Chyna presented by Weave Stories
What Is It?
A multimedia, documentary-style production about a day in the life of a deaf 14 year old.
What Is It About?
An interview with Chyna - the performer and subject - about her life is projected on the back wall. In the video she speaks using British Sign Language, which is captioned. The real Chyna stands to the side of the screen, occasionally commenting on the interview or emphasising words using BSL. At other moments, having explained to us the sign names for her friends, for example, she performs an anecdote to us using her punchy, dynamic movements, without an interpreter. Chyna is assisted by her director Laurence Dollander, who holds up flashcards with word prompts to guide Chyna through the show.
How Did It Make Me Feel?
The real asset of this show, as might be expected, is Chyna. She has energy, charisma and wit - we can see this from the filmed interview. It’s therefore a shame that we don’t get to see her live in conversation, with all of that personality contained in the screen. Nevertheless, what we do get from her is a very strong and confident movement-based performance, and her physical caricatures of her football team elicit giggles from the audience. However, these sustained sequences of non-interpreted BSL do become difficult to follow for a non-BSL-using audience. At one point, Dollander offers the flashcards with words on them out to the audience, who are instructed to pick a couple for Chyna to then sign. The audience engagement aspect was welcome, but this segment felt uncomfortable to me, a little like Chyna was being used to show off her ‘trick’ of being able to combine the signs for multiple words together, on cue. Further, whilst the insight into Chyna’s world is charming from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know much about the lives of those with hearing difficulties, it doesn’t tap particularly deeply into her experience. One of the most poignant sections of the interview is when Chyna talks about the birth of her (hearing) baby sister, and observes her initial struggles to communicate with her before her sibling gradually realises she is deaf, and starts to imitate Chyna’s sign gestures. Another striking moment is Chyna discussing when she takes off her hearing aids, grinning cheekily as she says she occasionally enjoys the peace and quiet. The show could have further explored these particular ways in which both the deaf teenager and the hearing world flow around and adapt to each other.
This is clearly a work-in-progress piece - Dollander handed out feedback forms at the end, stating as such - with a view to including more young people from the school, Oak Lodge, that Chyna attends. The piece pricked my curiosity, and I’d be interested to see how it develops.
This show has not been starred due to it being in the early stages of development.
Grace AK x
Chyna is playing in the Crypt, VAULT Festival, until the 5th March 2020.
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