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FOR the first time in history, a South African deaf theatre organisation is set to perform in Europe at the Clin d’Oeil Festival, which is a one-of-a-kind, multi-disciplinary event that aims to highlight the richness of the sign-language community. And the chosen body is the Catalina Theatre for its breakthrough performance of Listen with Your Eyes.
The Tonight caught up with the director of the Catalina Theatre, Alison Swannick, to chat about this honour that’s been bestowed on South Africa.With an interpreter joining us, Swannick said she was elated that the play was chosen for the European fest.
“When I got the e-mail, I screamed. I never expected to get that invitation. On the other hand, I am a bit scared. At first it felt like it wasn’t even real. The first thought I had was, ‘where is the money going to come from?’, because the only difficulty was that we would have to pay half the airfare. And we’re looking for funders.
“But I was amazed that South Africa is going to be in the European Deaf Festival.
It’s like our time has finally come. It’s more for the young actors who are involved in this, so I’m ecstatic for them.”
Last year, Swannick hosted the first deaf theatre festival in South Africa, Talking Hands. Chatting about the response to that event, she says: “The festival was a success, but there was not enough audience support. It was the first time, so we learnt a lot. But it was a difficult experience and we had no sponsors.
“But in terms of the performances at the festival, they were very good. Everybody reported that they enjoyed it. There are no deaf filmmakers in South Africa, so many people enjoyed the international films that we showed at the film fest. But, now when I look at it, it was successful because one of our performances is going to France. It was a major breakthrough in deaf performance art.”
The team behind Listen with Your Eyes will stage two performances of the play and fellow actors of Catalina Theatre, Darren Rajbal (2009 winner of SA’s Got Talent) and Bo Tasker are also involved in two street theatre productions and children’s workshops.
On their plans after the European Festival, Swannick says she wants to continue with Talking Hands every year during Deaf Awareness Month: “When we get back from France, we might ask one or two of the best performers from Europe to come to our fest in South Africa, but again there are financial implications. My aim is that Talking Hands is not only in Durban this year, but in Joburg as well, because there is a very strong deaf community in Joburg and last year they complained bitterly because they wanted to see the fest as well.
“Also, before we go, we are going to do performances at schools to raise funds. And when we do the festival again in September, we will have a new play. Hopefully, some of the international performers will want to come and there are also performers in Cape Town, so we will call for performances from people around the country once we’re back from France.”
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