I saw this show in Halifax this weekend and was blown away by the performance of the deaf actress/dancer Raffie Julien and how she ‘told’ -using dance, expressive BSL integrated into the performance- the trio of ghost stories and their characters. Here’s an interview with her:-
The Book of Darkness & Light in association with Little Mighty have launched their latest production, Upon the Stair. A thrilling Gothic show, it tells the tale of three lost souls bound by a cursed book using only three performers.
The production uses a combination of storytelling, live music and integrated BSL. I spoke to Raffie Julien who is the only deaf actor and BSL user in the show to find out what makes Upon the Stair unmissable!
Hi Raffie! Upon the Stair sure does look like a chilling trio of tales. So what’s the whole production about? How is it unique compared to previous productions you may have worked on?
This show is about The Storyteller, The Shade & The Musician who are forever bound to a book full of horror stories. They have no choice but to tell the stories to the world. The Storyteller is hearing and speaks in English, The Shade is Deaf and signs in BSL and VV, The Musician plays violin music in the most beautiful, nightmarish style.
We bring these three languages together and bring the stories to life so it not only sounds scary, but it creates scary visual images from the book too.
This is something completely new for me. Usually I’ve been in bigger productions before and this one has only three of us on stage. I have the main role and as the Shade I have to play multiple characters in the three ghost stories, using BSL, VV and placements which is something I haven’t done before and it definitely has been the biggest challenge I have ever faced.
Also, I have the huge responsibility to make sure that when I perform, my BSL is clear to the deaf audience because there are no captions. No pressure, eh?
You will see only me performing the whole show in BSL & VV, there are no captions as I think we want to give that flavour of how it is in the real world – for Deaf & Hearing.
Who wrote the production and what was it inspired by? Can you tell us about the creatives involved too?
Adam Robinson wrote the show and he was simply inspired by working with an interpreter on his previous show, SHIVERS. He had a thought in his mind of how visual BSL is and especially because his stories are quite scary. He then linked that to BSL and thought how great it would be to have a deaf actor in the show to make it more accessible for deaf people too. So, why not!
He consulted and worked with Jeni Draper (Fingersmiths) and Deaf actor EJ Raymond on an early research and development process and, later on, with Brian Duffy as a consultant. During rehearsals, me, Duffy and Adam Bassett (BSL consultants) read and translated the script and we helped make some adjustments to make it more clear and accessible for the Deaf audience.
It has been amazing working with all the creatives, I loved working with Duffy & Adam Bassett they have taught me so much on how to perform and create pictures VV materials!
Chloe Hayward (the violinist) has been so patient working with us and teaching each other, finding out what sounds I can pick up on and what would work well in the show as well as for the audience.
Working with Adam Robinson & Dick Bonham (the director) has been just so lovely, they are so open minded, they understand the high importance of working with the Deaf community and how it is so important to have access for them in the show. I have really enjoyed working with this wonderful company.
Do you have any memorable moments from your time working on the show?
There was this one moment where we was going through the third story, which is the biggest one. Going through the script, I stopped dead in my tracks, and realised something wasn’t quite right with the placement of the room in the house in the story. I realised that the placement of the whole story was the wrong way round! Which meant we had to start again from the top and turn the whole house around to the right way for the audience!
I notice there’s a violinist in the show, how have you guys worked to ensure the music is also accessible for a deaf audience? Have there been any challenges or discoveries in regards to access?
We have had a chat about this and I brought up the fact that some Deaf people like to feel the bass. We will also be using other things too such as lights for special effects for the scare as well as feeling the bass from the violin music. We’ve been working with a sound designer with this stuff in mind, too.
How are you feeling about the forthcoming shows?
I am quite nervous but I believe that this show will open up a lot of eyes and it will be amazing since I have a huge amount of support behind me.
I’m aware the age for the audience is set at 14+ is this because of how frightening it is? What can audience members expect to feel/see when they see the show?
These ghost stories are quite scary if you are easily spooked. And also with it being quite visual too you can very easily be drawn into the story and start to create unthinkable images in your mind, I know I did when I first watched one of the interpreters, telling me the stories in the first week of rehearsals. There are few shocking moments too…
Please do come and watch the show or I promise you, you will be missing out on an amazing experience of the scares we have created for you!