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October 6, 2002

Deaf school in line for US arts festival

From: Scotsman, UK
Oct. 7, 2002


THE American organisers of the world’s biggest arts festival by deaf and hard of hearing performers are planning to come to the Capital to stage a similar event.

Edinburgh’s world-famous Donaldson’s College deaf school is the most likely venue to play host to dance, music and theatre productions at next summer’s Fringe.

The arts organisation which staged the Deaf Way festival across Washington in July - attracting 400,000 visitors - said it had "high hopes" of staging an Edinburgh equivalent after a visit to the building in West Coates two weeks ago.

City arts impresario Richard Demarco, who has been involved in talks to stage a major programme of work at Donaldson’s College, said the move promised to bring a "whole new dimension" to the Capital’s summer festivals.

Talks to use Donaldson’s are at an early stage, but officials from the festival organisers Quest Productions said they were determined to come to the Capital, regardless of whether the deaf school plan is feasible or not.

Around 400 deaf and hard of hearing performers appeared, included 64 artists, 20 writers and 20 film-makers. There were more than 125 separate performances at 15 venues.

All the major art forms would be represented if the deaf school was to play host to the company, which said it wanted to come to Edinburgh to attract a mainstream audience for its productions.

Speaking from the United States, Quest Productions director Paul Harrelson said: "We had more than 10,000 registered participants at the festival in July, which was the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world and the only one on that kind of scale.

"We’ve been talking to Donaldson’s for quite a while now and the Fringe is something I’ve wanted to bring events to since I visited it seven years ago. It’s the biggest arts festival in the world and has such a great reputation.

"We have very high hopes of doing something with Donaldson’s but we can’t really talk about our plans because they are with the school board at the moment and we don’t know whether they’ll get the thumbs-up or not."

Mr Demarco, who accompanied Mr Harrelson on his tour of Donaldson’s facilities, said he had been "overwhelmed" after attending the six-day event in Washington. He added: "This would be the first time Donaldson’s would be used for the Fringe, which would be marvellous.

"It’s one of the most magnificent buildings of its type in Edinburgh and it would be a spectacular venue. If this was to happen it would bring a whole new dimension to the Fringe.

"This festival in Washington attracted performers from all over the world and I’m sure the organisers would do the same if they came to Edinburgh."

Fringe director Paul Gudgin, who has also been involved in the talks with the US company, said: "Donaldson’s College is a beautiful building and it would be fantastic if it was used as a venue."

Donaldson’s College provides both day and residential education for around 80 deaf children aged between two and a half to 18 years. Assessment for further education or vocational training is undertaken at the age of 16.

A spokesman for the school said: "As far as we’re concerned a proposal has been put before our board but at this stage it is very much in its infancy."

Fiona Stewart, campaigns co-ordinator with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf in Scotland, said: "We’d strongly support the this festival’s participation at the 2003 Fringe and the positive and inspired contribution that deaf art and culture would make if this was to happen."

A spokeswoman for the disability charity Capability Scotland said: "This sounds like a very exciting and innovative performance."