PAUL HEUSTON INTERVIEWS K. YVONNE STAIN04 Apr 2016, by Interviews in
By Paul Heuston
Paul: Welcome to Melbourne, Yvonne! What is ‘Falling in love with Frida’ all about?
Yvonne: Falling in Love with Frida (‘Frida’) is an intimate and enticing performance exploring the life, loves and legacy of painter Frida Kahlo alongside that of creator Caroline Bowditch: a performance artist/choreographer. While reclaiming Frida as a disabled artist the performance takes us on a journey, exploring how we shape what we are remembered for and how much we can really control others memories of us. It includes dance, music, spoken word and movement with Sign Language fully integrated, echoing and connecting with all performers onstage.
Paul: How would you define ‘Auslan integrated theatre’, and how is this different to ‘Auslan interpreted theatre’?
Yvonne: I believe it is all part of a spectrum. Generally speaking, interpreted theatre could be viewed as a more ‘traditional’ style; being positioned side of stage, dressed neutrally and not connecting with the performers. The converse to this may be what we’ve created with ‘Frida’, where the interpreter adopts a role: costumed, mirroring movements and being directed within the choreography. While these are extremes of the spectrum it would be true to say that the traditional role is being used less and less within the Scottish industry, with artistic teams seeing benefits of having their interpreter rehearsed in a meaningful manner and therefore visually appealing to both Deaf and hearing audience members. To have someone at the side of the stage out of costume detracts from the design, when there are creative opportunities to devise a more visually pleasing version which contributes to the overall aesthetic.
Of course there are still companies for whom this is a new concept so they struggle to see the benefits, but as my confidence and knowledge in the art of theatre grew so did my ability to negotiate with lighting designers, directors, stage managers and performers. Having a portfolio of examples gets creative juices flowing and they normally see artistic opportunities as yet unconsidered. When I join a production the requirements of the piece are paramount and these are hugely dependent on the genre, style and presentation of each given circumstance. Having interpreted and worked in the industry for 20 years on stage, in rehearsal and within workshop settings; interpreted theatre, direction, choreography, technical, physical theatre, puppetry, etc. the knowledge gained has been invaluable.
Paul: How did you become involved in the show?
Yvonne: Caroline and I met over five years ago in Glasgow, where she is currently based. We always got on well, working in similar areas of the industry with Caroline occasionally booking me to interpret for meetings, finding ourselves at the same functions etc. We spoke, sometimes over wine, about how exciting it could be to work on a performance together so when she began devising ‘Frida’, Caroline asked me to be part of the ensemble – it was as simple as that!
Paul: Can you step us through the development process including some of the challenges you faced as a British Sign Language (BSL)/English interpreter?
Yvonne: Having been brought in at the beginning of the ‘Frida’ process, I was encouraged to develop my role alongside Caroline and the dancers. At the beginning it was a challenge for me to step away entirely from the traditional role and offer my own perspective on how I could connect with the movement. This wasn’t a difficult journey however, as Caroline is an experienced choreographer who brings the best out in people so she would set us challenges to respond to. The full cast were very open so we collaborated well on how phrases might work, discussing intent and motivation for our movements and connections. Mutual respect for our roles was at the forefront of rehearsal so it wasn’t a chore. Budgets were agreed early in the process and I found the pressure of working to a schedule useful, allowing me to really focus my time.
Paul: In preparation for the Australian tour, can you tell us how you learnt Auslan and what strategies you employ to ‘stay in the Auslan track and not slip into BSL’?
Yvonne: I began watching clips on YouTube about four months prior to the trip, becoming familiar with the language and its variations to BSL. I went on to have some Skype meetings with an Auslan interpreter whom had viewed our script and my BSL translation, she noted the main differences and spoke/signed me through the ‘library’ she created (later sent to me for reference) to ensure handshapes and usage were appropriate. I spent time absorbing this before inserting it into my translation so the signs became comfortable and felt natural to use, rather than a substitution for BSL. When I arrived in Australia, five days before opening night, I met up with my Language and Culture Consultant who spent three intense sessions honing my language use and advising/correcting where appropriate.
Paul: What responses about your role and the show have you received from the Deaf and Interpreter communities in the United Kingdom and Australia?
Yvonne: All responses have been really encouraging. Early in the process the question of why Caroline had decided to integrate a hearing interpreter as opposed to a Deaf performer was raised – fair comment. Caroline always wanted it to be responsive to each audience we meet and not strictly scripted so the ‘translation’ needs to be flexible alongside, and on some nights that is really put to the test! The Australian welcome has been amazing too, so has made all the hard work worthwhile!
Paul: What does the future hold for you and ‘Falling in Love with Frida’?
Yvonne: The show continues to draw audiences and attract the attention of festivals and producers. We have a few dates back in the United Kingdom this summer and the possibility of taking it to India as part of a festival next February…who knows how long the ‘Frida’ experience will continue?!
Paul: What advice would you give to interpreters who work in the ‘theatre space’?
Yvonne: Learn as much as you can about the industry, peoples roles and technical jargon. Attend performance workshops too as being comfortable as a performer generally supports our role as interpreters anywhere, allowing clear reflection of the speakers tone and body language accurately in a variety of settings. Research scripts the way actors do, analyse texts thoroughly and when you’re working a performance stay connected, holding space and develop stage craft as much as you can. Dropping my hands when there was no spoken word was one of the main things Deaf audience members said disconnects them from the performance element of their night out. Most of all…relax and be yourself.
Yvonne was born in Glasgow, Scotland. British Sign Language (BSL) has been her second language from a young age and she progressed to study formally, beginning an Interpreting career at age 20. Joining Glasgow City Council Sign Language Interpreter Service (SLIS) in 1995 she trained with Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters, becoming fully registered in 2000. Yvonne remained with SLIS for seven years, moving on to gain further experience within Signpost, Tyne Tees Television in Newcastle and Deaf Connections in Glasgow before becoming freelance.
Yvonne’s first experience of theatre interpreting was Lanark by Alasdair Gray, performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1995. Since then she has interpreted over 250 different performances ranging from community theatre to full scale professional productions, including Improvisational, Comedy, Opera, Shakespeare, and Pantomime etc.
Inspired by Deaf audience feedback Yvonne developed into a performative interpreting style, often integrating with performances and consulting on theatre aesthetics and equality of experience. Currently she is integrated into a number of performances, recent examples being ‘Falling in Love with Frida’ by Caroline Bowditch, ‘Rituals for Change’ by Emma Frankland and ‘Grit’ by Cora Bisset. Yvonne, and often together with colleague Catherine King, works with dancers, choreographers and actors to integrate BSL and choreograph timing onstage as part of multi-disciplinary productions. This can be for small or full scale productions.