Interview: Zoë McWhinney, “This is a play about survivors, not victims”

Photo: Alice Gallagher

by Jim Keaveney

Everyday, which officially opens tonight at the New Diorama Theatre, marks the 20th anniversary of the  Deafinitely Theatre company. The play combines British Sign Language and English in the company’s unique bilingual style. Directed by Paula Garfield, it draws on interviews with women and non-binary people exploring domestic abuse in the deaf community.

Ahead of opening night we caught up with cast member Zoë McWhinney, whose recent credits include Red (Polka Theatre), The Two Fridas (Chickenshed/Handprint Theatre, V&A), Donut Worry (Young Vic) and Jack O’Kent (Ovalhouse), to talk about the production, creating a wake-up call and what it means to be part of the company’s 20th anniversary.

Q&A with Zoë McWhinney on Everyday

Hi Zoë, thanks for speaking with us about Everyday – how has the rehearsal process been so far?

Rehearsals have been going really well.  There have been challenges, especially as the source material for this play is from interviews with deaf women and non-binary people sharing their lived experiences of Domestic Abuse.  It’s been wonderful to create a play from these experiences.

The play aims to breakdown stereotypes and taboos about Domestic Abuse in the Deaf Community.  We’ve created this play with a lot of love, mutual respect, solidarity and collaboration.  This is a play about survivors, not victims. We want to encourage conversations about education and empowerment in this area. I think that the Deaf Community, like any other village-like communities, really struggle with facing these taboos/stereotypes and having these vital conversations.  Especially as often both the perpetrator and the survivor of the Domestic Abuse are both Deaf and so known to the community.  It’s hard then to have those discussions.  This play shines a light of this vital topic and absolutely this is a challenge to overcome.

One statistic from our research has really stayed with me and I found it quite shocking.  Of all the perpetrators of DA against Deaf women and non-binary persons, more are actually Deaf themselves.  I always thought, growing up in the Deaf Community, that most of the perpetrators of DA would be hearing. But it’s not.  There is more Deaf-Deaf abuse.  This has created a sense of urgency, we need to be having these conversations – it is vital. And so, this play is happening at just the right time to encourage these conversations.

In rehearsals for Everyday. Photo: Becky Bailey

What do you think the audience will take away from the show?

I think that the hearing audience will take away that Deaf people face barriers in their everyday lives and relationships – just like they do.  We are human too! I hope there will be more awareness raised amongst our deaf and hearing audience members about this vital topic.

I hope this play will give the community a shock, a wake-up call really, to spur people in to action.  To make people delve down deep and think what can be done better to support people in this area.  How can we support and believe Deaf survivors of DA better than we currently do.

Also, I hope it will empower any audience members who may be going through a DA situation at the moment, and give them the tools/strategy to take the next step.

What can you tell us about the work that Deafinitely Theatre is doing creating bilingual theatre in BSL and spoken English for deaf and hearing audiences?

This production of Everyday features an all-deaf cast – we all use BSL and some of the actors use spoken English too.  It’s important to showcase that range of what deaf actors can do.

Deafinitely Theatre uses a range of communication styles in their plays – British Sign Language (BSL), spoken English, captions, visual storytelling, movement (to name but a few!).

In rehearsals for Everyday. Photo: Becky Bailey

How do you feel being a part of Deafinitely Theatre’s 20th Anniversary season?

I feel incredibly privileged and lucky to be a part of Deafinitely Theatre’s 20th Anniversary season.  I was 14 years old when I joined the Deafinitely Youth Theatre Group.  It was my first introduction to theatre. And now to be a part of the 20th Anniversary season feels like I’ve come full circle.

How would you describe Everyday to someone considering buying a ticket?

Empowering.  Full of love. Solidarity. Commitment.  Beautiful visual storytelling.  Tackling a hard and serious topic but uplifting.  Gives you courage.  Gives you space to release and feel more positive.  Shows the deaf experience and also shows what deaf people can do.

Everyday is at New Diorama Theatre until 11 June