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DH Ensemble founder Sophie Stone: ‘Acting and sign-language saved me’

Sophie Stone in A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Watermill. Photo: Scott Rylander Sophie Stone in A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Watermill. Photo: Scott Rylander

Sophie Stone was the first deaf student to gain a place at RADA and is co-founder of deaf and hearing theatre company the DH Ensemble. She tells Giverny Masso about her latest role as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre…

What inspired you to become an actor?

I was an inner-city kid with a pretty stark future. I couldn’t communicate till late in life and struggled to understand or connect with the world around me. TV and theatre wasn’t accessible and I didn’t have any access to a language I could understand, but once I discovered acting via my mother’s adult drama groups I realised there was a way to articulate emotion, physicalise storytelling and have a voice – even if it was someone else’s. Acting and sign-language saved me.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

Being seen for auditions that don’t specifically request D/deaf actors and pushing for D/deaf actors to be seen for the roles that do, but aren’t cast. My current challenge is trying to find spaces where deaf actors can receive high-quality training. There’s so much potential not being supported and without opportunities to train, the pool of skilled deaf actors will remain small, giving people excuses to tell stories about us, without us.

What inspired you to set up the DH Ensemble?

We felt there was a need for accessible theatre that embraced the fluidity of language, theatre and all forms of communication between people. We take a subject matter and question everything around it and then find ways to articulate the ideas involving all the tools that we as individuals, artists and cultures can. It makes for a very rich and inclusive environment.

How did you go about building the role of Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

The director Paul Hart was open to me discovering Hermia using my own instincts – I hadn’t made any decisions until I met the cast and after the first week of rehearsals. I wanted to experiment with Shakespeare’s language structure and BSL. In some cases they seemed to go hand-in-hand and in others I had to adapt the BSL into a more parallel ‘theatre sign’ so Shakespeare’s language could still be spoken at the same time. With the lovers based in the Victorian era and with their status, I needed to consider the Milan 1880 conference that banned sign language and enforced oralism – so Hermia would have been forced to speak and maybe privately learned to sign, being rebellious as she is.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream review at Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘a playful production’

Do you think there is enough accessible work out there for D/deaf audiences?

No. There has been a step towards change in many smaller theatre companies, ironically those with the least money find the most inventive and inclusive ways, with creative captioning and interpreted shows – but generally there’s still a lot of after-thought action in order to tick an access box, which leaves D\deaf audiences frustrated. I know things won’t change overnight but having D/deaf ‘voices’ in the room during the process can help guide theatre companies to make positive steps.

Read our interview with BSL interpreter Becky Barry

What are your hopes for the future?

To keep working, keep the doors open, keep being pushed and challenged and keep the conversation going. I’m writing a play and I have directed a short film for Shakespeare’s Globe so I hope to direct something again.

CV: Sophie Stone

Training: BA acting at RADA (2005-2008)
First professional role: Actor in Casualty (2004)
Agent: Charlie Cox of Eamonn Bedford Agency

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is running until June 16

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