Overcoming multiple barriers
The stage production “The Tempest – Swimming for Beginners” is being created by artists from three countries, with different disabilities and speaking different languages. Plans to perform it in 2020 were postponed due to the global spread of COVID-19, and the team have finally reached their goal of staging the work now, in 2021, after preparations lasting over two years. Having said this, Jenny Sealey, who is responsible for the project’s overall direction, is still unable to come to Japan during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, and the British and Bangladeshi actors are now performing via video. The new challenge of distance has been added to disability and language as one more barrier to overcome.
The script was first of all extensively rewritten. A bold adaptation based on Shakespeare’s “Tempest” was planned from the outset, but the infection enveloping our world at the present time has now been incorporated into the work, constructing a metafiction in which the actors, with their diverse disabilities, come onstage as themselves even before taking up their roles in “The Tempest”, creating a tempest of their own. In other words, Hero (Hiroe Ohashi), who plays Caliban; Hide (Hidetada Tashiro), who plays Prospero; Sachika (Sachika Segawa), who plays Ariel; Jonny (Rio Sekiba), who plays Miranda; Yanagi (Kotaro Yanagi), who plays Ferdinando; Bandana (Kazumi Hiratsuka), who plays Queen Alonsa, and the other actors become characters in this dramatic work, performing it together with the overseas actors via video link. In addition, the stage manager (Sakura Yoshidomi), who supplies the voiceovers for the parts performed in sign language and the sign language for the parts performed orally, is another important character, assuring the accessibility of the performance. This complicated structure might initially bemuse the audience. However, this confusion, and the way in which even the backstage elements have been transformed into part of the piece, are what make this new dramatic work unique.
In preparation for the performances beginning on 1 June, the Japanese cast and directors got together from May and rehearsals began in earnest, watched over online from the UK by Jenny, the general director. Just as was the case in the previous workshops, various forms of interpreting are needed. First of all, their disabilities are not all of the same kind. There are deaf actors, a blind actor, actors with physical disabilities, and an actor with invisible disabilities. For this reason, when someone talks, this is interpreted into sign language, and the sign language of deaf people is also interpreted. In addition, when talking to Jenny, it goes like this: there is an English-language interpreter, and then the sign-language interpreter on the other side of the screen communicates the message to Jenny. Jenny replies in English, and the English-language interpreter and sign-language interpreter here tell everyone what Jenny says. Even though Jenny is connected online in real time, the fact that she is not actually here in person surely makes it hard to see everyone’s expressions clearly, rendering communication even more difficult. Nevertheless, it was clear that everyone was making every effort to communicate, spending time to understand each other’s intentions.