Different Deaf voices

Phoebe Tay
I went to some writing workshops for Deaf people this month. I learned a lot about writing. Together we shared our stories with each other and what it was like growing up Deaf. We then presented our stories to an audience at this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival. We were encouraged by the positive reaction from the audience. I really enjoyed the night and if I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I would.
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Phoebe Tay on 20/09/2012
Ross signing his story during the performance.
Ross signing his story during the performance.

Ross told stories of his travels.

A series of writing workshops were run earlier this month for Deaf people as part of the Melbourne Writer's Festival.

Workshop participants then had the opportunity to present their writing in two festival performances.

The workshops led by writer Arnold Zable were organised by Arts Access Victoria, with support from the City of Melbourne.

I was very excited when I heard there was funding for interpreters in the workshops and the opportunity to meet other Deaf people who share the same passion for writing. And so I applied.

The workshops

I went to the first workshop not knowing what to expect. Arnold Zable explained that good writing involves painting with words and that imagination means seeing it. He left the discussion open during the workshops and gave each of us the chance to be heard and to decide what to write.

By the end of the workshop I felt I had learnt so much and looked forward to the four subsequent ones leading up to the performance. Arnold gave us all feedback on our writing and how to expand on it.

Different Deaf journeys

I enjoyed the spontaneity and openness of the workshop discussions. It was eye-opening listening to each Deaf person share aspects of their life experiences in their search for, and found, self-acceptance. Eli, Stef, Karen, Ross and I shared our viewpoints and experiences on growing up Deaf during the workshops and wrote them down in our own ways.

Eli comes from a hearing family and recalled the emotional moment when he was two years old and his mum discovered he was Deaf. Stef was born to Deaf parents and was taught to be assertive from a young age.

Then there is Karen who told of the challenges and struggles to make changes after losing her hearing later in life. Ross told stories of his travels and how an encounter with a man who could sign changed his outlook on life. And I shared how I grew up in a hearing family and found my Deaf identity when I moved to Australia from Singapore.

Storytelling in many forms

Each of us involved in the workshop faced the challenge of writing our story and how to present it during the festival. Some of us chose to write our stories, while one participant whose first language is Auslan felt more confident writing her story down in the form of a map and using it as a point of reference during the presentation.

We discovered we each had our own strengths and would narrate our stories in different ways. Some of us chose to speak, others to sign and some to speak and sign. We were directed by Medina Sumovic and Jo Dunbar, who are also Deaf.

The rehearsals were great fun and lots of learning was achieved. Each member in the group knew how to encourage and support one another even in the face of discouragement. The two Auslan interpreters Jodee Mundy and Melissa O' Neill also worked hard alongside us to present our stories.

The performance

The two Through Deaf Eyes performances at the festival were a roaring success with tickets sold out on each of the nights. All of us were encouraged by the positive audience feedback on the presentations.

The whole process has really helped me to grow as a person and as a writer. It challenged me to take risks with my writing and to step out of my comfort zone when presenting my story to an audience.

I also came to appreciate and respect the uniqueness of each individual story presented as well as mine. I really enjoyed the night and if I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I would.

I want to thank Arts Access Victoria for bringing this project into fruition and hope to see bigger projects for Deaf writers in the future.

Image: Melbourne Writer's Festival

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