“To A Flame” at the National Silent Theatre of Sweden
Posted by admin in November 3, 2013

On my way to Sweden to Riksteatern, the country’s Nationwide Theatre, to workshop a new play that I’ve been a part of developing for almost five years now, entitled To A Flame.

A branch of Riksteatern, translated as “the people’s theatre,” is dedicated to telling stories by and for the Deaf community. This branch is called Tyst Teater, or the National Silent Theatre. Our team received a Canada Council grant to travel to Stockholm and take part in a workshop to develop the latest draft, written by Governor General Award-winning playwright Erin Shields. Birgit Schreyer-Duarte is our Dramaturg and Assistant Director and Lisa Karen Cox is my fellow Canadian actor. Dawn Jani Birley, an actor from Teater Totti, the National Deaf Theatre of Finland, rounds out our team.

The director of the project is renowned British actor and director Josette Bushell-Mingo, O.B.E., the current Artistic Director of Tyst. The project actually had its inception seven years ago. Having been inspired by Josette’s work while I was at school at LAMDA in the UK, I got a grant from the Canadian Artists Equity Association to bring Josette to Canada to do a series of workshops on theatre creation, with a special focus on bridging the gap between professional theatre projects and artists with disabilities. Josette’s work as the Artistic Director of Tyst Teater connected us with the Deaf Community here in Toronto and we met some incredible actors, itching to get a theatre started in Canada.

A few years later, along with Rose Jacobson of Picasso Pro, I received funding from the Canada Council to travel to Stockholm with a group called ‘The Snow Team,’ consisting of artistic directors Jovanni Sy and Daryl Cloran, two Deaf actors, Elizabeth Morris and Hayley Hudson, and Paula Bath, an Interpreter, for a week of learning and cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary investigation. Elizabeth Morris has since started the Deaf Northern Lights Theatre.

Another result of the Snow Team, was that on one of her subsequent trips to Canada, Josette paired me with Lisa Karen Cox, having seen us work together in the original workshop in 2007. We came up with the idea to create a retelling of the Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allan Poe, performed by an all-female cast. Josette brought Dawn Jani Birley into the mix, and our chemistry as sisters was sealed from the first moment we entered the space together and started improvising. Despite the language barrier, Lisa and I immediately bonded with Dawn, and working together since has been an incredibly unique experience.

Nightwood Theatre in Toronto generously supported three subsequent development workshops of the project with public workshop performances. Erin Shields became our writer to help sculpt our very physical story. Her words, inspired by Poe’s poetic voice, structure the piece. Diving into the depths of the Gothic era, giving life to these three tortured women, isn’t always an easy ride, but it’s certainly worth it.

This process has been the most creatively, physically, mentally and culturally challenging experience in my career so far. I feel privileged to be learning a little bit about the Deaf culture, which has a rich history across the world. Taking sign language classes is an added bonus, and performing in sign language is its own special terror and exhilaration.

With To A Flame, we hope to tell the stories of three forgotten women from the Victorian era. We hope to create a new theatrical language, which is accessible to both Deaf and hearing audiences. We hope to enthrall and spook and shake the audience to their bones, immersing them in a crumbling Gothic mansion.

Wish us luck as we embark on this stage of the journey!

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A photo of the “To A Flame” actors when we first all met. Dawn Jani Birley, Anna Hardwick, Lisa Karen Cox, and director Josette Bushell-Mingo.

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