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We spoke to actor Matthew Gurney to find out more about Extraordinary Wall o̶f̶ S̶ile̶n̶c̶e̶

Extraordinary Wall o̶f̶ S̶ile̶n̶c̶e̶ is a bilingual production presented by Ad Infinitum. Using the beauty of British Sign Language combined with spoken English, Ad Infinitum sheds light on a history of oppression experienced by d/Deaf people, using the stories of Helen, Alan and Graham, who are told they are impaired and need fixing. Matthew Gurney, one of the three Deaf actors who performs in the production, tells us more.

Hi Matthew! Do you think there’s something interesting that happens artistically when physical theatre and sign language come together?
It’s interesting, it’s great for me! Most of the time actors who use sign language stand on the stage and deliver your lines, sometimes you’re thinking about your Deaf audience and you don’t want to distract the Deaf audience. But when you’re thinking about physical theatre and adding those elements of moving round the stage, I think it can still be incredibly clear. I’m still learning to mix physical theatre with sign language and I would like to do more exploration in that area, so far our experiments show that the audience really like it. I don’t know what’s coming up in the future, I would like to do more exploration.

The production touches on the Milan Conference, a moment in 1880 when the use of Sign Language in schools was banned all over the world. What does this mean to you?

There’s no real rhyme or reason behind the 1880 Milan conference. Sign language is our language and they took away and they never told us exactly why. What was their thinking? They said they want you to speak it’s better for you, but you’ve never looked into my experience, my background, my culture, my artistic sensibility.

How have the three different stories in Extraordinary Wall o̶f̶ S̶ile̶n̶c̶e̶ made you feel?

I feel that their experiences are not dissimilar to my experiences, and I’ve got empathy with them. Of the stories we’ve gathered nothing’s shocked me at all, but I think the hearing audience are going to be quite shocked. For me as a deaf person, I feel it’s time to tell society, it’s time to tell the government, look what you did to us over the period of 100s of years. It’s time we speak up. I think this play is the perfect opportunity, and another opportunity, for us to speak up.

Have you experienced discrimination in the theatre industry? And are you happy to share that with us? Can you describe for people what the challenges might be in a hearing world?

Yes, I have. Not all the time, but I have. There have been experiences of discrimination. For example, I might work with someone who’s never worked with a Deaf actor before and although they may not mean to discriminate, not intentionally, but they don’t have any awareness of Deaf people. The more Deaf awareness there is throughout the theatre and television industries, the more people will understand, and the easier it will be for us to deliver the goods.

What do you think we can do to change that?

I think, to change that, the industry needs to listen to us as Deaf theatre-makers. They’ve got ears, they can hear; they just need to listen to us.

Extraordinary Wall o̶f̶ S̶ile̶n̶c̶e̶ will be at the Corn Exchange on Wednesday 5 & Thursday 6 February. Click here to find out more about Extraordinary Wall o̶f̶ S̶ile̶n̶c̶e̶

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