Access to Edfringe – Falling on Deaf Ears?

At 71, there is no time like the present to fulfil a life-long bucket-list ambition by bringing my first solo show Deaf Ears – How I Learned to Hear to the Edinburgh Fringe, where I’ve been fortunate enough to secure my venue of choice, the Pleasance Below.

Last year, I did the Brighton and Camden Fringes, but when I decided to bring my show about growing up with deaf parents to Edinburgh, I was stunned to find that there is no funding – and very little equipment - to make ordinary Fringe shows (those not funded by the Arts Council) accessible to people like my parents.

With regard to accessibility, the deaf community can be viewed as consisting of two groups – those who sign, and those who don’t. To provide access to those who are signers, you need a BSL signer used to doing theatre. For the others, you need to provide captioning. I naively assumed that both would be readily available at the world’s largest arts festival and that the process of setting up the facility would be straightforward. Not so. Even learning about how to provide access turned out to be less than easy. The Fringe Society Access division, though very motivated and helpful, fell short on practicalities. They have no lists of either experienced theatrical signers or captioners. I started my own enquiries and discovered that the one piece of captioning equipment the Fringe Society could borrow was unsuitable for my venue at the Pleasance!

Here’s a bit about my show, so you understand why providing deaf access is so important to me. I was born in Chicago, where I grew up with deaf parents, and now live in London. I’m a psychotherapist and children’s book author, described by The Times as ‘warm, wise and wonderful’. So, what’s it like growing up with deaf parents? In the show, I explore my life to answer, taking you from my early years, to a hilarious and scary face-off with the Chicago police and then moving on to a life-changing encounter with a seriously challenging patient who helped unlock my deaf ears. (Many people whose ears function perfectly well cannot “hear” a word you say! I was one of those people.) People who have seen the show have laughed and been moved to tears, and have told me they came away with a real insight into what it is to be deaf, and what it is to truly hear.

Unlike the Academy award-winning film CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), my show is all true. Deaf Ears was a Finalist in the 2021 Standing Ovation Awards and was featured on Radio 4’s Four Thought. Fringe Review rated it ‘highly recommended’ and referred to its ‘spellbinding storytelling’. This support and recognition for the substance of the show made it all the more important for me to make the work available to the deaf community, which had not previously been possible under Covid restrictions.

As no money was available to do this, I set up a JustGiving page, in order to raise money to provide a signer for my show. An initial modest target of £800 was soon reached, so I've extended the aim to £5000. This will set up a ring-fenced fund to be administered by the Fringe Society, in which I shall continue to have a say, to further deaf access in the future.

Please feel free to contribute to the campaign to bring live theatre to deaf ears.

Ears: How I Learned to Hear | Pleasance Theatre Trust

Related Listings

Deaf Ears

Deaf Ears

What’s it like growing up when your parents can’t hear? In this poignant and captivating solo show, Joe, therapist and Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), explores his life to answer the … 

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