Oh Theatre of Scotland – Can You Hear Me???

The last season of Silent Witness on the BBC was again heralded by the appearance of Liz Carr in a central role. Such a mainstream win for a disabled actor and activist was seen as evidence that the tide was turning; we were becoming more inclusive.

For years on the Archers on Radio 4 there has been an actor who is both blind AND Scottish. It may seem like another easy win for the disabled community that an actor who is visually impaired gets a radio role, but it is one which does not depend upon his inability to see but his ability to act – that’s the point.

Increasingly, the issue of diversity is one with which we have tried to find a way of ensuring that our art reflects the society in which we live. That, however, is only half the point – pay attention, I am making many points… though some of them won’t be scoring…

Art has the ability – and I use the term advisedly – to influence and set trends. We have a tremendous opportunity as artists to show the world not just a mirror up to it and reflect itself upon itself but also to show how we ought, we should, we do benefit from being more inclusive.

Through such inclusivity we thrive. We develop not just into a better society but also into a society that can build better foundations and results for itself – at least that is the evidence.

In Scotland we pride ourselves in such inclusion as we point to the way in which document after research report after investigation into how our institutions promote the inclusive nature of progress prove it – wha’s like us indeed!

Scotland was the first to produce an acting degree which is designed for actors who are d/Deaf. We have Lung Ha, the award-winning disabled actors led project that will perform a couple of times a year and do so not just charmingly but, more importantly, with great artistic merit. We have Sounds of Progress where the Artistic Director, Robert Softley Gale is himself a disabled actor and director who has made his own way using his abilities in the artistic world, rather than relying on the sympathy that comes to someone with cerebral palsy. We also have Solar Bear, the ones who drove and maintain the professional contact between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s d/Deaf acting degree and the profession to which it was supposed to serve.

Of that degree, in July 2018, the first 10 acting cohort graduated and became professionals for whom Equity dues were expected and the professional world was primed.

And then… there was silence…

The success of each of them has been palpable – admirable even.

The vast majority of them working; and working in the arts. Given that 20% of them come from my home town of Ayr that is something of which to be proud – surely. Given that one of them is my very own son, that is indeed a comfort.

He has contemplated his next move – London. Once the cliché of “following your dreams to the big lights” that dream remains both strong and very much alive as his experience in Scotland, and those of his colleagues is that there are no d/Deaf acting jobs in Scotland. There are few auditions available and when these actors come close to a role in a TV drama, a TV or a theatre, it rarely materialises into a pay cheque.

Those that have managed to get an acting job, almost exclusively in Scotland have seen Solar Bear be the employers – the company who drove their degree. In essence the very company alreadu convinced of their merit and worth. There are, however, plenty of hearing interpreters working.

But for England and Wales, the actors are a keen study.

With roles in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and Wales we are exporting this group of high achievers. Unfortunately, and not for the first time, home grown audiences shall be denied the pleasure.

That is almost criminal.

We have invested in the degree, the training, the leaflet and the publicity. The hoo hah and the hurrah when it won awards reverberated around the globe; and we aint talking Shakespeare’s former home.

Ironically as a reviewer, as I contemplate yet another wonderful piece of theatre from the National Theatre of Scotland – Thank You Very Much – I am struck by that one omission – where are the opportunities for d/Deaf actors? From a national company that has, thanks to collaborations with Claire Cunningham and the aforementioned Gale, flattered the art community of alternately able performers, I do wonder in the absence of this group of theatre makers if that flattery was there simply to deceive… or is it my hearing that is deceiving me?