Shane O’Reilly on FOLLOW

Shane O’Reilly on FOLLOW

I am a CODA (child of Deaf adult) and so exist in a unique space between the Deaf and hearing worlds.

I have access to the culture and language of the Irish Deaf community and can also view that culture through an objective lens. I am also an actor.

Four years ago I had a discussion with Sophie Motley about knitting those two communities together as one audience, creating a piece of theatre that needs no interpretation or explanation for either the hearing or the Deaf. Personally, I wanted to invite my parents and their community into the theatre to see work created for and about them. Through the collaboration and exchange of light (Sarah-Jane Shiels), music (Jack Cawley) and Irish Sign Language FOLLOW was born.

What was important to me when making FOLLOW was the show’s ability to engage with the Deaf community as something familiar and accessible while at the same time confronting and entertaining a hearing audience without compromise. We initially worked on developing the style; an integrated narrative form that meant all spectators (hearing or Deaf) would access the same source in search of the narrative. I shared my perspective on doorbell lights, Deaf discos, visual culture and episodes of miscommunication with my collaborators in order to bolster the style with an authentic and insightful foundation. We then tried and tested various narratives in the rehearsal room in order to discover what story resonated with our hybrid audience. We discovered that the true stories of my own experience and the experiences of members of the Deaf community were the strongest support for our style and the best way to engage this new audience.

It is terrifying to present yourself and your family to an audience. It is a vulnerable and exposed space to inhabit. In all the years of performing this show, however, I’ve always been touched by the responses of our audiences and their willingness to understand and engage.

This production has gone on an enormous journey already. We’ve toured nationally and brought the show to new audiences. We have translated the entire show into British Sign Language and Northern Irish Sign Language in order to maintain that commitment to familiarity and access within the Deaf community we’re performing to. The production has morphed and contorted to fit different spaces and audiences. The show has challenged us and asked questions of our other work in terms of access and responsibility to audiences. It has created new conversations for me at home and within the Deaf community.

I’m delighted that FOLLOW is now at the Abbey Theatre. This is a time when the Irish Deaf Community is looking for recognition for their beautiful language and for understanding and acceptance of their culture. We made this piece of theatre to open dialogue and to inspire people to think about the different worlds that collide with their own.

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