Polish Deaf artists discuss what they need from the arts & culture sector

Date: July 2, 2020 - July 2, 2020
Location: Poland

On Thursday 2 July at 19:00 CET (18:00 BST), Europe Beyond Access will host a conversation between two Polish Deaf artists, Marta Abramczyk and Adam Stoyanov, as they discuss how they have been maintaining their artistic practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, trends in Polish Deaf theatre, and what needs to happen within the arts and culture sectors to enable full accessibility to Deaf artists and audiences.

This conversation was hosted on the Facebook pages of: Europe Beyond Access, British Council Poland, and Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego.

Marta and Adam both performed in Wojtek Ziemilski’s production One Gesture (which premiered at Nowy Theatr), a performance that explores the limits of language and the depth of communication that sign language offers. More recently, they performed in and helped to develop Opera dla Głuchych (Deaf Opera) at Studio Teatr in Warsaw.

Marta is also the founder of the group Aktywni to my (Active is Us) and the author of Usłysz Nas (Hear Us), a project that previously won the 1st Award of the Warsaw Stock Exchange of Cultural Education Programs.

Adam is a Deaf poet who creates flash poetry in Polish sign language. He also delivers workshops with Nowy Theatr (here you can watch his short lesson that teaches basic phrases to communicate with the Deaf community).

This event featuring Marta and Adam in conversation will also be captioned in Polish.

An English transcript will be available to enable the exchange of ideas with other artists across Europe.

Europe Beyond Access is a transnational arts and disability programme focused on championing disabled artists across Europe. To deliver the programme in Poland, British Council works with Instytut Muzyki i Tańca, Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. 

Europe Beyond Access is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Commission.

English transcript

Marta: Hello!

Adam: Hi!

Marta: Welcome to this discussion which is part of Europe Beyond Access. Today, we have Deaf artist Adam Stoyanov with us – Adam, you are an actor and perform in various theatre performances, for example “One Gesture” and “Opera for the Deaf”, and you have your own creative practice too.

As a Deaf artist, Adam creates flash poetry, a creative form that has strict rules using the shape of the hands which should not change during the story.

Adam: You have to maintain a consistency.

Marta: Yes, either it has to be based on the finger alphabet or the signs for numbers. Today, we will discuss topics including the creativity and needs of Deaf people in Poland.

Let’s get to the first question: we are currently experiencing the coronavirus pandemic in which people are spending time at home, only leaving when absolutely necessary, e.g. to make purchases or to go to work.

Can you tell us about your experience during this time? How are you spending your time at home? Does any boredom come into it, and are you still managing to platform your creative ideas to an audience?

Adam: I’m not sitting at home just doing nothing. As a group leader at PZG association in Warsaw, I work on facilitating exchanges between actors, helping to share our ideas during this time.

For example, I might propose an idea, and we work on improving it together before turning it into a video. Or maybe someone else throws an idea in and we act together as a group. There is no boredom! Thanks to facilitating these discussions and assembling video content, I get a satisfaction from how we are united as a group during these times. I’m also publishing videos of various types of poetry. If you’re interested, please visit the website PZG Warszawa where there are various episodes available.

Finally, I’m also creating poetry without words, so with no sign characters. Hopefully using this technique, Deaf people around the world can understand it. In this form of poetry, I do not use words like Mug or Lamp. I blink naturally, descriptively. So it’s these three things that I am doing to keep being creative.

Marta: It means that we can continue to come up with ideas in a team, without having to meet, right?

Adam: Yes, yes. When working in a group, we are agreeing ideas together.

Marta: And it is important to have common interests which unite the group and enable the work to happen.

Adam: Yes, yes, right.

Marta: I have an additional question. Currently, we would assume that Deaf people have a better quality of life compared to 50 years ago, e.g. without technology, without the Internet, laptops, battery, various electronic devices, etc. If we were forced to stay at home without these, it would be a problem. We’re in a better position now, right?

Adam: Yes, we are more comfortable with tech, cameras and other gadgets that also keep us entertained at home.

Marta: OK, thank you for the answer. I have another question about creativity. If we want to create something, we must first have an idea. But what about those of us who don’t feel so creative? Do you have any tips for nurturing creativity? Where do your creative ideas come from?

Adam: First of all, I need to make sure there are no distractions. I don’t have my phone with me, I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t use the computer. I am alone with nothing but me. I think calmly, and then ideas come to me.

The second situation is a maybe bit strange but when I’m playing on the computer, regardless of the theme of the game (horror or fairy tale), I also come up with ideas! When I am calm and focused, that’s when I tend to generate a lot of ideas. Maybe this doesn’t work for everyone. Everyone has their own way of coming up with creative ideas. If we want to find out where ideas come from in our head, we should look inside ourselves, use internal reflection, and get to know our character and what works for us. I know that when I’m alone and focused, that when ideas arise for me.

Marta: I mean, it’s worth observing and finding out where the source of our ideas lie. It supports creativity, but as well as analyzing ourselves, it’s also a matter of exploring different concepts.

I have another question. As a Deaf person, and this question concerns Deaf people all over Poland, what do you think Deaf people are missing in our society? Maybe there are things that we don’t know about yet, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need it?

Adam: We need a translator 24 hours a day. PZG gives me access to a translator all the time, so for me, this is really beneficial and extremely important. And I mean translation in any case, e.g. at the office or at the doctor’s, it is very necessary. The second very important need is subtitles and having a translator on TV. We are constantly struggling with technical issues like the translator on TV being too small, which makes it difficult for us to watch and results in pain and burning eyes. It would be so much easier for us if the translator was enlarged.

Another thing I’d say is related to communications on public transport. People who are Deaf find it difficult to know about changes because there is no information in the form of subtitles. We need to see it.

Marta: Is it about seeing information when something happens?

Adam: Yes, yes. So I see these three main needs.

Marta: Recently, many Deaf people use Facebook to voice their opposition, and they write and submit petitions. If we continue to protest and stand up, do you think this will lead to success?

Adam: I think so. If someone from the council has an important message about public health, then for us, Deaf people, the information does not reach us immediately. This is a huge problem. We never give up and we will keep fighting for our rights here.

Marta: Regarding access to having a translator and subtitles, do you think it is better or worse now compared to previous times?

Adam: I have the impression that in the past it was even worse, there was a major lack in access to these things. There was no translator on TV. There were also misunderstandings at the doctors. There were a lot of shortcomings, so I think it was harder then. Now we are seeing a gradual improvement. Small steps though, not big ones. We do not have full accessibility yet. It is still not enough. We must push for full access for Deaf people.

Marta: Good, thank you. The next question is similar to the previous one, and it concerns the needs of the Deaf community, but this time specifically the needs of Deaf artists. Deaf society is characterised by a strong bond based on our common language, culture and views.
What about Deaf arts? What do you think that Deaf artists need in order to move forward?

Adam: This is a very important question. Yes, something is definitely missing. I work in the theatre at PZG, but I really want this to be a space where Deaf painters, sculptors and other artists could also be there. Let this place be created by Deaf artists of all kinds. Unfortunately, this is not here yet.

There are performances in which the translator stands next to the actors. But in this format, we do not see the whole performance, because we cannot look at the performance and translate simultaneously.

We must divide our attention into two sides. This is a problem and I would like to change that.

Among the hearing community, it is often the case that the actors use an interesting piece of the text and sing it during the performance.

Deaf people can also do this in our own way, giving the soul of the song. The poem blinks naturally, which is very valuable.

For some time I was gathering testimonies from other people at the theatre, I acted, and motivated others. My goal, my dream is that when I am older, I would like younger generations to benefit from having a theatre created by Deaf people and that could be realised in the arts.

Both Deaf people and Deaf children with hearing parents want to join in with theatre to develop their passions, but at the moment, they might feel lost. I would like this place to be accessible and give everyone the opportunity to develop their culture.

Marta: Do you think that nowadays Deaf people have a greater need to engage with theatre, among Deaf and hearing people?

Adam: I have the feeling that there is a great need to act among Deaf people. I talk to my friends who also love theatre, not only in Warsaw, but all over Poland. There are several Deaf actors but very few because most cities don’t have them. I would like there to be such groups in many Polish cities, and from having these we could exchange experiences.

Marta: That would be fair in every place.

Adam: That’s right. It is worth developing in such a way.

Marta: In Warsaw there is still no official, permanent place for Deaf Theatre.

Adam: It’s not here yet. There are only hearing groups and we, Deaf artists, join them. I would prefer my own group.

Marta: I noticed that in Warsaw, most of the main Deaf performances show the world of Deaf people. There are rarely other thematic areas, e.g. book adaptation, fantasy or history.

Regardless of whether it is old or modern theatre, the topic of being Deaf is used so much. Don’t we have enough of this? It is interesting for hearing people, but how do Deaf audiences feel?

Adam: It’s a benefit for hearing audiences. Seeing these perspectives, you can “wake up” and realise. Raising awareness among the hearing community is essential, so it is very necessary. I don’t just focus on Deaf people with my work, I also focus on hearing people. For example, the performance under the title “Jeden Gest” is, I think, very cool and interesting. Most Deaf audience members know what’s going on. However, they say that the performances are a little too little, and maybe they expect more unique proposals. And that’s the point.

Marta: Good. I have probably already asked all the questions. Thank you very much for the conversation, Adam.

Adam: Thank you.

Marta: Thank you, see you soon.

Adam: See you soon. Bye!