You know when people get super enthusiastic about something they’re doing, and they just have to tell you all about it? And it can be really annoying, because you’re just trying to eat your dinner and watch trashy soaps?
Well, put down your plate.
Turn off the television.

I am about to get enthusiastic all up in your face, but, I promise, it’s definitely a better use of your time than Hollyoaks.  
I was recently invited to the Vamos HQ to take part in training so that I could become a workshop leader, representing and workshopping all over the place. If you don’t know who Vamos are by now, then you really need to get 'Googling' – they’re only the UK’s leading full mask theatre company. They've been touring shows nationally and internationally since 2006 and are about to embark on a tour of the latest show The Best Thing which opens this week. In my opinion they’re fairly brilliant at what they do. AND, because the nature of full mask theatre means the shows are non-verbal, their work is ALWAYS accessible to d/Deaf audiences.
It is due to this intrinsic appeal to d/Deaf audiences that I, along with other Deaf practitioners Stephen Collins and Mary-Jayne Russell De Clifford, was invited to become part of the Vamos team. Rachel Savage, the Artistic Director, was feeling frustrated at the lack of direct communication with deaf participants. Mask work is very personal and really asks for a great trust and communication, which is often lost when a third person is brought in to act as interpreter. The delay in passing information through translation, although small, can also badly affect instinctual reactions or energy – so Vamos were keen to get past this by training workshop leaders who already had BSL communication skills.
Which is where we came in. And screamed. No, really; walking into a room at a hideous early hour of the morning and seeing lines of disembodied faces is not for the faint-hearted. But the weirdness of the masks when they’re at rest is totally contrasted by the way they come alive and throw out personalities as soon as someone puts them on.
As part of the training, we went through the ‘usual’ workshop activities, working together to decide which would still work well with a Deaf or mixed group. For example, an exercise which included the verbal command ‘eyes down’ can be altered so that the cue is a flash of lights, or a wave of the hand. It’s not rocket science, but it is important to work together, be open to ideas and find the best options.
It’s also important to have fun, which we definitely did. The workshop plans we have created are so new and exciting, and it’s so wonderful to be part of a team who are committed to giving everyone the same opportunities to train and learn.
Full mask work is not easy for d/Deaf people, but it is by no means impossible, and it’s hugely fun. I would wholeheartedly encourage everyone and anyone to come along to a workshop, at whatever skill level, just to experience it for themselves, in an accessible and friendly environment.
Well, fairly friendly. Until we get to the catwalk challenge… What’s that? Ah, you’ll have to come along and see!

Emily Howlett