By Us, For Us: Tim Bray and Ko Taku Reo Collaborate on Deaf Culture Show
Award-winning theatre company Tim Bray Theatre Company is collaborating once again through its Youth Theatre programme with Ko Taku Reo Deaf Education to create a showcase under the bright lights of the big stage. The difference? The students of Ko Taku Reo will create their own work from inspiration that exists entirely from within Deaf culture.
Weekly workshops to develop this new show started in Term 1, 2023. Professionals from Tim Bray Theatre Company including director Victoria Abbott (Power Rangers Dino Fury) assisted by Robert Mignault (BSc Psychology, BEd, MA Drama) are working alongside teachers from Ko Taku Reo continuing to build the students skill base and leadership potential that will enable them to take charge of their creativity and produce Deaf-led theatre in the future. The KTR students have been further inspired by a visit from Chisato Minamimura, a Japanese Deaf artist visiting during the Auckland Arts Festival, and have leapt into this year’s project with enthusiasm. The funding for this project has been provided by Creatives in Schools which is a wellbeing programme by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatū Taonga and Creative New Zealand.
The project is open to students from Year 9 upwards. In addition to the experience of devising and staging a show, the project also allows the senior students to develop their leadership and mentoring skills by working alongside the younger students in a tuakana–teina style relationship.
The first collaboration took place in 2022, with 18 primary to secondary Ko Taku Reo students taking part, going from being audience members at past Tim Bray Theatre Company performances, to sharing their own creative work on the stage.
“One of the first things the directors found was that the physicality of these students was amazing. They really knew how to move their bodies because Deaf culture is a very physical culture,” Madeleine Lynch, Outreach Manager, Tim Bray Youth Theatre
The MCs were amazing, and it was a big deal. It’s so great to see them get up and use their voices strongly and confidently. It was amazing and was something that some of the teachers have never seen.” Kaori Kobayashi, Ko Taku Reo
“We’re so excited to be working with Ko Taku Reo Deaf Education for the second year in a row with this groundbreaking opportunity. The outcomes for the students last year were positive and huge. Since 2004, students from Ko Taku Reo have been attending our NZSL interpreted performances of each of our professional live productions for free thanks to our Gift a Seat™ programme. Now, it’s their turn to again take to the stage with their own unique showcase in their own language with their own stories. When we were first researching for the project we couldn’t find anything else like it.” Tim Bray, QSM – Founder and Artistic Director
Tim Bray Theatre Company has been a pioneer in providing access to the Deaf community and was the first performing arts company to offer NZSL interpreted performances in Aotearoa. This work resulted in the company being awarded the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Arts for All award in 2020.
Ko Taku Reo is New Zealand’s provider of education services for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. It is a tri-lingual, tri-cultural organisation, with both Deaf and hearing staff, and all three languages and cultures are engaged with throughout, from the administration to the classroom. The organisation also reflects the importance of te ao and te reo Māori by being culturally responsive and respecting the preferred learning styles and needs of their students.
Although students are enrolled at Ko Taku Reo, they attend partner schools and join mainstream classes for their day-to-day education. Some of these students take part in performing arts and drama classes as taught by the New Zealand curriculum, but those subjects are developed and delivered from a hearing perspective.
This project, however, is underpinned by the Deaf perspective, allowing Ko Taku Reo students to easily access it. Another goal is to provide students with the opportunity to be taught dramatic skills and techniques in a relevant context using NZSL, so that they can produce a high-quality showing from their own culturally Deaf perspective.
“Being Deaf has some barriers to enjoying theatre experiences, this is because they cannot access the lines spoken by the actors or follow the storyline. Tim Bray Theatre Company’s history providing an NZSL interpreter for the performances gives our students full access to a theatrical experience, as well as to the storyline.” Says Kaori Kobayashi, Ko Taku Reo
“Our students thoroughly enjoy their shows, and these performances boost the students’ confidence to talk about their experiences, which leads to improving their language skills. These opportunities also help our students to broaden their horizons, since attending the shows some of the students have said they would like to be on stage themselves.”
There are very few examples of Deaf culture for Ko Taku Reo’s students to see onstage, and even fewer examples of Deaf artists working in theatre to inspire them. The goal is for these students to experience what their culture can look like when put on stage, and for them to see the value of this. This project will enhance experiences of the Deaf students at Ko Taku Reo to build confidence and identity while working collaboratively with professional theatre makers.
Beyond the students of Ko Taku Reo engaging with Deaf culture in a performance context, professional artists and industry creatives will also have the opportunity to learn about Deaf culture and develop strategies for incorporating aspects of Deaf culture into their productions.
The fewer barriers that people have to access art – whether it’s hearing people accessing the work of Deaf artists, or Deaf people accessing the work of hearing people or even their own work – the more people are able to understand each other’s culture. This collaboration between Tim Bray Youth Theatre and Ko Taku Reo is a shining example of how the fusion between cultures breaks down barriers.
Kelston Girls College, Thurs 22 June, 2023 (time tbc)