The first cohort of the UK’s only degree for D/deaf performers made history when they graduated in July.

Linda Robertson asks what’s next for this groundbreaking group?

 

It’s just past 6pm on a Thursday night in May and the Royal Conservatoire’s Chandler Theatre is bathed in darkness.

Soon, the room crackles with energy as the evening’s performers arrive and their pre-show warm-up kicks off … a boisterous game which involves stealthy moves, an easy camaraderie and much hilarity. They are the trailblazers, the first cohort of the BA Performance in British Sign Language (BSL) and English programme – the UK’s only performance degree for D/deaf actors.

This tightknit unit of ten has come a long way over the past three years. The word ‘family’ often pops up in conversation to describe their bond. They’re preparing to graduate…and they’re ready to make their mark on the industry. Graduation will be a pivotal moment for these performing arts pioneers and they all admit that it’s a time of mixed emotions as they go on to begin their professional careers.

“I’m going to miss the group and being around everybody but I’m really glad for everything that RCS has given me,” says Jamie Rea who will work with director and alumna Cora Bissett on a piece for Festival 2018 and is cast in Summit by Andy Smith which tours England in the autumn. “Now, I’m going to be able to give back to the industry and that’s very exciting. It’s going to be a great journey.”

After graduation Petre Dobre will be joining Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre as its first trainee director/producer in BSL: “It’s such a fantastic opportunity, I’ll be able to develop and create my own work.”

Bea Webster will perform in Red Ladder’s Mother Courage and her Children in Leeds throughout autumn which stars Pauline McLynn, while fellow classmate Ciaran Alexander Stewart is cast in Pop Music with Paines Plough theatre company which tours England from September.

Three students will reunite on a new touring production by Solar Bear theatre company. Connor Bryson is assistant director on The Arrival which tours Scotland this autumn with Moira Anne McAuslan and Craig McCulloch.

“I’m going to miss the group a lot, we’ve had so many great experiences and laughs over the years,” says Moira.

I've learned so much here - we've been given the chance to show people what we can do which has been fantastic.

Moira Anne McAuslan

BA Performance graduate

The three-year BA Performance in British Sign Language and English undergraduate degree programme was established in 2015 in association with Glasgow-based theatre company Solar Bear, with input from a range of theatre, education and D/deaf professionals. The programme teaches students to be both actors and makers of work, exploring innovative ways of creating performance through British Sign Language and English.

It has been a life changing experience for Danni Wright, who moved from Australia to study here: “I had been itching for a big change and, when this opportunity came, I decided to let fate guide me. It was totally meant to be as the additional experiences of living in Glasgow and being at RCS have brought so many more beautiful things to my life!”

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, RCS Principal, says the students have made a ‘profound and positive impact’ across the entire conservatoire: “Our community and the work we now create have been changed for the better because of them and there is no doubt that as individuals and professionals they will now go on to enrich and transform the industry. We are looking forward to seeing the legacy they’ll create in an industry that continues to search for representation and diversity on its stages and screens.”

Claire Lamont, Head of the BA Performance programme says the students have been a joy to teach.
“It has been amazing to work with this extraordinary group of students. There has been a terrific buzz surrounding them and all have very bright futures. It has been exhilarating to be part of their artistic process and we can’t wait to see what comes next.”