Arts Council England
Royal Shakespeare Company leads the way with a theatre first for diversity
A Deaf actor has become the first ever at the RSC to understudy a hearing role using British Sign Language.
When Charlotte Arrowsmith played Vincentia in an evening performance of The Taming of the Shrew, she had more reason than most to feel nervous. As well as stepping in to play the lead role Vincentia on top of her usual part, the theatre believes she was making history as the first Deaf actor to perform as an understudy for a hearing principal.
According to the RSC, which receives funding from Arts Council, the role is usually English-speaking, and was instead performed in BSL with adjustments from the cast and crew to factor in the change.
The Taming of the Shrew production photos - 2019. Photo by Ikin Yum.
The rest of the company embraced the use of British Sign Language by incorporating some signs and gestures into their performances, helping to integrate Vincentia into the scenes.
Charlotte Arrowsmith recently said:
“I was so pleased that the rest of the cast embraced my BSL and tried to incorporate minimal signs/gestures into their lines. It shows that nothing is impossible if we try as a team, and with more preparation time it shows how much a mainstream cast can bring together BSL and diversity into the mix as easily as anything else.”
Peter Knott, Area Director for Arts Council England, recently said:
“This is an extraordinary milestone for the RSC and for diversity in the world of theatre. It’s a fantastic example of how we can make great theatre an inclusive experience for everyone.
“We want to develop a thriving arts ecology that gives everybody the chance to enjoy and create great art – and embracing diversity is a vital step towards achieving this goal. We are really proud to support the RSC, and to see it breaking new ground in such a positive way.”
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