3 resources to help you integrate British Sign Language into your performance

It’s one thing providing access; it’s another embedding it into your performance. In the case of British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation, artists are finding creative ways to integrate sign language into an act, rather than have an interpreter sit awkwardly at the side of the stage.

In our latest CRIPtic workshop, Deaf actor David Ellington talked us through some ways to think about integrating BSL into performances. Here, we share David’s top resources to help you consider British Sign Language within the performing arts.

  1. Learn the BSL alphabet
    https://vimeo.com/447637353/86de5e5a7a
    Before you can even begin to think about integrating BSL into a performance, it’s probably worth considering the language itself. At the very beginning of the workshop, David walked us through the BSL alphabet, and courtesy of the above video from Fun Palace, you can learn the alphabet as well.
  2. Consider BSL’s unique grammar and syntax
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLvoW-SHPco
    BSL is not English, for it has its own sentence structure, and it’s a visual language. In the above video, from BSL Learning with Mel, Mel gives a few examples of some sentences which are framed slightly differently in BSL. It might give you some food for thought as to how your performance can be translated – or rather, interpreted – into BSL.
  3. Think about how you would audio describe BSL
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSDZj_pttAo
    As mentioned previously, BSL is a visual language, and so when access is provided to one group of people, we have to think about how that affects another group of people, such as blind and visually impaired individuals. During his session with us, David gave participants a handful of scenarios, with one person signing the story, and another person describing what they saw. In another exercise, David asked us all to come up with sign names (signs which are used in place of fingerspelling a person’s name) and later describe the hand movements required to perform them, as an audio description. For example, in David’s case, he told us to imagine picking up an orange with your right hand, squeezing it and putting it in front of your forehead.

In a similar exercise to the one described above, why not use the YouTube video from Learn Sign Language as a test of your audio description skills, and test what is being signed in that specific story.

There you have it! A few resources which should get you thinking more about incorporating sign language into your performances.

As one of our workshop participants said at the end of the session, BSL integration is about communication rather than something you can do. It can offer up an opportunity to make accessibility creative, in addition to being a necessity.

By Liam O’Dell

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