Friday, May 8, 2020
Fiona Hyslop MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture
The Scottish Government
St. Andrew’s House
Dear Cabinet Secretary,
Firstly, let me apologise. I am no great thinker and no great philosopher. My reason for writing is, however, both personal and professional; such a heady mix.
I am the father of an actor and have professionally worked within the arts. Whilst my son acts for his supper and, after much work in community theatre, I now busy myself reviewing for FringeReview in this great country of ours – Scotland, we are, however, neither of us cultural titans.
That’s not to say we have not done much.
My son is deaf and was one of the first deaf acting apprentices at Solar Bear Theatre Company which was particularly pleasing as I was a Trustee of the company. I was further delighted that the other apprentice was a former student of mine.
Much though this might look like appalling nepotism, I hasten to add that their appointments had nothing to do with me. They got there on their own merits.
Once into their apprenticeships they both worked hard to spread the artistic word amongst the d/Deaf community as well as amongst the hearing community of theatre and the benefits therein. They also strived to engage with people who were d/Deaf artists and needed support and to assure them that, they were not alone.
Not being alone, is a message much in our minds just now as we have faced, head on, the great pandemic of 2020.
A formidable combination of, Solar Bear Theatre Company, the d/Deaf artistic community, the d/deaf community and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) created the very first acting degree in British Sign Language (BSL)/ English.
We were all so proud. My son got a place. That other student of mine took up another of the places on the course.
Three years after starting on the course, they all graduated.
The RCS received plaudits and awards for the bold move in creating a degree that recognised the uniqueness of these artists. As a nation, had we a cap, there would have been a thistle proudly stuck in it; albeit unable to hear unaided.
They survived their studies, like most students do, with a haze of alcohol, pressing deadlines and moaning about being skint. They now endure the Student Loan Company whilst they graduated with big grins and gowns.
Proudly Scottish and proudly desperate to practice what they had preached to others they have all now had to get on their bikes to find work.
My son has worked with Paines Plough of London, Theatre Clwyd in Wales and Birmingham Rep. My former student, EJ Raymond, last found herself working in Sheffield and on tour round the north of England. One other graduate, Brooklyn Melvin, was playing the lead role in Oliver Twist in Leeds whilst one other graduate, Bea Webster, nominated for a Stage newcomers award is on a year’s contract with none other than the Royal Shakespeare Company… in London.
I am sure that it has not escaped your notice that of each of the successes, are noted as being in an English city. I have little doubt that we like to export but, given that we have invested so much educationally, creatively and financially in such an immense success, it’s a pity we have to view success from afar rather than marvel close up.
Just why does Scottish theatre not see? Should we be looking at quotas or the type of initiative that has brought together a consortium of English theatres that are giving increasing work to diverse actors, particularly those with a disability.
That’s not to say that it is all bad. We have managed to increase access to the theatre for deaf audiences. Access is enabled through the use onstage of interpreters. It’s great. Ironically onstage in Scotland, d/deafness is served by hearing people when it has been at the forefront in the UK of training d/Deaf artists. The only thing missing is a stage upon which they can professionally practice…
I may be no great thinker, but I am thinking this isn’t quite what was envisaged when they got their course offer, studied for three years and graduated with debt.
Donald C Stewart