Photos from Graeae’s rehearsals for ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’

Last week I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon watching the cast of Reasons To Be Cheerful reunite for a new tour. Their rehearsals made quite an impression on me, as you might be able to tell from reading my preview for Disability Arts Online. I had my camera with me, and here’s a slideshow of my photos.

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Deaf production company searches for actors – could YOU be a star?

Deaf production company VS1 are searching for deaf and hearing actors to play a number of roles in their new drama, Life’s Out There, which will be funded by the BSLBT and shown on the Community Channel in Autumn 2012.

There’s eight roles in all and you’d need to be available for various dates in April. Interested? Check out this information on their website: decide which role you’d like to go for, and email with a recent photograph and your CV. Good luck!

Why we all owe the ‘Chickengate’ notetaker an apology. Er… honest.

Ok, ok. So we’ve had our fun. In going viral, ‘Chickengate’ has expanded from a mere few seconds on BBC3’s Deaf Teens: Hearing World to inspire numerous gags on Twitter, hundreds of Facebook comments, and now, amazingly, a handful of tribute videos. A four year old girl even made the “my chicken is ill’ excuse on a Facebook video yesterday, and ‘Chickengate’ has duly been honoured with its own (admittedly rather clever) Downfall parody.

I still can’t stop laughing at the moment when Sara was told by her notetaker that she couldn’t stay for the whole two-hour lecture because her chicken was visiting the vet. Clearly I’m not alone.

But then, yesterday, something made me think again. Deaf actress Emily Howlett posted this tweet: “Can we all leave the poor note-taker alone now? We need these people to help us. Might be better not to shit all over them for doing so.”

At first, I argued back. I told Emily that she had a point, but that the reaction wasn’t cruel, it wasn’t aimed against the notetaker, but was simply one of those rare moments when the whole deaf world found itself laughing at the same thing. A funny excuse that became our version of Simon Cowell’s high trousers, Ricky Gervais dying (comedically) on stage during Live 8, or the bridesmaid who was grumpy during the Royal Wedding. The ‘chicken is ill’ joke was something that us deafies all understood, that we could all share. That bonded us together.

Then, through Twitter, Emily pointed out a few things. Like the fact the notetaker “was only booked for the hour, it’s not like she was booked and walked out before time up…” and that it wasn’t “worth the backlash the poor woman got for being honest.”

It got me thinking. There’s a person out there who’s probably wondering what she ever did to deserve this.

I don’t know much about Sara’s notetaker, but there are two things we can glean from the small amount of footage in the film. One: she cares about animals. Two: she works to support deaf students. Those are two things right there, that indicate, with high probability, that she may well be a pretty good egg.

When I think about it, if Sara’s notetaker is guilty of anything, then first, it’s of caring too much about her chicken. So much that when said chicken developed a limp, she didn’t decide it was a good time to plan a Sunday roast, she chose to try and help it get better. The vet fees alone must have cost more than simply murdering her chicken and replacing it with a new one. She must have really loved that chicken.

The other thing she was guilty of (as Emily pointed out) was being honest. Too honest. Think about it. She’s providing support for a student who is being filmed for a documentary. She walks up to her before her first lecture and there’s a camera filming their whole conversation. She suddenly finds out that the student’s lecture is two hours long. She can only stay for the first hour. Amazingly, she decides to tell the truth about why she has to go.

How many people, faced with the same circumstances, would make up a story here? A little white lie? How many people with a camera at their side and a disappointed student staring them in the eye would fib that they had an urgent doctor’s appointment of their own, or that their Grandmother was terminally ill, or that there was some kind of urgent flight out of the country they had to make? How many people would choose, as Sara’s notetaker did, to simply be honest, however ridiculous they might sound, and say those immortal words: “I have a problem. My chicken is ill.”

If that’s not enough for you, here’s one final reason why I think Sara’s notetaker is a good sort. Her job is writing down a summary of what’s said during a lecture for deaf students. She’s not an interpreter. Yet – and let’s not underestimate the significance of this – she has taken it upon herself to learn enough sign language to enable her to communicate easily with a deaf student. She doesn’t need to do this – she could probably get by writing notes to them on a piece of paper at the beginning and end of lectures. But somewhere along the line, she’s chosen to go the extra mile. For deaf people.

That’s why I think we’ve read ‘Chickengate’ all wrong. Rather than being vilified for a split second in her life, I think we should rally round Sara’s notetaker. She’s suffered for nothing more than being a good, honest, genuine person, and rather than continuing to laugh at her for nothing more than a moment in her life, we should instead all give her a big old deaf hug and wish that there were more people out there like her. People that care about their chickens and their deaf students, no matter the circumstances. On reflection, Sara’s notetaker, you are my hero.

(with thanks to Emily Howlett for making me see the picture with fresh eyes)

Interview with deaf actor, playwright and stand-up comedian Sophie Woolley

Sophie Woolley is an actor, playwright, and a stand-up comic. She starred in Channel 4’s drama series Cast Offs, has written numerous plays for theatre and Radio 4, and recently performed in her own online series, Deaf Faker. She has also just written a short story called I Am the Walrus in a new anthology called One for the Trouble. Later this month she’s performing as one of the characters in the story as part of Abnormally Funny People’s comedy gig at Soho Theatre, all of which makes it seem the perfect time to find out more about her work. Or at least, a small part of it.

You’ve got a play in production, have just starred in the Deaf Faker online series, have written a story  in a new book, and now you’re doing stand-up too. How do you fit it all in?

I’m developing another couple of plays as well! I’m also trying to finish reading a time management book called Getting Things Done, which is like an erotic self help book for busy people or something. I don’t really understand a lot of it, and there is some hard core filing advice  – but the author says some interesting things about ‘open loops’.Basically you have to make a system for yourself so you aren’t thinking about the other task you should be doing when you are supposed to focus on the other task.

But I’m answering your question far too literally. The way I fit in this stand up thing was by writing the new material for this month’s gig after thinking of something funny in the half sleep just after I went to bed. I had to get up and write it down. Hopefully it won’t show that I wrote it whilst asleep.

What do you like writing best – fiction, drama or comedy?

I usually like whatever I’m doing the best while I am doing it – on a good day! I started writing plays and short stories when I was 7 or 8. I’d read them in school assembly (people would always die in the end as I was crap at thinking of twists in the tale) and cast friends in my plays and revues. I made magazines as well at primary school. Then I took a break from fiction, drama and journalist writing during secondary school to devote more time to fancying pop and film stars on TV.

What was your first stand-up gig like?

People laughed – it was a big relief. I thought ‘this is easier than I expected’.   I didn’t really do a proper joke joke joke set. It was a character monologue, although I situated the piece in the venue I’m in at the time. I was glad no one heckled – because I might not be able to lipread them or hear them. The gig this month is the first subtitled stand up gig I’ve done, so maybe I’ll find out actually people do heckle me and I just didn’t realise.

Tell us about the act you’ll be performing at Soho…

My act is a quick masterclass in acting. I’ve done a small amount of acting and now feel fully qualified to lecture everyone on a few secret tricks of the trade. The comedy night itself is called Abnormally Funny People which is a regular comedy night featuring disabled stand ups and a  token non disabled stand up. It’s in the swish new comedy room downstairs.

How does the act relate to the story in the book?

The stand up character is kind of based on the one in the book – but the tone is very different. It’s a deaf actress character – inspired mainly by myself. Which sounds very conceited, but come and see it – and read the story in the book and you will see that it is quite the opposite.

Sophie will be performing live at a palantyped (with live subtitles) comedy gig downstairs at Soho Theatre on Monday 20 February at 7.45pm. Tickets are £10. Booking info:

Book Slam annual Vol One: One for the Trouble is available as a limited edition signed hardback (£30) or as a cheaper eBook (£2).from Amazon kindle:

For more information about Sophie’s work, visit her website:

The notetaker’s limping chicken from ‘Deaf Teens: Hearing World’ goes viral

Wow, what’s happened to the online deaf world in the last 24 hours? There’s only one word on everyone’s lips and hands: ‘chicken.’ Actually there’s two: ‘ill chicken.’

Who knew that one excuse from a notetaker in BBC3’s ‘Deaf Teens: Hearing World’ would spawn quite so many retweets, status updates, and ultimately a Facebook group called My chicken is ill with over 600 members (and counting)?

For anyone who missed it, the film followed five teenagers with different levels of hearing and methods of communication on their journeys to adulthood and the hearing world.

When Sara, a teenager from Nottingham who is profoundly deaf (and needs the support of an interpreter and a notetaker at university) arrived for her first lecture, she was told by her notetaker (who had only been booked for one hour) that she couldn’t stay for the whole duration. The reason? “I have a problem,” the notetaker told her. “My chicken is ill.”

If the look of disbelief on Sara’s face that a limping chicken’s visit to the vet came above her education was telling, that was nothing compared to the online reaction from the deaf community.

A screengrab of the moment was spread by all and sundry on Twitter. On Facebook, people jovially speculated that the ill chicken had contributed to Sara’s later decision to quit university, and that the reason Sara and her boyfriend Asher were later seen eating at Nandos was some kind of revenge mission against chickens. Meanwhile Adam Bassett, a deaf actor, wondered whether the “the ill chicken, notetaker and Sara [will] appear on the Jeremy Kyle show this week?”

On Twitter, deaf people have been sharing gags (and other comments on the programme) using the #deafteens hashtag. They range from ‘Some people have clearly never known the love of a good chicken’ to people arguing ‘that the #deafteens chicken wasn’t even ill. It was limping, thus was *injured*.’

There are few moments that unite the deaf world, but it seems like everyone was watching BBC3 last night and this is one of those moments that struck a chord. Will we ever get over ‘chickengate’? Do we want to? And is it possible to think of any more original jokes about chickens?!

I’m off for a KFC Family Feast to ponder some of those questions.

Update: amazingly, two deaf chaps have recreated the ‘ill chicken’ scene… this is madness.

Interview with Claire Braden, director of BBC3’s Deaf Teens: Hearing World

First published in the February 2012 edition of the Hearing Times.

Claire (pictured right, with Meghan after her cochlear implant operation) has worked in TV for eight years, starting off in wildlife documentaries before moving into filming people instead. After working on programmes about children in care, she worked on medical series like 24 hours in A&E and went on to film in Africa. Deaf Teens: Hearing World is the first one hour programme she has directed.

Where did the idea for Deaf Teens: Hearing World come from?

My Dad is becoming deaf and he said that it makes people instantly assume you are a bit daft, so I wondered if this was even worse for young deaf people. Once I had spent the day at a deaf school, I decided that they had plenty to say and there was so much to learn about their experiences of being deaf and the deaf community. I wanted to know what it was like to be a deaf teenager – were the rules of engagement different – do deaf people only date other deaf people? What’s it like to go to uni when you can’t hear any potential friends? How is it going from a fully deaf school in to the hearing world?

How did you get the film commissioned?
This film is part of the Fresh strand on BBC3, which is an opportunity for relatively new directors to make their first one hour programme. It is a great opportunity to work on a programme that you have come up with – I pitched the idea to the BBC executives, then literally worked on it from start to finish.

Your film features various ‘types’ of deaf people – signers, cochlear implant users and so on. Were you surprised that such variety exists within the deaf world?
I was amazed that within one community there could be such a variety of people, so many different viewpoints and yet such a close-knit group of people. Two deaf people might have very different viewpoints on, for example, cochlear implants – one might have a cochlear implant and the other might be staunchly against cochlear implants believing them to weaken the strength of the deaf community – but it won’t stop them being friends.

How did you deal with communication during filming? 

In a variety of ways. Christianah and Meghan used speech so I just conversed with them directly. They are masters of lip-reading and as long as I remembered to take the camera away from my face before I spoke, faced them and didn’t mumble we got along fine! Jake and I could converse to a certain extent with the help of his family and on one occasion we used an interpreter. With Sara and Asher, who are BSL users, I had an interpreter for just about all the filming with them.

Were your perceptions of deaf people changed by making the film?
I was amazed at how important deaf identity is – most of the young people seem to find such solace in being with other deaf people and it seems like an amazing ‘club’ to be involved in. Their culture is very attractive, it is a friendly, warm, tactile culture with a beautiful language at the heart of it and many brilliant people who just see the world in a very slightly different way from me. I am fairly sure it is this ‘club’ or culture which makes most of the deaf people I spoke to say that they wouldn’t become hearing, even given the choice.

What did you learn about their families?
I think there is a huge difference between being born to deaf parents or hearing parents. I was surprised to find out that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. I was really impressed by how the parents of one of the boys in the film, Jake, who are hearing, had managed to learn sign language and had made such a tremendous effort to connect Jake with so many other deaf young people. It must be a minefield for hearing parents initially in how to communicate with your child but not deny them their deaf identity.

You caught these young people at a certain stage in their lives – just as they’re going through big changes, moving away from home, becoming an adult and so on – how do you feel being deaf changed their experience?
All the contributors had a different experience of moving into the big wide world. I think moving from a deaf school or a place where you have lots of deaf support in to a mainstream university is incredibly hard. How do you make friends when you have an interpreter and a notetaker in tow? It is incredibly hard, as Sara found out when she set off for uni. I think all my contributors in the film had real balls and were utterly inspiring, I think they will all ultimately make real successes of themselves even if it doesn’t happen straight away for all of them.

How do you feel about the final film and would you like to revisit the contributors a few years down the line?
I am pleased with the final film, I am very happy that the contributors and the National Deaf Children’s Society like the film and feel it represents young deaf people fairly. I felt a big responsibility in making a film about such a strong-minded culture especially as I wasn’t part of it. The five young people in the film are so engaging and I think they offer a real insight in to the experience of being deaf. If the BBC is interested in a follow-up I will be there!

Deaf Teen: Hearing World will be broadcast on BBC3 at 9pm on Monday 6th February, – click here to watch the sign interpreted version of the programme on iPlayer.

Hearing people – it’s time to give subtitles a chance

Last week, the Mail Online ran a story called SPEAK UP! Or why mumbling actors are ruining TV drama, in which Leo McKinstry described sitting down to watch the BBC’s expensive production of Birdsong, only to find he couldn’t understand a word.

“At first, I thought something had gone wrong with my hearing,” he wrote, before complaining that the lead actor’s performance “was about as intelligible as a post-match interview with a monosyllabic Premier League footballer.” Well, I think most of us deafies can relate to that experience – poor enunciation and sound quality on television is the bane of many a deaf life.

What jarred for me a tad, then, was McKinstry’s comment that “what really let the show down was the  lack of subtitles.” That’s because, like the rest of the BBC’s output (the corporation has a 100% subtitling rate, no less) the drama was subtitled – it was just a matter of turning them on.

(Top tip: pressing ‘menu’ on your remote control, followed by ‘settings’ seems to get you to the right place, or if you’re really lucky, your remote may allow you to turn subtitles on with the push of just one button.)

Before Christmas I met one deafie who told me that she’d struggled to hear the television for years before discovering subtitles when an enlightened friend came over.

I couldn’t believe that this could happen in the 21st century, but what the Mail’s article tells me is there’s still a remarkable number of people who don’t know subtitles are out there, alive and kicking, ready to lend a helping hand.

All of which made me extra pleased to read this blog post from a hearing film fan this morning – called Experiencing Open Captioning. The blogger describes going to see a film, only to find that subtitles were appearing on screen.

Her initial reaction was that someone had made a mistake, but then she realised the subtitles weren’t being added accidently, and decided that “the idea of leaving or seeing a different film simply because the film had open captions felt ridiculous.” She stayed and gave them a chance.

Better still, she loved the experience.

She found the subtitles gave clarity to dialogue in the film, made her more aware of sound effects (and their possible significance), helped her remember character names, and weren’t so hard to adjust to because she’s used to watching subtitles on foreign films.

I’m still getting over the shock of finding a non-deaf film fan who likes subtitles (when I wrote this article for the Guardian about cinema subtitles, I found many examples of the opposite).

Let’s hope a few more people not only give them a chance but also become aware that they’re actually available, if you only turn them on.