As a student I loved going to watch fringe theatre. My friend said I was a frustrated thespian but at that point all I wanted to do was watch. One of the most exciting experiences as a young woman was spending two weeks taking in all the new writing at Edinburgh Festival. I wasn’t a writer or actress back then, nor was I severely deaf as I am now. From the age of 25, however, as my hearing loss progressed, I gave up going to the theatre; at the same time, I became a writer and performer myself, specialising in comic characters that satirised youth culture. I was involved in avant garde cabarets in Brighton and performed at fashionable discos in London – not the easiest places in the world to perform! I had little or no idea what the other performers were talking about.
It seems strange to me now that I went so long without knowing what was happening in theatre. The so-called ‘In Yer Face’ school of writing in the 1990s completely passed me by.
I began working in theatre seven years ago, as an attached writer at Soho Theatre. Sometimes I was so desperate to see a new uncaptioned play I would read the script before I went, and go to press night and gaze in uncomprehending wonderment. I’d end up tired and grumpy by the end of the night, and no actor, director or writer wants the audience to leave the theatre feeling like that. There were some captioned plays at the larger theatres, but the real breakthrough for me was in 2006 when the See a Voice project, managed by Stagetext and VocalEyes, allowed many more theatres to caption their plays, and more often.
The exciting new writing was now accessible to me during the first run. I can’t stress how crucial and exciting that was for me. My writing improved exponentially. Being able to watch the work of my peers had a positive impact on the quality of my own plays and even inspired me to develop my own type of captioning.
Things are great now, but they can get better. I’m dreaming of a future where everything that is spoken (yes, everything) is subtitled, on demand, all the time.