October 7, 2020International Sign – Connecting Deaf Performing Arts is a collaborative project developing and focusing on the stage language of deaf artists. The project partners consist of Tyst Teater (Sweden), Teatteri Totti (Finland), Teater Manu (Norway), International Visual Theatre (France) and Zentrum für Kultur und visuelle Kommunikation (Germany).
International Sign – Connecting Deaf Performing Arts is a collaborative project developing and focusing on the stage language of deaf artists. The project partners consist of Tyst Teater (Sweden), Teatteri Totti (Finland), Teater Manu (Norway), International Visual Theatre (France) and Zentrum für Kultur und visuelle Kommunikation (Germany). These five sign language-based theatre companies were granted two-year EU-project funding which started in September 2019 and will continue throughout 2021. The initiative is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme under the European Union and the Nordic Culture Point under the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The partners are different in size, capacity and orientation in the world of Deaf performing arts. They recognize these differences and believe that it is strength that can be used in vital parts of the project capacity and audience development, organizational and audience development, and outreach and artistic development.
All partners bring their national sign languages to the table. The joint experiences will be essential input into bringing an International Sign Dramaturgy to life. A long-term goal of this project is to establish a solid network of the five partners but also to reach out to other Deaf performing arts organizations and communities in Europe at the end of the project.
“In the bigger picture, we are aiming to have a tour coordinator in Brussels that ensures the deaf and native signers have access to culture and arts in sign language, which will open up the opportunities for more co-productions in the future and expand the performing arts in wider Europe. Culture is an excellent tool for strengthening human rights. The unique thing about the project is that the five theater houses are run by experienced deaf artistic directors who know the need of our audiences. Now it is time to connect the performing arts in Europe through one stage language, International Sign.”Mindy Drapsa, Artistic Director of Tyst Teater.
The project has three major strands:
International Sign Dramaturgy
Each partner will host a production and development week where they will go in-depth into each of the partner’s structural cycles. This will be an explorative process designed to create an International Sign Dramaturgy; ‘Signing’. A ‘Signing’ is the Deaf performing arts equivalent to a reading and in this case, an existing performance in the national sign language of the host partner will be translated and visualized with International Sign. The ‘Signing’ will be shared publicly. All five of the ‘Signings’ devised will be toured and finally showed at the Clin d’Oeil Festival in France at the end of the project in 2021.
Capacity and audience development
There is a fundamental lack of knowledge and data in capacity and audience development for deaf performing arts. At the same time as the ‘signings’ are developed, there will also be mapping exercise in each meeting in order to get an overview of the national status for the local deaf community (including education, cultural organisations, deaf-led organisations etc.). This will include a cultural policy overview assessing how each country supports Deaf performing arts and Deaf culture. The mapping results will be presented in the form of an open seminar.
Communication, documentation and evaluation
This is an essential part of securing an objective approach where documentation will include evaluation, statistics and interviews with audiences. The gathered data will be comparable for all five countries and contrasted against hearing audiences to show the differences, needs and challenges. The aim is to create a practical pre-study and method that can lay the groundwork for future initiatives. The material will be made accessible through the media channels of each country’s Deaf community (civil society, associations, education and cultural organisations).
Tyst Teater is the project’s coordinating partner, based in Norsborg. Tyst Teater has a long history in Deaf performing arts, being established in 1970 as part of Riksteatern (Swedish National Touring Company). It became independent in 1977 by government decision. Since its inception, Tyst Teater has actively promoted and developed Deaf performing arts within the deaf community. This goes hand in hand with the assignment from the Swedish government to “Produce groundbreaking performing arts in Swedish Sign Language and to work both nationally and internationally to develop deaf performing arts”. Tyst Theatre is led by Mindy Drapsa and has a permanent ensemble and administration with additional resources and marketing from Riksteatern.
Teater Manu is a national touring theatre based in Oslo, focusing on stage arts using Norwegian Sign Language and International Sign. The theatre has its core in the Deaf culture and the Norwegian sign language community. Mira Zuckermann has been the Artistic Director since its inception. The theatre was founded by the Norwegian Association of the Deaf in 2003, but its ‘date of birth’ is considered to be 2001, when the Norwegian Parliament decided to fund the theatre. Teater Manu will therefore celebrate its 20-year anniversary in December 2021. Teater Manu is governed by a board named by the Norwegian Association of the Deaf and the Norwegian Ministry of Culture. Teater Manu has a team of seven employees and produces 2-3 productions every year.
International Visual Theatre (IVT) is situated in the heart of Paris. It is a space for exchange, meeting and discovery for both deaf and hearing, bringing together a theatre, a training centre and a publishing house. These three poles are intimately linked in a common mission of transmission and dissemination of sign language and its culture. The articulation of the theatre with the teaching of LSF (French Sign Language) makes it possible to value the richness of the different registers of the language, to have a rich material of work and a unique pedagogy. International Visual Theatre occupies a unique place in France having been existence for 40 years. For the project, International Visual Theatre will lead on the digitization of a document database and bring its field of expertise around sign language and deaf and bilingual devising to both to creators and professionals.
Zentrum Für Kultur und visuelle kommunikation (ZFK), based in Potsdamhas a more than century-long history. Established in 1918 as a small stage club, it has developed over the years to the pantomime ensemble of the German Democratic Republic and, after the reunification in 1989, to a well-known, highly professional sign language culture organization. The purpose of ZFK is to be a multimedia communicator that can work on different visual levels for children, young adults and adults in sign language. The main objective is to promote the identity and culture of the sign language community, and ZFK seeks to increase interest in sign language, sign language film and to promote the culture of the deaf community. To achieve this ZFK has built up the expertise in music, visual media, interpreters and education, in addition to theatre and art. ZFK works with some of the leading actors in Germany, both as permanent employees and freelancers. International cooperation with artists, cultural workers and organizations is also an important part of ZFK’s work, and it has a large network of contacts in deaf communities all over the world.
Teatteri Totti (TeT) is a non-profit organization based in Helsinki, which is the only professional sign language theatre in Finland. The Ministry of Education and Culture has financially supported Teatteri Totti’s operation since 2006 with the aim of developing theatre in sign language. However, Teatteri Totti has been active for more than 30 years and was under the cooperation of the Finnish Association of the Deaf until 2014. Teatteri Totti produces one or two sign language shows annually, making work for different age groups, from children up to senior citizens. Teatteri Totti’s aim is to be accessible to all and offer solutions to audience’s needs including for subtitles, interpreters and descriptions for the visually impaired. Hearing users and non-native signers are also catered for, with most of the shows translated into spoken Finnish, and sometimes into other languages. Teatteri Totti’s purpose is to promote sign language theatre and other performing arts in sign language. Teatteri Totticontinues to develop its own activities and network with theatre partners in Finland and abroad.