Exploring her personal experiences of becoming ‘hearing’ again after 22 years of deafness, Sophie Woolley tells Giverny Masso about the challenges of making her latest play…
What is your show about?
Augmented is about power and the impact of my new bionic hearing on my closest relationships. It’s about what this scientific, high-tech, biomedical miracle means for the future of humanity.
Why did you write the show?
I want to tell the truth about being a cyborg. When I got switched on, I was amazed. It was like living in a science-fiction dream – like being inside a Philip K Dick story. After I was switched on, there were painful things that I wanted to say, which I found I couldn’t say in ordinary conversations. The enormity of it all was really overwhelming, so I wrote a play. I nearly didn’t get a cochlear implant. I’d gone totally deaf, but when I was offered the surgery, I nearly decided to say no. There are other people in this dilemma, but it’s hard to find positive stories or get information or answers about cochlear implants.
What was the biggest challenge of writing it?
With one foot in the hearing world and one foot in the deaf world, I was second-guessing how the story would land and worrying that people wouldn’t understand. One reason I wanted to write this story was that I felt there was stigma and prejudice attached to cochlear implantation and I wanted to overturn the narrative – so one of the main challenges was worrying about how things would land.
How did you get into theatre?
I didn’t train in theatre. I left university with a degree in international history and politics. I wanted to be a writer and started performing above pubs and in night clubs. I made satirical characters about music culture that I liked – performance art and spoken word. After I was picked up by Soho Theatre’s writers’ attachment programme, I did a one-person show, and realised I wanted to do that as a theatre piece, so I crossed over into theatre at that point. Called When to Run, it was interlocking monologues about four women runners.
How did you find the experience of making When to Run?
I wanted to make that show accessible to people like me. I wanted captioned shows, but I didn’t want to look at the caption box at the side – I wanted to look at the stage. So I decided to be the change that I wanted to see. From then on I made sure that all my shows were creatively captioned. At that time, not many people were doing that and sometimes I thought: “Why do I have to do this if everyone else gets away with not doing it?” But I’m glad I carried on because now it’s increasingly popular and the quality of creative captioning is much higher. It’s become an art form in itself.
Training: Soho Theatre writers’ attachment programme (2005); Channel 4 screenwriting course (2011); Let Me Play the Lion Too with Told by an Idiot (2017-2018); BBC Writers Access Group (2019)
First professional role: When to Run, Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2006)
Agent: Michael Ford at Hatch Talent
Augmented, in association with Told by an Idiot, is touring the UK until March 25