Case Study: Igloo Hullabaloo

Creating and Realising a Bi-lingual/Integrated British Sign Language and English Play.

Half Moon has developed a unique way of creating work for the very young combining two languages – English and British Sign Language. The plays produced place both English (a verbal language) and British Sign Language (a visual language) on an equal status.

The dialogue between the actors – some Deaf, some hearing – is an exchange like any conversation you might have with a friend – the difference lies with the need to ensure that the audience – some Deaf, some hearing – can understand or engage with the full conversation taking place.

Igloo HullabalooThis is realised in two ways. Firstly, the play script is written so that each side of the conversation is referenced, with one character repeating or extending the dialogue of the other, agreeing with what has been said or referencing the statement in a different way (e.g. “Shall we go to the park?” “I am not sure I want to go to the park.”). Secondly, and this way is more interesting, especially for a young audience and for those interested in the aesthetic of theatre making, actors will use the visual energy of the BSL to show an exchange or dialogue (e.g. feeling upset or angry).

In Igloo Hullabaloo, an interesting illustration is in the underwater scene where Bubble (hearing actor) and Blue (Deaf actor) explore the depths of the ocean together. As a way in to creating scenes like this, the actors, hearing or Deaf, need to think in pictures. These pictures, through the playing out the action, can be made physically with the body, gesture or most simply with the hands. By not relying on the oral trajectory of dialogue, a gestural language is created which integrates the BSL with the English and visa versa. As a result, moments of synchronicity can occur when two or more actors make the same gesture or sign simultaneously.

It is important that all the characters can use sign to some degree. The aim of the rehearsal period, therefore, is to enable the performers to feel comfortable signing. This is the easy part, as this is the same as learning a few foreign words for a role. The difficulty is finding which key moments the spoken words will be supported with sign, which moments will be exclusively signed, and which will only be spoken.

Blue – the girl protagonist – can communicate the narrative from her perspective; she can comment on the action (almost like a traditional interpretation), or she can engage in a dialogue. At no point is Blue an interpreter simply standing at the side of the stage. As the play is integrating two languages, it is important to recognise that Blue is a character in her own right who has an active journey through the play as the hearing actors.

Big under water igoo hullabalooBSL sometimes can be faster than spoken English (direct and to the point) but also sometimes needs longer to explain a concept. This becomes clear when the company starts to explore the script in rehearsals. The cast have to learn to be totally aware of each other at all times. In an integrated company, working with periphery vision to build trust and awareness among each other is key. Putting this in to practice with the script is achieved by building the scenes using cued moments, so that the actors literally know where the others are in the script. This could be a gesture (sometimes a shared sign) or a physical movement by any of the actors on a specific line or blocking moment (e.g. sitting down), while ensuring that sightlines (on the stage) are not obscured for the actors.

An example from the script:

An extract from the script is available to download below. The written text for characters, which is signed rather than spoken, appears in [ ] to show this convention. Signed text is translated literally and appears in English using BSL language structures. This is shown in text blocks as follows and should be performed simultaneously in a linear progression.

Finger spelling is shown with capital letters separated by hyphens (i.e. B-L-I-S-T-E-R). When a character’s sign name is used this is shown (sign-name) .

Notes on direction of sign, placement of sign or intention/context of sign are shown in bracketed italics (i.e. [Them sleep, ssshhh (direction = igloo) ]

At the point of a scene change or establishment, a BSL description of the new world and some of Blue’s emotions in this world is placed in {brackets} E.g. After the Prologue scene change, this appears; {WORLD = ice – cold – snow – mountains – tree – distance – alone}. The intention of this is that the BSL Performer can visualise the world into which the signed text of the scene is placed, and use the description as motivation e.g. When Blue signs; [I feel vibration (up and down body) . What? Oh! I feel clock – tick, tock, tick tock,] the performer could use the {WORLD} description to place the [tick tock]. For example, place the vibration as if it is coming from the trees or mountains. The description of being {alone} may add motivation to characterisation, e.g. Blue feels nervous at being alone and is afraid of the trees, or Blue feels brave at being alone and excited by seeing mountains.

You can see the script below.

Download Igloo Hullabaloo Script in BSL English Format

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