THEY are the actors breaking down barriers in Scottish theatre. The first cohort of students from the UK’s only degree course for D/deaf performers will challenge perceptions, celebrate diversity and promote inclusion when they tour Scotland this month in an exhilarating new production that blends British Sign Language (BSL) and English.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in association with pioneering Glasgow-based theatre company Solar Bear, present Love and Information by celebrated playwright Caryl Churchill.

It stars all ten students from the groundbreaking BA Performance in British Sign Language and English programme at Scotland’s national conservatoire, one of the world’s top three performing arts education institutions.

The tour opens at The Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock on November 14 and will visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, Giffnock, Inverness and Banchory.

The Royal Conservatoire’s three-year degree, which launched in 2015, was developed in association with Solar Bear with input from a range of theatre, education and D/deaf professionals. It teaches students to be both actors and makers of work, exploring innovative ways of creating performance through BSL and English. Students have BSL interpreters in class and in rehearsal.


FOR Jonathan Lloyd, creative director of Solar Bear, the tour marks an exciting moment in theatre in Scotland.

“Often deaf actors are just asked to play a specifically deaf character, but the whole point of what we are trying to do is show a talented bunch of actors taking on board a contemporary ambitious play,” he explained. “One of the big things is that we have to translate into BSL, so the company is working in two languages simultaneously.”

While that has been challenging, Lloyd says he has found it very stimulating.

“It has been a bit different for me but I am working in a way that I am finding really invigorating – it’s like a different way of telling the story. Also we are using the sign language unashamedly and it makes the show quite exciting. You don’t feel this is a heavy, worthy piece as it is quite playful at times. There is a lot of humour in it as well as being beautiful and heartbreaking in parts, and it is suitable for deaf and hearing audiences.”

Lloyd has made no concessions while working with the students, who he says are “hugely talented”.

“I have around 20 years of experience as a professional director and there is no-one here that I would not cast in a professional production,” he said.


THE students will graduate in July 2018 and a symposium will be held in Glasgow on November 17 to explore opportunities for this group of artists and for the industry. Co-produced by the Royal Conservatoire and Solar Bear, Now You See Me will take place at Scottish Youth Theatre in the Merchant City.

“We are inviting people from TV and film to come and see how they might work with some of these actors rather than just call them when there is a deaf part,” said Lloyd. “Plays and parts not initially written for deaf actors could be reimagined. It’s quite an exciting moment as I think there will be a change in the industry when they graduate. The best argument is the fact that they are really good actors. We want to talk about the creative possibilities not the difficulties – we’ve had enough of that. They are keen to get out and work. They might need a bit more support from people in the industry but good things are happening, especially in Scotland. There is a real openness here and a much more progressive approach to working inclusively than in the south. The Scottish Government is trying to push BSL and get it more recognised nationally. I don’t think there will be miracles overnight but change is happening.”


CRAIG Andrew from Falkirk is one of the students taking part in the production and is enthusiastic about the opportunities he has been given since enrolling on the course. “There have been many fantastic experiences,” said the 23-year-old.

“I now know what my strengths and weaknesses are as well as who I am as an artist and theatre maker.”

Another student, Danni Wright, moved to Glasgow from Australia for the course. The 42-year-old was born deaf and was a community worker before enrolling as a second-year direct entry student at the RCS when she decided on a career change after working with the Australian Theatre of the Deaf.

She believes the Love and Information tour will help break down barriers.

“The main thing is the opportunity to show that deaf artists are able to give as good - or even better — performances as any other artists,” she said.

“The tour also means we potentially could reach out to rural deaf communities and perhaps offer positive role models for deaf people from those areas, and at the same time, show the mainstream public that deaf people are just like everyone else. This in turn may improve attitudes towards deaf people everywhere.”

Wright is full of praise for the specialist degree course.

“The fact I moved to Glasgow from Australia should say something in itself,” she said. “I immensely appreciate the many opportunities we’ve had to learn and evolve as artists, with the many amazing teachers we’ve had, including Jon from Solar Bear.

“I don’t know of any other course like this one, with only deaf students at a degree level, anywhere in the world.”

Applications are now open for the second cohort of D/deaf or hard of hearing performers for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BA Performance in British Sign Language and English programme, which will begin in September 2018.

The Love and Information tour begins in Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre tomorrow and then tours the country until November 23.