deaf community, as many will not house them due to “health and safety reasons”, which takes us right back to the issue of deaf rights, which in this context, seem to be almost non-existent. We are also in need of more deaf Independent Domestic Violence Advocates, with currently very few trained practitioners expected to offer support to those all over the country. I believe we have a responsibility to create more training opportunities and to encourage more deaf people to pursue this career pathway where services are so desperately needed.

What are you most looking forward to about taking the production on tour?

I am so pleased to be touring the production because the deaf community isn’t only based in London, there are strong deaf communities across the UK! I’d love to for us to be touring even wider and further afield one day.

Working with Birmingham Rep Theatre has been a long-standing dream of mine, so I’m over the moon that we’re included in their programme. The same is true for our collaborations with Northern Stage and York Theatre Royal; I have hopes that this marks the beginnings of many more touring productions for Deafinitely Theatre in the future. I’d love for theatres across the UK to become aware that they have deaf communities and audiences who need to see themselves represented in theatre. The deaf community needs deaf-lead theatre: deaf directors, deaf creatives, deaf people, and deaf stories.

Why should audiences come and see Everyday?

I believe Everyday has poignant messages for both deaf and hearing audiences. I hope that Everyday will empower a deaf audience, making them aware of some of the more nuanced signs of abuse, help break the stigma surrounding abuse, and raise awareness of support services. I hope that deaf audiences will feel seen and understood, and for those who may have experienced domestic abuse to know that they are not alone.

I want a hearing audience to understand that anyone can experience domestic abuse and that for deaf people there are additional barriers. The community have faced historical oppression by means of language, education, and access to services and many of these difficulties still exist today. To drive improvements, we need to raise awareness, and that is a part of what I hope Everyday will achieve.

So there you have it! Remember: Deafinitely Theatre’s Everyday plays York Theatre Royal 21-22 June 2022 and you can find your tickets here.

Interview courtesy of Steve Pratt.

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