A Conversation With Nadia Nadarajah


Okay, I started when I was little. And it was through school. It was rare to have Deaf children
in performances. but I went to a mainstream school
that had a support unit… with a Deaf teacher
who used sign language. Here I learned through drama… a drama class.
We did different lessons. We did different things. Lots of hearing kids
enjoyed watching my performances with BSL and being
really expressive and physical. When I was younger
I always got the main roles. Every year for Christmas performances
and other productions… I was always there. Later I went to a private Deaf
boarding school which was oral. It was very interesting
because I realised something I’d never thought of before.
Growing up I had always achieved those main characters. And when I went for those parts
in the Deaf oral school, I didn’t get them. That was because I didn’t speak,
I used sign language. That was an eye-opening experience. Did I achieve a lot there through my acting?
No, not really. But what was interesting was
I had a very encouraging teacher who always
included me, every year. I wasn’t isolated, I wasn’t left out. I was always included. It wasn’t really as a main part.
It was always as a physical role. A physical thing like a tree, something
like that, in the background. I was always included, and the teacher was
always positive, gave me great feedback. “You’ve got great skill, you’re a great physical
actor. Shame you can’t speak.” And I would take that…
It didn’t knock my confidence, no, but… The feedback was always very encouraging. [STRING MUSIC PLAYS] [STRING MUSIC FADES OUT] So, my co-performer is Sue MacLaine. She is herself a BSL interpreter,
so she’s got a wealth of cultural knowledge and expertise. Her passion is writing.
She works in theatre, she’s an artist herself. So she’s got the whole package. Me, my expertise is the language,
the linguistics, the culture. And I’m an artist myself,
so we’re a great fit I think. We worked for two years
in research and development. Experimenting, brainstorming,
playing with the ideas, style. [STRING MUSIC PLAYS AGAIN] [STRING MUSIC FADES OUT] Both Sue and I wanted the audience
to be watching the play and thinking
“Who’s the lead character here?” “Is it Nadia’s story? No.
Is it Sue’s story? No.” “Is it somebody else’s story?”
That’s what we wanted to achieve. We liked that idea of an audience
constantly thinking “Whose story is this?” We are telling the story in parallel we’re playing with it and
the delays throughout the hour. But it’s really abstract. Some of the Deaf or hearing audience
members are sitting watching it the whole time thinking, “Whose story is it?” And their minds are going all the time. [ATMOSPHERIC BEATS] [ATMOSPHERIC BEATS FADE OUT] We had a very low budget
to do everything with. We only had a weekend as well. Finding venues and getting permission
at the start was okay but pre-production, wow, I learned
loads about the logistics. It seemed to go well, though! But again, we had
only one weekend to film everything from Friday to Sunday.
Luckily I had a great team – actors, cameramen, lighting men – I was the director, so there were lots of
discussions about my vision, what I wanted to achieve,
I’d have to explain all of that. Fortunately I had a great interpreter so fitting everyone together, Deaf and
hearing, I didn’t want any conflict. What was really important for me was reflecting
Deaf culture – that was the most important thing for me, so there were
lots of discussions about that. And it seemed to go really smoothly! Then afterwards, filming had finished
so we went into post-production. So, lots of editing, oh my god!
So hard! So many difficult decisions about what
to keep, what to leave out, But really what I realised was
that the vision I’d had at the start, I had to let go of. And just
work with what I had in front of me. “How do I tell the story from this?” Think about the audience, the sound. Luckily I was working with a Deaf-led company
who were very visually oriented – so they looked at visuals before the sound. Sound was right at the end. And I’d never
really thought about the sound. Because I wanted to see
what it looked like first and foremost. I had a friend who had a great opportunity
to learn about editing. Once we got everything ready, then
the sound technicians came in and asked me, “What sound do I want?” I talked about the emotional journey
that the audience would be taken on through the film.
I wasn’t really interested in the dialogue – I wanted the emotion to come through. They watched the film,
took notes, came up with something, put it on the film, asked me if it was okay. Obviously I couldn’t really tell. Once we were ready
we did a global launch. No! First it was on television, Film4. Yes, so that’s where we started. The feedback,
the response was incredible! “Oh it’s your first film?
It’s a great story!” “Great production values!” And loads of hearing people asked me about
the sound, like, “How did you do it?” and I’d never really thought about it
before, but I think for hearing people, they’re
drawn in through their ears. I think I really believe that to make
the hearing audience watch and see the Deaf culture, all the little
Deaf details in the film. The sound makes them watch – they’re drawn
in by their ears. They miss nothing. [ELECTRONIC MUSIC PLAYS]
You’re single again.
You can choose whoever you want. Yeah, but I just want
to settle down. But I can’t find
my dream man. He doesn’t exist. I sort of fancy
my neighbour though. Have you thought about
giving hearing women a try? I could give
my neighbour a go. Come on,
tell me what happened… Tell me more! When I finished my shower,
I sat down… [WHOOSH]
[BIRDS CHIRPING] If I think about the Deaf world, or… Deafness as a group of people, and
disability as a group of people I would say most of us –
I say ‘most’, everybody’s different – don’t like the disabled label,
don’t feel that label. I don’t feel disabled.
I think there’s a barrier and that barrier is our disability, between
people who can talk and people who use sign language. So I think that barrier creates
a disability in conversation. I think society needs to change.
It should change. If I think about culture? Yes. There’s a difference between
Deaf and hearing cultures. It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled,
or what language you speak. It’s cultural, so for example,
in the theatre in dialogue there’s comedy, there’s a joke.
You’re playing with language That’s the cultural aspect that as a Deaf person
I don’t get. I don’t laugh at that. Because it’s a sense of humour thing,
and in cultures it’s very different. Deaf culture has its own sense of humour
and we’re going to laugh at things that hearing people just
don’t get. And vice-versa. So yes, there I see a big difference. People who are disabled
but who aren’t Deaf they learn language in the same way. You hear it from conversations,
from social interactions. You can still go to the theatre
and access that language. Again, as a Deaf person, I don’t get it.
I rely on a hearing interpreter to make a translation so that I understand it
from a Deaf cultural point of view. Some interpreters find it very difficult –
it’s not an easy thing to do, at all. It’s like Sri Lankan culture
and English culture – they’re hugely different! They have their own comedy, their own humour,
and getting an exact translation between those is very difficult. So I think translation is a barrier,
a disability between cultures. When it comes to accessing
the arts – yes, I think D/deaf people and disabled people
are in the same position because the group who makes
that theatre, that group – that community, I guess – what’s the word?
The ‘non-disabled’ group – they get on with it and they
forget that we’re here. They leave us behind. They forget
that we’re artists who have feelings and ideas, and who can create art. It doesn’t matter if we’re disabled or Deaf.
There is a barrier to that community They need to change to allow access for us. One thing I’ve seen that I really, really
get annoyed with, though, is a theatrical production or a film production
who have a ‘tick-box’ approach to access. So they use us as a token – that
tokenistic approach to access really makes me very angry. I believe that both disabled and D/deaf groups of people –
they need to remember we have our own art. We’re creative, we express things,
we have a perspective, we have a vision that we could contribute to you, as the non-disabled
community. We have something to offer. That’s my hope for the future, it’s time
for that attitude to change. Society needs to change, they need to
reflect that it doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or not disabled,
Deaf or not Deaf. We’re just artists,
We’re human artists. We should be coming together
to share our experiences. Yeah. That’s what we believe. [STRING MUSIC PLAYS] ‘Nothing bad will happen here.’ ‘Everything bad has already happened.’ ‘This is the aftermath.’ ‘The flip-flop washed up on the shore.’ ‘The teddy bear in the wreckage.’ ‘This is the aftermath.’ ‘The second crop of grown grass after
the first has been harvested.’

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