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Kinny Gardner: actor

Kinny Gardner. Photo: Chris de Wilde

A successful performing career led Kinny Gardner to set up Krazy Kat Theatre Company in 1982. The company creates children’s work entirely in sign language, which regularly tours theatres, arts centres and schools across the UK. Its latest show, Cinder-Ella, is a one-man show created and performed by Gardner

What is the premise behind the show?

It’s a very simple piece and quite close to the story of Cinderella that the children know. A lot of their expectations are there – it’s reflecting their experience of how they would hope a Cinderella to be I think, but we play around with it within the Krazy Kat style and add some magic tricks. It’s very fun.

Do you get different reactions from deaf children and hearing children?

We do, that’s a cultural thing that is going to happen whatever one does. The important thing for me is to integrate the two as much as possible so nobody’s missing out on anything. The deaf child is getting as much as possible the same experience as the hearing child. More often than not, deaf children are born to hearing families with no history or knowledge of deafness. Suddenly the hearing family is thrown into this maelstrom of issues around having a deaf child, the least of which is learning a language with a completely different syntax. When they come to my shows, I want them to sit down as a family and enjoy it, and the real pleasure is getting the same reaction from both.

What made you want to learn sign language?

I have a deaf nephew, who is not a signer, so I have had a very strong deaf awareness because of that. Way before that, at the end of the 70s, I was with the Scottish Mime Theatre and our work was all visual. Visibility is one of our main strengths as a company, and we have a mixture of deaf and hearing people performing, but also having deaf people doing the work backstage. I want deaf directors, designers, publicists, lighting people – it’s not the person on the stage that has got the show there, actually there’s a slew of people that bring a production together so that’s important to me. There are, of course, others offering opportunities for deaf people but it is still rare. There’s a lot of tokenism still, but at least something is being talked about. Now there is a dialogue happening, which is a big change in the last 10 years.

Did you always want to make theatre for deaf children as opposed to adults?

The Krazy Kat company actually started as a hearing children’s company 32 years ago and the signing developed about 15 years ago. We were always a very visual company, and after we did our first sign piece it just took off. It was such an interesting way of developing our storytelling. It really enriched my vocabulary as an artistic director and the company’s vocabulary to be able to tell stories in a different and exciting way, which is very personal to us.

CV: Kinny Gardner

Training: Royal Academy of Dance (graduated 1975)
First professional role: Godspell, Wyndham’s Theatre
Agent: John Markham, the Markham Agency

Cinder-Ella is touring the UK until December 22, and from February 9 to 22.

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