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Shakespeare in British Sign Language (BSL) 

In 1993 while working on 'Julius Caesar' for the English Shakespeare Company, Sue attended a performance at the Warwick Arts Centre. It happened to be one of the nights of the run that was being signed by John Lee, an interpretor, at the side of the stage. So struck was she by the beauty of the sign language that she went round to John's dressing room after the show to discuss a collaboration between his company The Sign Language Video People and Shakespeare Link.

The first step was to get ten hearing and ten deaf actors together for two long weekends at the Camden Centre in Holborn. This and the next stages of the project were generously supported by the Sainsbury Family Trust.

Over the two weekends we explored shadowing and bilingual techniques, always within the medium of Shakespeare's plays. It very soon became clear that there were no available translations of his work and we needed to do something about it.

John and his wife Carol travelled to Wales where we made an initial translation of 'The Tempest'; John stood in front of a locked-off camera while Sue and Phil read the play off screen. It was an extraordinary piece of work on John's part as he signed over two hours of text.

This tape was then sent to a number of deaf actors who were well known to John, Carol and John Wilson who was to take on the part of Caliban.

During the summer we hosted ten of them and filmed 'The Tempest' around the farm. The result is more than a bare translation of the play, it is a record of an intense two weeks of hard work and discussion. For the hearing members of the team it was thrilling to witness the immediacy of sign. I for one will never forget Sebastian using his right forefinger and middle finger to land a bird on his left forefinger as he signed the line "that in Arabia/There is one tree, the phoenix' throne; one phoenix/At this hour reigning there".

Having shot 'The Tempest' we had to do more and the next two years saw us working on 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' and 'Twelfth Night'. We also have recordings of some Sonnets. This short film, 'The Music of Silence' was made by Christopher Martin and will tell you more:

To find out more about the Shakespeare in BSL films made by The Sign Language Video People please visit http://www.thesignlanguagepeople.co.uk/shakepearevideos.html