New project makes Shakespeare accessible for D/deaf school children

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University of Birmingham academics have been working on a project to make Shakespeare accessible for D/deaf children in schools.

Resources for Macbeth can be found on the RSC’s website:

https://www.rsc.org.uk/learn/schools-and-teachers/teacher-resources/signing-shakespeare-for-deaf-students

Deaf actor, Sophie Stone, who plays Lady Macbeth in the films, and has played Jaques at Shakespeare’s Globe commented: “This has been a passion project that has evolved into a vital and urgent resource for young people to access Shakespeare’s world and language. This isn’t just a project for Deaf people, but a project which bridges the Deaf community and the Hearing, the linguistics of written and visual languages and the steady growth of inclusion within education. Shakespeare’s works have long been considered for the elite, inaccessible for contemporary audiences and academically exclusive. But Shakespeare himself wrote about, and for, people of all backgrounds. Gifting this rich part of history to today’s Deaf community shows that care and consideration have been made and the door to this experience is opened to those who deserve it too.

The ‘Signing Shakespeare’ project is currently working with students at Braidwood School for the Deaf in Birmingham to create a performance of the first act of The Tempest for performance at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Thursday 18th July.  Students will work with Deaf director Lilac Yosiphon and Deaf actor Mia Ward to bring the play to life through Total Communication – BSL, SSE, speech and subtitling.  Rokison-Woodall said – ‘It is really important to us that the students with whom we work can use their own chosen form of communication in which to perform’. 

‘Signing Shakespeare’ will also be running a Teacher CPD day on the Macbeth resources at the Exchange building in Birmingham on 10th July.  All Teachers of the Deaf are welcome to apply for this free workshop, which they can do by emailing a.rokison@bham.ac.uk. 

The Arden Shakespeare (part of Bloomsbury publishing) has funded ‘Signing Shakespeare’ to put the Macbeth workpack into every Deaf school and major Deaf unit in the UK.

Shakespeare is the only named author that all children are required to study at age 11-14, and yet there are currently very limited resources for teaching Shakespeare to Deaf students who use BSL or SSE.   The University of Birmingham and the RSC have developed a suite of resources that ensure D/deaf students have high-quality access to the plays. They have worked with Deaf theatre directors Charlotte Arrowsmith and William Grint and a host of brilliant professional Deaf actors to film scenes from the plays in British Sign Language, around which they have built a scheme of work.

The ‘Signing Shakespeare’ project hopes to be able to create resources for the most studied of Shakespeare’s plays on the National Curriculum, but this depends on future funding for the project. 

2 Comments

  1. Vicky Ireland on May 23, 2024 at 10:48 am

    This is wonderful work.Thank you and congratulations. I am part of the Intenational Inlcusive Arts Network, – IIAN and we in turn are an associate of ASSITEJ, the International Association fof Theatre and the Performing Arts for Children and Young People, which represents 80 countries acoss the globe. I am just on my way to Havana, Cuba for our three yearly Congress and will take news of this intiative with me. I hope you might get in touch!

    • Sula Gleeson on May 23, 2024 at 4:38 pm

      Hi,
      This is great. I didn’t know about this network. I’d love to be in touch more about all things inclusive – I only deal with the BSL side of ‘access’, but know quite a bit, and know many people in this area. I know for example a Deaf man who is translating the Iliad into BSL, as he wants more deaf children to be able to access high level literature (he would love funding to continue this work that he’s been doing in his spare time!). I know great theatre companies who make work for young people… etc.
      Do get in touch when you come back.
      Enjoy your congress.

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