Newly formed Deafferent Theatre is the brainchild of ILana Charnelle Gelbart and Jessica Moody and offers a truly remarkable theatrical experience with a difference. Gelbart (an accredited paraprofessional Auslan/English interpreter) and Moody, a deaf artist, have established a wonderfully engaging platform for both hearing and deaf audiences alike. Their first show Black is the Colour, is on the upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival calendar and promises to be a show that explores both sounds and silence.
For Moody, the genesis of Deafferent Theatre was a merging of the personal and the practical. “There was always a pull to work in the theatre. I just so happen to be deaf as well,” she says. “I noticed that while I was in the company of many deaf/hard of hearing people, it was much harder for them to tell their stories, and showcase their talents through the medium of theatre. Deafferent Theatre has been in the planning for a couple years, sparked by a chance encounter with Ilana. She is a performer, and was studying to be an Auslan interpreter. Her honours project included working with deaf and hearing performers. For me, it was a matter of working with actors. I think they are the strangest creatures on this earth. Knowing how much effort goes into breaking into the industry, I’ve been very fortunate to forge intimate professional relationships who have helped me. It’s my turn to help my talented peers, by providing a safe and creative platform for them. I also get to make amazing work, so it’s a win-win.”
Moody’s philosophy is simple: “The more diversity there is on the stage, the more diverse stories we tell, and thus create diverse thinkers.” Her belief is that theatre has a magical ability to allow the audience to be collective witnesses, and imagination has no threshold. “We give credit to the audience and want them to take away whatever piece they’d like – perhaps they will learn, or think, or laugh, or cry, or relate.
Moody says that for deaf people, the opportunity to be ‘heard’ can come with obstacles. “Luckily deaf people are creative, and with self-awareness and a good amount of hustle, we get over the obstacles.”
Owning and operating your own theatre company means independence, and for Moody this is a wonderful plus as she gets to create the work she and Gelbart want to create, and work with people they want to work with. But there is also a really rewarding part of Deafferent which is that both practitioners are witnesses to the growth of the talent, and nurturers of two communities, the theatre community and the deaf community. “Both communities are loud, vibrant, and burst with their own culture. Through Deafferent Theatre, I’m able to hold hands with members of both communities and create something,” says Moody.
As a co-founder of Deafferent Theatre, Moody wears many hats. “I may play the role of creative producer when I’m working on contracts, or the role of director in rehearsal for our upcoming show, or the role of a vocal trainer for our actors, or the role of a representative when I attend networking events, or the role of IT when I’m trying to figure out newfangled website templates,” she explains. “At the moment, our priority is visibility, and quality. We are putting ourselves on the map, and aim to produce quality theatre that anyone can attend, that so happens to contain deaf/hard of hearing people.”
Prior to their launch, the company held some workshops with members of the deaf community, and some actors. They wanted to experiment with how all members could work together and found that they came back with lots of surprises and potential. Moody tells me that recently in the States, there was a Deaf Talent movement sparked by Deaf West’s Spring Awakening which reached Broadway. Deafferent Theatre aims to bridge the gap between deaf actors and crew and the mainstream theatre community by working with both deaf and hearing talent together. “Deafferent Theatre’s community is expanding, and we always encourage all kinds to get in touch with us. There may be a spot for them in the next production,” says Moody.
Black Is The Colour is by renowned Australian playwright Daniel Keene, and shares the stories of those who are usually voiceless: survivors of domestic violence, and the deaf community. The performance shows the consequences of one event to a friendship. The piece explores the way love and guilt manifests themselves inside human relationships.
A beautiful quote from the company’s website is: ‘Deafferent Theatre is born from dancing hands.’ So forget what you think you know about ‘disabled theatre': Deafferent Theatre is about bringing Deaf talent to the main stage. “This is an opportunity to witness the visual wonderland of Australian Sign Language, and celebrate Australian storytelling, ” says Moody. “Not to panic, this performance is captioned for the benefit of the non-Auslan users because we’re a little bit deafferent.”
Black is the Colour
24-25 Sept and 27 Sept-1 Oct